As the jumbo flies, Canada is pretty close to the recognized jazz capital of the world, but it is no easier to gain entre to the intimidating New York scene from Canada than it is from anywhere else. Oscar Peterson did it, of course, but you'd have to say that he was a phenomenon.
Pianist and composer John Stetch has crossed the border and not only established himself as a topline sideman (he is a regular with TANAREID, jointly led by key modern bassist Rufus Reid and Akira Tana) but has won acceptance for his own bands in the rather stubborn North American market. Stetch was encouraged to take America on when he won second place in the 1993 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers' Competition, which was judged by Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock among others.
As a pianist, Stetch makes the instrument ring beautifully. He gets a very full sound without apparently feeling the need to bottom the instrument out or bash it. He can toss off brilliantly precise little hail storms and cascades in the treble without disturbing the solid chordal underpinning and the flowing time. His outstanding virtue, however, is an ability to mount extremely long, clear-headed lines - sometimes they seem endless - at any tempo. While the level of thoughtful invention is unflagging and the articulation apparently unflappable, these lines also develop considerable momentum. He can swing, he can groove. His style is fresh and contemporary, but drawn directly from the tradition.
Stetch was brought up listening to and playing Ukrainian music and jazz, and also spent some time studying classical saxophone. The title track is in fact a traditional melody which Stetch has turned into a very satisfying minor blues with the use of some additional chords. The track Inuit Talk is inspired by the percussive speech of the people we have more often called Eskimos, while Ocean Floors is a duet with Canadian saxophonist Seamus Blake which just happened to take on characteristics of underwater drift patterns. Blake, incidentally, is a very distinctive player who will intrigue those Australian listeners who have followed the development of highly individual Australian players like Sandy Evans and Jason Cooney. Each of Stetch's tunes has a sense of expressive purpose and the versions of jazz classics like Cedar Walton's Bolivia are noteworthy.
released June 30, 1997
John Stetch piano
Seamus Blake tenor saxophone
Jesse Murphy acoustic bass
Jordi Rossy drums
Ugonna Okegwo acoustic bass (tracks 4, 5, 7)
Gene Jackson drums (tracks 4, 5, 7)
Recorded at Systems II, Brooklyn, New York 8 & 9 November 1993 by David Baker
Tracks 4, 5, 7 recorded at East Side Sound, New York, 7 January, 1994 by Andre White. Assistant engineer Gary Townsley
Produced by John Stetch
Painting 'Improvisation 19' by Wassily Kandinsky
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