What qualities define the jazz musician? Is it simply love for the music, an adventuresome spirit or obsession? Or is it a strong work ethic and a firm set of goals? It's likely that the best players have an abundance of all of these characteristics.
Since she left Salt Spring some 15 years ago as a budding jazz saxophonist, Monik Nordine has immersed herself in the jazz life, studying at UBC and then at McGill in Montreal, putting in the requisite thousands of hours of practice, and playing hundreds of gigs. She is now a brilliant, seasoned musician and has produced her debut recording called Not Just To But Over The Moon.
From the free-swinging modal piece Fives, which opens this collection, to the lively calypso Mary Lou, which winds it up, Monik Nordine has assembled a varied set of tunes, which she composed and arranged, music very strongly in the unique and distinctive tradition of original Canadian jazz which has emerged in the last couple of decades, developed and nurtured by such people as Kenny Wheeler and Hugh Fraser.
While the bittersweet sound of Monik's soprano sax permeates this recording, it is in fact a very democratic affair, which amply features each of her very capable sidemen. Because of You opens with a bluesy, soulful duo with string bassist Tommy Babin, segueing into a brief, gently swinging ensemble statement, followed by a succinct solo by Aron Doyle on flugelhorn, then a finely-developed improvisation by Monik, showing strong hints of John Coltrane, one of her prime influences. A short bass solo and the out chorus ends this fine piece, inspired by another of Monik's favourite saxophonists, Sam Rivers.
On first hearing, the colourfully-titled Free a Madcap Stoner, Lord, does sound like free jazz, but on closer listening we hear that it is mostly tonal, starting with solo bass, moving to a pulse-less conversation between the instruments (no piano on this track), then going to a straight-ahead swing feel, sounding a lot like some of the early Ornette Coleman releases (also pianoless). There's great rhythm section interaction here, first-rate drumming by Claude Lavergne and some surprising twists. This one grows on you.
There's a lot of music on this CD. Some of the other tunes are the lyrical lilting waltz Not Just To But Over the Moon, featuring a pensive solo by pianist Alex Clements, the lovely ballad Just for B, the beboppish How It Is, and Coming Home, which comes as close to a pop tune as you'd find on a purely jazz album.
A good criterion of a musician's ability is the kind of musicians she gathers around her, and here Monik has surrounded herself with some of the best young players on the hot Montreal jazz scene. These guys obviously enjoy playing this music, which Monik has spent years developing and it shows in their spirited, imaginative playing. For all the variety on this set, it remains remarkably consistent in its artistic intention and execution, and is what every jazz recording should be: a great collection of tunes, serving as perfect improvisational vehicles for a superior group of like-minded musicians.
I should also add that the packaging is superb: the art work is extremely attractive, and the liner notes are engaging and complete. There's a wealth of listening pleasure here and, based on the quality of the work on this CD, Monik Nordine does have everything it takes to be a superior jazz musician and is bound to have a long, rich career, both as composer and player.
-- PETER TASCHUK
Reprinted from the Gulf Islands Driftwood