Brad Turner Quintet: The Magnificent
Release date: September 22, 2023
Label: Cellar Music Group
The Magnificent is the new album by musical polymath Brad Turner and his all-star quintet. Featuring on both piano and trumpet, The Magnificent finds the Juno-award winning musician in top form, accompanied by an all-star ensemble made up of tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Quincy Davis. The Magnificent features nine dynamic original compositions, with its title an homage to the great Thad Jones; 1956 recording The Magnificent Thad Jones.
Turner has been at the forefront of the Canadian jazz scene for over two decades. Since the early 1990’s, he has released a steady stream of exceptional jazz recordings as a leader with this quartet, trio and his acclaimed ensemble Metalwood featuring Mike Murley, Chris Tarry and Ian Froman. His ensembles over the years have kept consistent personnel, and have given way to an identifiable and distinct sound that’s made him a first-call musician in Vancouver. The Magnificent came about in a different way. Cory Weeds, owner of the Cellar Music label, obtained funding to make some recordings, which he wanted to use with Vancouver jazz musicians to make “the records of their dreams.” Weeds picked Turner to be one of the artists and the label head asked him who he wanted to record with. Without hesitation, Turner declared his wish list: guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Neil Swainson, and drummer Quincy Davis. Weeds has worked with all of these elite players so he had no problem lining them up. Then about a month later, Turner asked Weeds to play tenor sax on four tracks, and the band was complete.
They performed together as a unit for the first time on two nights at Frankie’s Jazz Club and recorded a third night at Frankie’s and a studio session the following day. The results are unequivocal. Turner — on trumpet and piano — and the instrumentalists he purposefully chose, play together with a beautiful rapport in ensemble sections and expressively shine during solos. Turner’ perceptive vision in assembling the group, his cinematic music that was composed with the specific individuals in mind, and the impeccable execution by all bring the album title’s m-word to mind.
Th album kicks off with “You’re OK,” a soothing opening track that hits the spot like a palate cleansing amuse-bouche. The tune sets the album’s lyrical tone and provides room for satisfying solo turns by Turner, Bernstein, and Swainson that give a taste of the artistry to come.
Then they up the tempo with the hard-swinging “Barney’s Castle,” featuring an intricate melody that the Turner-Weeds frontline deftly navigates. The song begins with a resonant intro by Bernstein and includes comping and soloing by the New Yorker that affirm his jazz guitar mastery. “Working with Peter is an excellent experience all around, as it is with all of the musicians on the date,” says Turner. “I am reminded of so many things that I can work on and get better at when I play with artists like that. The number one thing I am reminded of with Peter is that there are levels to listening, as well as to playing. And he has complete and unfettered access to all levels of both.”
“Virtue Signals,” one of the most affecting pieces on The Magnificent, “is simply a complete chromatic scale (though ornamented and disguised) in descent,” explains Turner. It’s a great example of something Turner excels at: analyzing and shaping a concept into enduring musical moments. In this case, he exquisitely creates those moments on piano, an instrument in his broad skill-set that’s a treat to hear on three tunes.
“To Begin, Begin” begins with Swainson playing a bass figure that sounds simple but actually isn’t easy to play precisely. The Torontonian does exactly that with the recurring figure and contributes a lithe solo. “Neil Swainson is so absolutely solid and his beat is undeniable,” says Turner, who played on Swainson’s excellent Fire In The West (Cellar Music, 2022).
Then there’s the title track, recorded live at Frankie’s. The compositional details, ensemble passages, and improvs on “The Magnificent” evoke the timeless spirit of Thad Jones. Weeds’ solos — on this and other tracks he plays on — are well-formed and add a lot to the music. “I really heard the sound of the tenor in there as a missing ingredient on a few things,” says Turner about adding Weeds to the band when developing the music. “Cory’s playing is always straight-up swinging, upbeat, and in the changes. That’s what these tunes are about, so perfect!”
“Theme For Jocie” — a ballad composed for the bandleader’s partner and fellow trumpeter Jocelyn Waugh — conveys the depth of feeling and ever-inquisitive musicality in Turner’s glorious trumpet playing, honed from decades of exploration on the instrument.
The Magnificent concludes with another tune captured at Frankie’s, “Rosemary,” which like the rest of the album offers ample solo space for the quintet members. Davis is a propulsive force throughout the vigorous last track, especially during his bracing solo. Turner appreciates how the Texas-based drummer sets “a mood environment within which a soloist can feel completely free to tell a specific and compelling story,” and also solos “with power and grace, never leaving the realm of great music and simply playing the drums.”
The album’s songs ultimately engage and satisfy, both individually and collectively. Turner: “I want this to be a record where the listener’s curiosity pulls them from one tune to the next, and they may actually sit and listen to the entire record in a row.” That’s what this listener did and will blissfully continue to do, because the music is that enchanting.
"A fixture of the Canadian jazz scene since the early 1990s, Turner has released a steady stream of jazz recordings as a leader with his quartet, his trio, and his acclaimed ensemble Metalwood, featuring Mike Murley, Chris Tarry and Ian Froman." Check out the full article here.