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Tim Garland: Songs to the North Sky

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Revisiting the approach he took on 2009’s Libra, saxophonist Tim Garland divides Songs to the North Sky into two discs. The first CD features Lighthouse, his expandable small group with drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis, while the second reunites the Brit-born composer with the Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings. It’s less two sides of the same coin than it is a wealth of ambitious instrumental music drawing from multiple genres.

“Uplift!” starts the Lighthouse disc with a running leap, Garland’s high-pitched tenor voicing a catchy melody over Geoffrey Keezer’s fast-flickering piano and the rhythmic thrust of Sirkis and guitarist Ant Law. The group, with pianists Jason Rebello and John Turville variously heard on the other seven tunes, and Kevin Glasgow playing electric bass on three tracks, effectively dips into rangy Yellowjackets-style fusion on “Little Sunshine” and “Yes to This,” showcasing Law’s searching guitar work, and spacious balladry on the soprano-led “A Brother’s Gift,” imbued with Sirkis’ playing on the steel-pan-like hang drum. “Lammas Days,” with Garland on bass clarinet and soprano, buoyed by Glasgow’s cleanly articulated, unusual bass explorations and Sirkis’ bubbling percussion, finds the group referencing the leader’s Celtic jazz group Lammas. And the closing “She’s Out of My Life” has Garland, on soprano, and Rebello turn the Michael Jackson hit into an aching plea, more poignant than the original.

“Songs to the North Sky,” the second disc, opens with the altogether lush-sounding “The Road Into Night,” its theme reminiscent of a lost ’40s soundtrack, Garland’s tenor wrapped in the warmly luxuriant strings. Buoyed by a core group including Sirkis and bassist John Patitucci, the leader and the strings trek through varied emotional terrain, including the similarly romantic pieces “Tyne Song” and “Lullaby of the Road” and ominous-sounding compositions like “Dawnbreakers.” In addition, four intimate interludes are built on Patitucci’s often-unaccompanied pizzicato and arco declarations. The suite represents an expansive melding of jazz and contemporary classical music, and another leap forward in Garland’s development as a composer.

Originally Published