North by Northwest Quartet,
North by Northwest Quartet
(Antigo, 2000)

This album's inspiration is film noir, with a special nod to Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest. The Newfoundland quartet includes Tom Daniels and Eric Hofbauer on guitars, Jared Sims on winds and Tyson Rogers, piano. Craig Brenan's trombone is added on several tracks.

This won't be coming to your local soft jazz station. At times it sounds more like modern classical chamber music than jazz. There are long arranged passages. Tonality and harmony slide around. Rhythms are all on the slow to moderate side. Consistent with the film noir theme, most tracks are designed to produce an uneasy, off-center effect and occasionally some of the sounds are intentionally threatening. The group makes a point to thank avant-garde jazzmen George Russell and Ran Blake. If you like their type of jazz, this may appeal.

"Eurohaus Destroyer" starts things off. The first five notes of its melody, oddly enough, are also the beginning of "You'd Be So Easy to Love," but things quickly jog in a more sinister direction. Sims, on soprano sax, is particularly effective. "Sold to Mr. Stone" goes for jaded and melancholy and gets there with the help of a little sarcastic Kurt Weill-type ennui in the rhythm section. "Nuevo York" slows things down even more. Rogers' piano seems to be voicing wistful memories. And so it goes. Think minor keys and slowly spiraling smoke from the cigarette of someone who has seen it all. "Positive Bag Match" yields one of the few breaks in the predominant mood. Brenan's happy trombone sounds foolishly unaware of the dangers lurking.

The musicians are clever and talented and know what they're doing. Album notes say, "The music has many layers and like a film noir movie will solve mysteries while simultaneously creating new ones upon each listening." As that implies, intellect is at least as important as emotion, and the album does feel clearer with each listen. Is it worth the effort? Contrary to the words of Duke Ellington's song, jazz can mean something if it ain't got that swing, but it's the harder way to go. Unless you are really in the mood, this time out the North By Northwest Quartet is interesting and easy to admire, but not so easy to love.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 8 March 2003

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