Label: Self produced, 2018
Personnel - Gordon Hyland: tenor sax; Neil Whitford: guitar; Torrie Seager: guitar; Andrew Roorda: electric bass; Mackenzie Longpre: drummer + Mike Murley: tenor sax; Sam McLellan: acoustic bass.
Toronto-born saxophonist Gordon Hyland gathered a conceptual post-bop ensemble that he named Living Fossil to release musical pieces he wrote between 2013 and 2017 plus a few modern orchestrations of world-known tunes.
Resorting to deft arrangements and bracing solos, Hyland stamps his distinctive signature on every tune of Never Die!, entrusting the harmonization to electric guitarists Neil Whitford and Torrie Seager and assuring groove-oriented underpinnings through the work of electric bassist Andrew Roorda and drummer Mackenzie Longpre. With the exception of Seager, all the members mentioned above were partners of the bandleader in the electro-prog rock band Ninja Funk Orchestra.
“Macrophages” opens the recording with ominous chimes and other disconcerting guitar sounds that hover and dissipate. There’s a mysterious electronic-like vibe that comes from the electric bass, encouraging the bandleader and his inventive drummer to explore several timbres on their instruments. While soloing, Hyland presents a dark, wry vein that feels very Henry Threadgill.
Embracing openness but not devoid of a certain ambiguity, “Living Fossil” takes us to quieter post-bop waters where we listen to a composed description of the Nautilus, a living creature that, according to Jacques Cousteau, hasn’t evolved since the Triastic period. The music sounds like something that David Binney would do. While these tunes worked up an appetite, the standout title track, “Never Die!”, packed a powerful punch with its rock-solid moves and magnetic melody. It was extremely easy to identify myself with the inspired drumming provided with stamina and syncopation, the groovy bass lines tinged with funk, and the sinuous saxophone phrases delivered with muscle. The parts are irreproachably put together, oscillating between the soft jazzy glow of the main statement and the funk-rock of the improvisational sections, escalating into a zesty prog-rock to accommodate a ‘dirty’ guitar solo wrapped in effect.
In order to tackle a trio of jazz classics, Hyland calls in tenorist Mike Murley, who also co-produced, and contrabassist Sam McLellan. The rendition of Ornette’s “Lorraine”, perfect for a modern spaghetti Western, is seasoned with sugar and salt in its both solemnly cool and hasty swinging passages. This is by far the most playful tune on the record, while Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, here melodically altered and re-entitled “Baby Steps”, flows unflappably tuneful with saxophone dialogues and a drum solo over a circular progression. In turn, “Lessforgettable”, a variation on Irving Gordon’s “Unforgettable”, was devised with bowed bass, flickering guitar chords, and decorative electronic sounds.
On “Satellite”, the band cuts loose on a dynamic driving rhythm and bass groove, emulating the force of a funk-metal song. They soften it up for a serene middle section, bringing tremulous yet limpid guitar chops and sunny smiles delivered by Hyland’s resplendent melodicism. The saxophonist flies higher as the tune progressively gains that density typical of bands such as Body Count and Faith No More, and Longpre shows some more of his abilities behind the drum kit.
Living Fossil boasts eminent sonorities well rooted in today's jazz and rock genres, but wisely seeks inspiration in essential jewels from the past. Never Die! is an auspicious debut for this flexible Canadian band.
02 - Living Fossil ► 03 - Never Die! ► 05 - Satellite