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Jazz Yukon was thrilled to present the Richard Whiteman Quartet to a sold out crowd in our 2014-15 Jazz On The Wing concert series. This excellent group, based in Toronto, brings a broad range of experience to this project. They are all bandleaders in their own right and have all played in many different contexts. Most of the groups’ members have graced our stage before, but this marked leader Richard Whiteman’s first appearance in the Yukon. He has vowed to return and we all look forward to that possibility.
Whiteman’s quartet includes himself on acoustic bass; Reg Schwager, guitar; Amanda Tosoff, piano and Morgan Childs on the drums.The evening’s playlist included originals by Whiteman and Tosoff intermixed with jazz standards from the likes of Bud Powell, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Rogers and Hart. Needless to say, this provided a rich variety of subjects, tempos and song forms to launch the group’s considerable skills as jazz improvisers. The band entertained us with ballads, blues, bebop and Latin numbers in a very rewarding listening adventure. The songs melodies were treated with respect and then were reinvented with many lovely and inventive permutations. Time feels and harmonies traced the evolution of jazz history and the warmth of the bands’ delivery appealed to every segment of our audience.
Richard Whiteman is an accomplished acoustic bass player, having taken it up to augment his previous gig as a jazz pianist. His solos were well conceived and displayed a strong understanding of the melodies that he rolled over and over with deft variations. He covered the full length and breadth of an acoustic bass’s tonal range, using its upper register to great effect. Considering that he was playing a borrowed instrument it was a truly impressive display of his considerable chops. His walking lines helped to push the band forward, while defining the harmonic movement of the songs presented. Pianist Amanda Tosoff draws much inspiration from the blues and her solos were laced with grooving single note lines. One highlight of the evening came with the band’s rendition of “Amanda’s Blues in G major” which seemed to be written on the spot and featured her deeply felt blues sensibility.
It is difficult to identify the magic that is Reg Schwager’s extraordinary guitar playing. His tone is so warm and inviting and the sounds of jazz legends like Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino are assimilated into his virtuosic technique. His fingers roam spider-like all over his guitar’s neck and his remarkable skill allows him to incorporate quotes from varied sources at lightening speed. His playing is so relaxed that one could easily overlook its brilliant scope. He seems completely comfortable in any key, any style, in any tempo and truly kept our audience transfixed with his swinging lines.
Morgan Childs is one grooving drummer. He can lay it down with quiet intensity and his cymbal and brushwork are exemplary. He plays tenderly on ballads and can scorch the paint off the walls on the up-tempo numbers. He played some incredibly inventive solos and challenged his band mates with interesting rhythmic ideas when trading fours. He excels at finding the right texture to propel songs to greater heights. His use of dynamics was especially evident when soloing, and always served the music.
The joy that this band takes from playing together was readily apparent. Even though this concert was held on a Sunday evening, our audience would have stayed until the wee hours to hear every nuance of The Richard Whiteman Quartet’s exceptional ensemble sound. The whole is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Steve Gedrose – Whitehorse, Yukon
Richard Whiteman has been a mainstay of the Toronto jazz scene for the past couple of decades as an extremely capable and versatile piano player. He can be seen playing in solo, trio and quartet settings, as well as in various musicals around the city. Whiteman is also a favourite accompanist of many of Toronto’s jazz singers, such as Heather Bambrick and Dee Daniels.
In the past few years Whiteman has also taken up the bass, and has decided to document his newfound talent in the form of this independently produced album called On Course. Filling out the ensemble are three musicians—guitarist Reg Schwager, pianist Amanda Tosoff, and drummer Morgan Childs – who demonstrate an impressive amount of musical sympathy with each other. The result is a highly refined sound reminiscent of post-bop era trios such as Wynton Kelly’s.
The opening track, a Latin original entitled “You,” sets the tone for the album with its length and the conciseness of the solos. The composition is a standard A-A-B-A form comprised of thirty-two bars, but what is striking from the very first bar is the group’s ability to maintain a swinging sensibility in a Latin song. The feeling of propulsion, calm yet intense, that comes from Whiteman and Childs is truly special. This feeling never flags throughout the sixteen tracks that follow, making the entire album easily digestible in one sitting.
Tosoff, who takes turns with Schwager in playing the lead melody, has a commanding presence on each piece in the album. Many of the songs have Tosoff playing the melody with her right hand, while Schwager comps in the background. She even takes entire solos without playing a single chord in the left hand. It takes discipline to treat a melody, let alone a solo, from the standpoint of a monophonic instrument. Her approach demonstrates refinement and maturity. “There’s a Small Hotel” is a wonderful example of her ability to shine in a short span of time, relying on tasteful melodic choices and an impeccable sense of swing.
The “economic” sensibility of the album puts Schwager in a comfortable setting that manifests itself in a sense of play, particularly in compositions such as Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail.” On this track we hear Schwager using what solo time he has to great effect with bebop lines composed of stunning symmetry and melody. In between all of this is a peppering of rhythms that coaxes a similar impishness out of Childs. The interplay that ensues in this moment and others like it is one of the brightest features of the album.
It’s worth noting how difficult it is for harmonic instruments like piano and guitar to complement each other. There’s nowhere for either to hide, so their efforts must be coordinated and tempered with some intense listening. That these two players never step on each other’s toes testifies to their musicality.
Childs plays an exemplary supporting role on this album. He never really gets a chance to stretch out except for a few songs where he trades fours with the other band members, and on the out chorus of “Cottontail,” where he takes the helm for the improvised bridge section. The rhythms that Childs creates with Whiteman are compelling. It cannot be overstated how much the synergy of drummer and bassist sets up everyone else to succeed. An excellent example of this occurs in “Who Knows,” where the piano solo is propelled by a driving, walking bass line and brushwork on the snare. The fact that Tosoff is sparse with her harmonic accompaniment showcases the dynamic between Whiteman and Childs. With Whiteman coming from a piano background, one could be forgiven for expecting him to play with more of a dramatic flair. However, on this album he is a rock: his bass lines rarely, if ever, stray from playing quarter notes. One of the few solos Whiteman takes is in “Use Your Imagination.” Although he acquits himself well, it is his role of supporting player that really speaks to the listener. The swing tunes such as “Lullaby of the Leaves” show him driving the time and swing. Whiteman and Childs must have spent a good amount of time playing together because the bass lines and hi-hat rhythms are locked in tighter than a Chinese finger puzzle!
Taken as a whole, On Course could serve as a textbook on how to approach the trio or quartet format. Beginner and intermediate players of piano and guitar will also learn a great deal about how to function in groups with more than one polyphonic instrument. This is a stellar outing, and Whiteman also does a good job of instilling a sense of jealousy in those of us who struggle to be proficient in one instrument, let alone tackling another. I highly recommend this album.
– Michael McArthur, Northern Ontario School of Medicine – C.A.M.L. Review August 2013
The new album, On Course, is an enjoyable straight-ahead jazz affair seasoned by tasteful choices not only in repertoire but also in personnel…
–Ori Dagan, Wholenote (read the complete article…)
His playing is defined by its depth and taste as much as its variety. He’s every bit as good in a group context, where his capacity for melodic understatement and harmonic nuance finds full expression.
– Stuart Broomer, Toronto Life
Pianist Richard Whiteman was all clean, tasty articulation with ideas that became more expansive at his afternoon show on the outdoor DuMaurier stage. … the quartet was in elegant form…
– The Toronto Star (at The Downtown Toronto Jazz Festival)
a fabulous mainstream approach, with great technique and ideas
– Kitchener-Waterloo Record (at The Kitchener Waterloo JazzFest)
accessible, melodic and charming
– L.A. Jazz Scene
a superb jazz trio…Pianist Richard Whiteman was thrillingly articulate as a soloist and softly supportive when accompanying
– Stratford Beacon-Herald
Smooth around the edges and sweet in the middle… Whiteman’s originals go down easy with the right hand content to survey the lucid motifs with graceful inflection.
– The Jazz Report Online
– NOW Magazine
The beautiful ballad Prelude To A Kiss is delicately interpreted with Whiteman fully aware of Ellington’s sensitive melody and rich harmonic structure. Well done.
– Jazz Report
All things considered, in a town filled with good piano players, Richard Whiteman is a musician’s musician – one with an ear attuned to the delicate shadings and nuances required by demanding music.