Composer John Warren digs deep for Algonquin lore



On Monday night, the Jazz Nursery journeyed to The Vortex from its new home at the i'klectik arts lab in Waterloo, to showcase a special nonet packed with emerging talent. The group had been assembled specially for an evening of Canadian composer John Warren's work, including the second performance of 'Awhereabout', commissioned and premiered by the Nursery earlier in the year.

Conducted by Warren and kicking off with 'Lopsided' from his 2008 album Finally Beginning, the group didn't take long to hit its stride. Oli Hayhurst (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums) swung hard on 'Convergent', which featured the impressive Owen Dawson on trombone and the expansive phrasing of James Allsopp on tenor. Just as the line-up of Warren's recent studio discs reads as a who's who of top British jazz players, so tonight felt like a guide to the next generation. A huge fan of Monk, Warren included a fine arrangement of 'Ruby My Dear' as the only non-original of the night – Sam Braysher's mellow alto sound weaving ornamented lines over the ballad.

After the interval came 'Awhereabout', which takes its name from a made-up word conjuring the expanses of the Canadian wilderness. Warren's 50-minute four-movement work – inspired by the folk stories of the indigenous Algonquin people – was shot-through with inventive arranging and Gil Evans-esque tutti writing. Trumpeter Steve Fishwick roared out of the blocks on the opening number 'Story of the Drum', and as the four sections progressed there was a real sense of development, culminating in the catchy central theme of the last movement, 'Land of Deep Water'. Though the cool school sound isn't an obvious choice for evoking Algonquin lore and legend, Warren's musical language felt uniquely compelling.

– Jon Carvell
– Photo by Liam Izod