Barry Elmes Quintet “Redshift”

Review - Redshift2

Ladies and Gentlemen. Barry Elmes is back rocking one of this city’s best jazz groups (and one of the city’s best mustaches). Elmes is an anomaly. It is said that he first learned to play drums by watching Ringo Starr during The Beatles’ famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Inspired by Ringo’s unique approach to drum set playing, Elmes arranged his own in front of the television facing Starr, recreating a mirror image setup with his drums on the opposite sides. Thus the legend was born and Elmes learned to play a kit designed for a left-hander, but leading with his right. This is why if you get a chance to see Elmes play, you might at first be confused as to how someone so great can be playing so fundamentally wrong… but so musically right!

Album - redshift

REDSHIFT is The Barry Elmes Quintet’s fifth album. The group has taken on many different faces over the years, but Elmes is always on top of his game when choosing the best sidemen to fit his highly melodic and groove oriented compositions. On this disc we have an all-star line-up of Toronto’s finest. Mike Murley (tenor saxophone), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), Reg Schwager (guitar) Steve Wallace (bass) and special guest appearances by Kelly Jefferson (flute and tenor saxophone) and Vanessa Rodrigues (organ)

The title track, Redshift (track #4) was “composed in honour of astronomer Edwin Hubble who provided convincing evidence that there are galaxies other than our own and that the universe is indeed expanding”. Elmes’ “sense of wonder when looking up at the stars” seems to run parallel to his life. Much like Edwin Hubble, Elmes seems to be discovering more about himself everyday. Now on sabbatical after spending the last few years as the head of the jazz department at York University, Elmes has taken on a much different role in his life as an educator, only gracing us with his live playing every so often. Even so, Elmes never loses a beat, as his groove continuously grows deeper and his compositions stronger.

REDSHIFT is through and through a fantastic jazz album. While it doesn’t break ground in terms of experimentation, it certainly proves (especially to today’s often over analytical and technical jazz scene) that strong compositions, and incredible musicianship will never grow old.

Brief Sanctuary” – From the rubato opening, this song strikes a chord inside. Maybe it is because of the infectious groove, back-up horn harmonies, or the fact that the man himself, Kevin Turcotte, takes the lead beautifully on this one. This is clearly a group song, which has always been a strong point for Elmes, as all of his tunes often have beautiful band arrangements.

Redshift” – This song feels like it could have come straight out of Tin-Pan Alley. A driving pulse and a great melody, played by Turcotte and Murley, drive this song into incredibly inspired solos. Elmes and Wallace are locked-in like Philly Jo and Chambers, and Reg’s comping and soloing is just so damn good! Mike Murley, as per usual, kills it – every note just cruising as deep in the pocket as humanly possible. Throw in some classic trading with Elmes and man, you’ve got one insanely good track.

The Reincarnation of Ratboy” – To sum this one up, I will quote Elmes, “You’ll have to ask me about this one in person, preferably in a bar.”

Theme For Sterling Hayden” – Although I was initially unsure of how the organ would fit into the combo, I was pleasantly surprised. Vanessa Rodrigues plays the part beautifully, filling the empty spaces in this ballad with an eerie organ sound, adding a character to the composition that truly makes it stand out.

I can comfortably say that there are absolutely no weak tunes on this entire album. From the opening notes of “Reading Week” to the heartfelt rendition of “Abide With Me”, this is an incredible album. The playing shows that Toronto has some of the finest jazz musicians in the world and a great leader in Barry Elmes.

Highly recommended.

Visit for other Barry Elmes Quintet releases and information on other Cornerstone releases.

The Purple Cabbage
April 2011


About The Purple Cabbage

A Toronto Jazz and creative music blog featuring interviews, new releases, culture, shows, and all things Toronto Jazz.
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