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The Definition of a Toy

posted on 2023-12-31, 23:41 authored by Dylan van der SchyffDylan van der Schyff

"This CD combines the talents of Vancouver-based drummer Dylan van der Schyff and trumpeter Brad Turner, American saxophonist (and resident of the Netherlands) Michael Moore, German pianist Achim Kaufmann and American bassist Mark Helias. The group’s far-flung nature definitely doesn’t work against it. Turner and Moore may live half a world apart, but they play the thorniest unison lines as if they lived next door to one another and rehearsed together every day. Both are rather light-toned abstractionists with a lyrical bent. Moore excels at evading pitch relationships that imply tonal centers-in essence, he’s so “out” that he’s “in.” Kaufmann shares that quality and is a similarly graceful, intelligent presence. Van der Schyff has a gentle touch and a malleable way with time, which makes him a good match for the exacting and hyperagile Helias. There’s a pronounced “cool jazz” sensibility to The Definition of a Toy. It rarely comes to a full boil, yet the conceptual velocity runs at full throttle (and there’s enough Tony Williams in van der Schyff’s playing to keep things taut). Its strength is an abundance of smarts and a fully developed group identity. This is exceedingly well played and executed-a nearly pristine amalgam of free improvisation and composition, of jazz and contemporary-classical elements." - Jazz Times

"A summit meeting of international proportions, "The Definition of a Toy" features a roster of international talent. The debut recording of percussionist Dylan Van Der Shyff as a session leader, hails from Canada, as does trumpeter Brad Turner and along with New York based bassist Mark Helias represents this side of the Atlantic divide. Pianist Achim Kaufmann and American expatriate, multi-reedist Michael Moore reside in the Netherlands. All these musicians have previous connections with one another; van der Schyff and Turner have played together since the early 1990s. Moore is a member of Kaufmann's quartet, and Helias and Moore have played together on and off for fifteen years. Together these five and their mix of writing styles offer a program that is more stylistically copasetic that one would imagine from such a disparate collective.

Despite their diverse authorship, each piece finds sonic similarities with the others, and so a conceptual continuum is created; a mutual aesthetic that defines their sound. Rich, complex melodies alternate with free-form improvisation and tense atonal interjections. After a brief chamberesque intro, Moore's title track launches the album proper with a rich melody replete with plaintiff piano voicings and a modulated rhythmic construction that vacillates back and forth between time signatures. While the principle melody is structurally rock solid, the improvised sections are open for the rhythm section to accelerate or decelerate at will. It also acquaints the listener to the band with a short, sequential string of solos that introduces each soloist. Moore's breathy but unpredictable alto follows Kaufmann's linear aggressive pianism. Turner unveils his smeary, buttery trumpet sound while Helias plucks out a melodic solo.

Helias contributes "Jacques," a tumultuous and wildly dynamic piece that trades its opening histrionics for more measured and introspective interplay during its duration. Both Turner's "Queen of the Box Office" and Moore's "Gavotas Sobre Lapa" are slightly more conventional ballad structures with a hauntingly slow rubato vibe. Kauffmann's "Siberian Elm and Furrowed Brown" opens with a veritable catalog of extended techniques, scraped and bowed cymbals, arco bass harmonics and sputtering raspy horn lines that transform into a bright, optimistic melody line. With interweaving horn solos for Turner's muted trumpet and Moore's spiraling alto, the rhythm section handles the back beat metrically with unpredictable rhythmic volatility, speeding up and/or slowing down as the mood suits them, dragging the horn soloists along for the ride. Ending on a decidedly mellifluous note after one of Kauffmann's razor sharp piano runs, this three part piece is as indicative as any on the album of this group's intricate, but ultimately accessible writing style. Bolstered by a few duo and trio improvisations, the album ends on an upbeat note. Although Helias' "Broken" begins with an authoritative and regal sounding theme, the mood lightens to reveal yet another side of the quintet, one of playful exuberance, and the tune is taken out on a sprightly note. An empathetic and enjoyable meeting between five masters." – Troy Collins (All About Jazz)


released August 9, 2005

Dylan van der Schyff - drums, percussion
Michael Moore - alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Brad Turner - trumpet
Achim Kaufmann - piano
Mark Helias - double bass

Compositions by M. Moore (2, 8), M. Helias (4, 9), B. Turner (5), A, Kaufmann (6); 1, 3 & 7 are improvisations.

Recorded June 19th, 2003 by Shawn Pierce, assisted by Sheldon Zaharko
Cover photo by Stephen Scott Patterson

Session produced by Dylan van der Schyff and Tony Reif
Remastered in 2018 by Dylan van der Schyff

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