I haven’t traveled to New Orleans in a number of years, but the opening bars of Way North’s second album, “Fearless and Kind,” immediately transport me there. The project’s opening track, “Boll Weevil,” is just the sort of tune that I remember hearing during various work jaunts to NOLA – danceable, full of great horn playing, fast tempo.
Way North is a cross-border quartet comprised of three musicians from Canada and one New Yorker – saxophonist Petr Cancura (Down Home – JUNO nominee), trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy (2018 Toronto Emerging Jazz Artist/FOG Brass Band bandleader), bassist Michael Herring (Peripheral Vision – JUNO nominee), and American drummer Richie Barshay (Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea/Esperanza Spalding). Together, the four have put together an album that’s simultaneously loose and cohesive, fun and thoughtful.
After the opening track, the group slows things down with “Lagoon,” a meandering tune that puts images in my mind of a long, slow, lazy trip down the river on a hot summer afternoon (perhaps in the American South, where I’ve most often experienced those kinds of days). If “Lagoon” is slow, “Airport to Knowhere” ramps the thermostat all the way back up, with a swift tempo and a beat that makes me think both of mad dashes to catch flights and also of various 1960s film scores, oddly enough.
The next two tracks both draw from compositions by Jelly Roll Morton – an interesting choice indeed considering that there is no pianist in the quartet (and Morton was a famed ragtime and early jazz pianist). Both tunes benefit greatly from the multitextured palette that the foursome’s instruments provide, turning them into seemingly brand-new pieces.
“Inchworms” provides one of several opportunities throughout the album for bassist Michael Herring to shine (why let the horns have all the fun, right?), while “You Know a Song” (written by Herring) offers spotlights for all four musicians to strut their considerable talents. All four players contributed compositions to the album, making this a fresh and original listen that’s guaranteed to have your toes tapping in no time.
One of the band’s stated goals is to “uplift people with (their) music” – and this is a goal they meet admirably. If you’re already a fan of New Orleans-style jazz, this album will fit well in your collection; if you’re a bit intimidated by jazz, this is a great place to start your listening adventures.
Visit Way North’s website. (Bonus kudos to the group’s web designer for the clever usage of the images from the album cover throughout the site.)