Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 17, No.5, 2018

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Chris Barry
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Becky Noble
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
Vincent Rehel
Kat Edmonson
Jaga Jazzist
Cline & Lage
Fred Hersch
Gregory Porter
Takuya Kuroda
Edmar Castaneda
Donny McCaslin
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Keyon Harrold
Sonia Johnson
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)

Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: THEO CROKER


If you are curious about the new breed of jazz trumpeters on the block, lend your ears to the meticulously composed music of Theo Croker, who counts Wynton Marsalis (whose affection for classical music requires no apology) among his influences.

He showed us what he’s all about at the 39th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival that uncharacteristically produced far too many occasions where a group of outstanding musicians would get together – usually the day before the concert – and demonstrate their extraordinary improvisational skills on compositions (the polite descriptive) comprised of no more than a short but catchy sequence of poppish notes that would repeat (loop-like) for the duration of the song. To mostly unbridled applause, the gifted musician would methodically (dexterously) engage the sequence by flipping it, turning it on its side, bouncing, scrambling, chopping, and eviscerating it before reassembling the phrase and passing it on to the next brilliant musician who would perform the same acrobatics. String together seven such tracks multiplied by ten minutes, mixed in with lengthy explanations of the joy and privilege the musicians experience in each other’s esteemed presence, and in no time a hard day’s night’s work is done -- and on to the next stop on the summer breezes of the jazz festival season.

One of the Marsalis brothers dares to suggest that when jazz and pop are mixed, jazz suffers.

So by the time the Theo Croker concert came due (on day six of the ten day festival) I was starving for something more challenging, and Croker and his dynamic group delivered the goods. Croker, wiser than his 33 years, argues through his music that composition and improvisation (the unequal twin pillars of jazz,) do not have to be mutually exclusive. His relatively small discography, topped off by his latest, Escape Velocity, stands as an eloquent statement of his position, which doesn’t stand in the way of his creative flights into dissonance or abrupt shifts in moods, some of which seem to run roughshod or contradict the music’s original thematic intent.

Most of Croker’s compositions begin with extended, meticulously composed melodies, very often augmented harmonically by the piano or the saxophone. Where Croker’s music takes an unusual and very refreshing turn is the time allotted to the hard-earned art of composition. He does not allow his musicians to improvisationally exhaust an idea before returning to the main themes: instead, in respect to the value he attaches to composition, he structures his music so the main themes and their permutations are allowed, on multiple occasions, to bleed into the improvisation to the giddy effect that one isn’t sure where the one begins and the other leaves off. For the listener, these strategic returns of the leitmotif serve as touchstone or anchor, allowing the listener to pause and reboot before resuming what can sometimes be a demanding voyage. However insinuating are Croker’s striking melodies, the manner in which he plays off them are often unpredictable. He can be almost 1950ish one moment playing the straight and narrow, and then abstract the next, sometimes working in and around, pounding into shape a single note for a 30 second stretch, as if purging himself of yet another "day in the life" in the post-truth era.

Croker gets excellent mileage from his saxophonist Irwin Hall, and when they play together the concept and voicing are so tightly interwoven acoustic space becomes almost palpable. That Croker is a fan of Radio Head doesn’t come as a surprise in light of his penchant for stretched out harmonies that delight the ear on both sides of the serpentine.

In the shaping of his very particular sound and vision, a nod goes to his highly creative percussionist Kassa Overall who, in the spirit of Aldo Romano, finds on his drum kit a melodic component while keeping the beat, just as the bassist Eric Wheeler’s love of counter time is perfectly attuned to the mood and thrust of the main melody that is always on call.

A mixed review goes to the pianist Michael King, who importunately undermines his abilities by banging instead of playing his instrument -- especially at the high end of the ivories. If the goal or climax of any solo is ecstasy, epiphany, nirvana, that end-game is not necessarily a function of scaling the instrument to its maximum. On most occasions, the high note is just a high note, just as being high on life doesn’t mean you have to conquer Mount Everest. There were simply too many occasions when King was banging the daylights out of keys in the highest register (between the 80th and 88th key). When music achieves radiance, it is consequent to sustained mental effort and not physical prowess.

Despite his young years, Croker has already put his signature on music comprised of resilient melodies and uncompromising journeys that beg to be repeated. When he’s in the zone, he recalls David Binney (Welcome to Life) at his best, and the Ingrid Jensen concept album entitled At Sea.

Croker is a dedicated musician on a mission who knows what he wants in terms of balance and the give and take between composition and improvisation. His fresh approach to jazz combines a deep respect for the tradition while being his own person in the present, its dawns and darknesses.

I predict that by the time Theo Croker retires his instrument, he will have added significantly to the ever expanding catalog of jazz.




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