THE LEYLAND GORDON GROUP
- Biography 2010 -
Jazz guitarist and composer Leyland Gordon is not an average guy, so don’t expect anything average about Time Dances. A siren call from the intellectual age, Time Dances is a compelling collection of 10 original jazz compositions that pay homage to tradition while stretching its boundaries in terms of time, rhythm and melodic convention.
“It’s a really interesting time to be making music,” he says, “and I sort of go at it with the idea that anything is fair game.” Self-described as “part rabble-rouser, part Gadfly”, Gordon isn’t the type to go with the status quo, especially when it comes to his guitar. “I think all artists share the responsibility of exploration and innovation. If we’re saying that we endeavour to create, then by definition that is what we should be doing. I’m always trying to find ways of approaching my instrument or my music that are different than what I’ve done before.”
No one in Canada is doing what Leyland Gordon is doing – going back to a tradition, albeit a very fluid tradition, and advancing it the way he has on Time Dances, which has already attracted considerable attention in Europe and North America as word of Gordon’s sound spreads through social media. “In a way it’s what you saw a lot of in the 1970s, which were my first moments of musical consciousness. People were really changing music around a lot – probably as a result of technologies and new things that were coming, but it was also just one of those times where audiences would not settle for more of the same.”
On jazz being an ever-evolving art form, Gordon says, “I’ve always tried to be someone who supported that as a valid piece of the overall jazz puzzle. I do believe it’s important to have players that are guardians of traditions that have proven strong over time – the classics – but you make a decision based on the type of person you are as to whether you want to be curating a great art form, or trying to add to it and make new things happen. I’m definitely the latter.”
Respect for his talent is such that Gordon attracted a who’s who of like-minded players for Time Dances, including celebrated pianist Dave Restivo, bassist George Koller, drummer Ben Riley, percussionist Alan Hetherington and producer/film composer Igor Vrabac, as well as guest artists/vocalists Sienna Dahlen and three-time Grammy winner and former Pat Metheny Group member, David Blamires. This was not a show up and dial-it-in gig; to bring his songs to life Gordon was insistent on finding the right combination of players – those with the chops to pull it off, who also shared his sense of musical discovery. The group that assembled over two recording sessions headed by Jeff Wolpert and Jeremy Darby at Toronto’s Kick Audio and Canterbury Music in the winter of 2008 and summer of 2009 proved to be just that.
Although very much his vision from start to finish, Time Dances also benefits from Gordon’s willingness to let the musicians he had surrounded himself with explore their instruments and talents inside his compositions. From the three co-written tracks with Igor Vrabac to the soaring pianos solos from Dave Restivo and the stellar rhythmic grouping of Koller, Riley and Hetherington, it’s clear that Time Dances was masterminded to be a collective expression of an individual idea. “If you are hiring someone who is as talented on the piano as Dave Restivo it would be insane to try and write his piano solo from him,” he states matter-of-factly. “I think his solo on the fourth track, “October in the Sun”, is among the best I’ve ever heard him play. To have that captured, I think, is the beauty of recording.”
From the cinematic sparkle of “Bright City” to the smooth and funky sounds of “Deep In Time” and the contemplative grace of “Sunshower”, every song on Time Dances offers at least one unexpected musical nugget that acts as an enticement to dig deeper. Whether it’s in the slide from samba beats to jungle rhythms near the end of “Willow” or the mood and time shifts in “South Song”, Time Dances marks an important stop on Leyland Gordon’s journey to jazz guitar’s next frontier.
Gordon comes by his love of the art form honestly. His was an upbringing filled with music and creativity – not unexpected when your mother danced with the National Ballet and your father made documentaries before becoming an art dealer. His sensibilities changed in his mid-teens; while most boys his age were into Van Halen and Rush, Gordon still remembers giving a guy selling his wares on Yonge St. to buy a bus ticket home $4 in return for two cassettes – a 1960s collection of Stan Getz’s bossa nova work with Jobim and George Benson’s Breezin’.
And yet, despite being nurtured in an environment that fostered self-expression, Gordon didn’t start playing guitar himself until he was 17. His six-string prowess emerged quickly; a combination of natural talent, strong commitment and private lessons with Canadian jazz guitarist Joey Goldstein, who studied with Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, Gary Burton and other 70s Berklee greats, had Gordon playing jazz scales and chords and reading music adequately within six months. Awash in brash confidence, he now wryly notes that his first foray into public performance, a Sunday jam in 1991 at the old Blue Note club in Toronto, may have been undertaken “too early.”
“I got up and we played Miles Davis’ ‘All Blues’. I played the melody and they looked at me to solo and I was like ‘no, no, you play something… I’ll just hang here’. But I think those are good things to do because they frighten you into practicing harder.”
Gordon continued to play open stages and jams throughout university, finding his way into the local Toronto jazz scene and connecting with the players who would eventually come together as the Leyland Gordon Group.
“I’m a very renaissance-type person, I believe that an appreciation of mathematics or finance or philosophy goes well with an appreciation of music. In any discipline –a doctor, a geologist, a plumber, all the trades and professions, things taught in schools, colleges and universities – you take any of those things to their ultimate degree and they all become arts, and the very finest of all that do those things are artists.”
He has the same instinct about being hemmed in by musical definitions. “Jazz is, to some, well, if it doesn’t swing it ain’t got that thing. Some people adhere to that definition, but I think all those labels are libels – in our multimedia, global village world, music is increasingly just becoming music, small ‘m’ or big.”
That sentiment is expertly woven throughout the musical tapestry that is Time Dances. Never afraid to follow his vision, it’s ultimately Gordon’s pioneering spirit that makes Time Dances the swift kick needed to knock jazz out of its comfort zone.
Leyland Gordon - Guitar
Dave Restivo - Piano
George Koller - Bass
Ben Riley - Drums
Alan Hetherington - Percussion
Sienna Dahlen - voice, Guest Artist
Igor Vrabac - keyboards, Misc. Instruments
David Blamires - voice, Guest Artist
Time Dances (2010)
Nominated for three 2011 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards:
Album of the Year
Instrumentalist of the Year (Leyland Gordon)
Male Vocalist of the Year (David Blamires)
Nominated for Best Jazz at 2011 Barrie New Music Awards
Track 1 Bright City frequently featured on Jazz FM 91.1 Canada's Premier Radio Station.
October in the Sun
Deep in Time
Time 70 minutes.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.