Chris Wallace's Many Names: Somewhere Sacred
GB Records

Much of the pleasure afforded by this debut outing by Chris Wallace's Many Names derives less from the compositions than the playing of the musicians involved. Don't interpret that to mean the material the drummer wrote for the album is sub-par, as the ten tunes are solid, but it's how malleably they're treated by the quartet that makes the stronger impression. The playing's tight, yet not so much it feels constrictive; others would do well to follow this limber unit's example in the way it strikes such a fine balance.

As a musician, Wallace impresses as an exceptionally responsive player, the description of him by the Sydney Morning Herald's John Shand as “a drummer of supreme musicality” well-supported by the ten performances. A confident and assured player, he maintains a constant flow of invention, his cymbals shadings and kit colourations powerful stimuli for his mobile and flexible outfit to respond to. He's abetted in that regard by double bassist Dan Fortin, whose grounding pulse liberates the drummer from strict time-keeping, and with that partnership firmly in place, pianist Adrean Farrugia and tenor saxophonist Jeff King are able to enthusiastically embrace their roles as primary soloists.

Though Wallace is currently Toronto-based (where Somewhere Sacred was recorded in early 2017), he hasn't always called the city home. Originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, he's worked in a variety of settings over the years. During the ‘90s he played with the American prog-rock outfit Timothy Pure and the Canadian indie group Blinki, and then left Vancouver in 2002 for Edinburgh, Scotland where he established himself within the Scottish jazz community and worked with the experimental trio NeWt. Prior to Somewhere Sacred, Wallace issued two albums as a leader, 2010's Looking Glass under the band name Loose Grip and in 2014 the Chris Wallace Quintet album Identity.

Throughout Somewhere Sacred, Wallace keeps up a continual commentary on his bandmates' playing, the approach conversational and interlocutory, such qualities never more evident than when Wallace accompanies Farrugia during his solos. The drummer's playing is restless, busy even, though not displeasingly so; what you hear is someone engaged at every moment in the performance as it spontaneously develops. An early standout is “A Memory of 10,” which surprises in the way it follow its intro with first a romantic jazz rhumba and eventually a pop-tinged episode rather than the uptempo throwdown one might have expected. It's a lovely vehicle for both King, who states the melody in his characteristically strong voice, and Farrugia, whose solo explorations exude an appealingly swinging quality; Wallace distinguishes himself too in his ever-resourceful responsiveness to the pianist's moves.

Much of the album stylistically aligns itself to traditional quartet jazz, yet the band often ventures outside it. Hints of Latin and even R&B seep into “Chapter Zero,” the music all the more forceful as a result, while the high-energy “At It Again,” “The Preston Changeling,” and “The First Card” swing grandly too. The titular ballad exudes a rather Quartet West-like feel, especially when King and Farrugia so effectively call to mind the interplay between Ernie Watts and Alan Broadbent in Haden's group (perhaps it's no coincidence that “Somewhere Sacred” features a lengthy Fortin solo), and the lyrical melody King voices in “A Prairie Son,” the lovely jazz waltz Wallace wrote in homage to his home province, is also reminiscent of Quartet West—not bad company to be in, all things considered.

February 2018