October 5, 2006

CD REVIEW: ZHEN: The David Braid Sextet Live, Vol. II

By Geoff Chapman, The Toronto Star

The Juno-winning sextet headed by one of Canada's brightest stars, pianist David Braid, could well repeat its victory with this album recorded in March last year at the Top O' The Senator, the last live disc taped there before the venue's unfortunate demise. (The award-winning Vivid was also chronicled there, in 2004.) On six Braid originals, and a remarkable reimagining of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," he personally takes giant steps forward as his band showcases zesty ensemble playing that's as forceful and subtle as its soloing is hugely imaginative and emotionally charged. Braid's compositions are fine-tuned, occasionally dense and invariably appetizing - a rumbling blues, a ballad landscape impeccably sculpted by Mike Murley's tenor, an impressionistic work with Indian elements and spirited John MacLeod flugelhorn, a crafty medium-burner, a foray into Spanish mode with usually-unsung trombonist Gene Smith underscoring his skills with elegance, a portrait of bustling Hong Kong. The thrusting engine of bassist Steve Wallace and drummer Terry Clarke runs smoothly throughout.