Friday, March 10, 2017

Ashley Summers - True North (EARS & EYES RECORDS March 24, 2017)

“True North,” is a sophisticated study of contrasts by Chicago-based, Canadian-born bassist and composer Ashley Summers. In her long-awaited debut album as a leader, Summers’s collection of originals crafts a love letter to icy air, shimmering city lights, and the capacious joys and tragedies of urban life. Above all, this is music about resiliency like the words of Albert Camus: the “invincible summer” found “deep within the midst of winter.” 

Ever the nomad, Summers is a self-proclaimed 'city girl' that has spent her career exploring many corners of the world in pursuit of music scholarship and performance. From her childhood home in Canada to the cobblestone streets of Paris and humbling hills of Kentucky, this collection of compositions serves as a tribute to the people, experiences and values that keep her grounded regardless of locale or circumstance. “I became a ‘wanderer’ the moment I discovered jazz and creative improvised music,” Summers says in reference to the many different cities she has called home. “It’s embedded in the spirit of the music; you go where it takes you. Each move has been prompted solely by music coupled with either restlessness or a dream I was chasing.” In 2015, when a close family member was in the midst of a battle with cancer and two of her musical heroes died suddenly, Summers says: “I started to examine the significant attachments in my life that keep me grounded, which are not geographical or physical at all." 

"Every one of my compositions is a tribute to or reflection of a person in my life or an experience I’m trying to narrate, but this was different. I was trying to define what it is that ultimately guides my journey as an artist and an individual, and I realized that what I was searching for was an ‘anthem’ of sorts that would tie my work together.” The result of this revelation is the spirited, exultant melody in True North, which Summers acknowledges as “certainly a propos in light of the tremendous pride I have for my country and the intensity of the yearning I feel for my homeland as I wander the world, which is all reflected in the shifting metres and moods of my composition.” Having crafted her anthem, and after spending a significant portion of her career supporting other artists in the studio, she finally felt ready to release an album of her own. The album contains stories of patriotism, resilience, heartache, injustice, mysticism, hope and heroism, all told from the perspective of an artist perpetually guided by her "True North". 

There is no better assemblage of musicians to help Summers in this storytelling endeavor than Seamus Blake, Daniel Bruce, Daniel Murphy and Chris Baker. While each have their own unique artistic voice, they have all had a profound presence in Summers's life for well over a decade. Saxophone powerhouse and fellow Vancouver native Seamus Blake has been a major influence on Summers from the moment she heard him in her teenaged years. His extraordinary sound and inimitable playing style has invariably inspired the sweeping melodies she writes. Here, his articulate improvisations charge the project with unbridled optimism and streetwise bravado. Pianist Daniel Murphy has been Summers's co-conspirator since a 2006 tour with Cleveland saxophonist Bobby Selvaggio that sparked their friendship and musical camaraderie.

His talents blend seamlessly with her compositional style and his incisive, front-edged technique contributes a certain suave elegance to the project. Similarly, the spirited guitar playing of Summers's close friend and longtime collaborator Daniel Bruce adds a layer of intrigue and momentum that he executes effortlessly. The album glitters with the elegant playing of Summers's drummer and husband, Chris Baker, who deftly balances ferocity with subtlety to make her compositions come alive here. 

Summers herself performs her eloquent compositions with stunning sincerity, balancing impetuous, razor-sharp rhythmic clarity with the introspection of an old soul who has stories to tell. Achingly long melodies drape gracefully over persistent rhythmic syncopations like walls of fog rolling over the clamoring streets of her native Vancouver. Summers’s world is one in which collaborators breezily finish each other’s musical sentences, and perpetually building intensity crests and falls as naturally as waves into foam. 

“My hope is that the album as a whole inspires a feeling of momentum”, Summers affirms. “It’s meant to stir and invigorate the listener, propelling them in whatever direction is true for them.”

1. King of Swords 6:18
2. True North 7:30
3. The Matriarch 6:26
4. Against the Grain 7:53
5. Raîson d’Être 7:19
6. Eli 3:46

Seamus Blake , tenor saxophone
Daniel Bruce , guitar
Daniel Murphy , piano
Chris Baker , drums

Recorded by Shane Hendrickson at IV Labs in Chicago, IL USA 
Mixed and Mastered by Brian Schwab in Chicago, IL USA 
Album artwork and design by Federico Maksimiuk