Simon Fisk at the Argyle Gallery | Cultural Festivals | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Stuff happens. Like travel funding falling through for your band mates in Calgary when you've got a gig at the Atlantic Jazz Festival in Halifax. And continues to happen. You arrive at the gig. You, with your double bass. You, the one-man trio. But then, in strolls a pal from St. FX jazz school days, a versatile guitarist with an M Mus. Now you're a duo. This is better. But it still leaves only one of you knowing the music. Your music. It's 5:30. The gig's start time is 8:00. Through the Argyle Gallery's doors walks a slender drummer and like that, the duo has swelled into a trio. The drummer is also, as it happens, a graduate of the St. FX jazz program. And a friend of the guitarist. Is there a kind of synergy forming here? Wasting no time after pleasantries, the new sidesmen rehearse a few of Fisk's compositions. Later he will say to the audience, "A smart leader plays all three tunes he knows and makes up the rest." About twenty to eight, having run through all they could in such a brief practice time, they down tools, leave the stage and privately fret. At first in dribbles, then as a constant flow, jazz fans stream into the gallery space, quickly parking themselves in all the designated seating. That does nothing to staunch the current of people pouring through the Argyle Gallery's narrow doorway. Soon the stairs to the upper gallery support jazz aficionados. It doesn't stop there. By 8:15 only shoehorns or liberal use of Vaseline can squeeze the last few stragglers into whatever nook or cranny can hold them. 8:20 the newly minted Simon Fisk Trio takes the stage and treats the crowd to a couple of sets of well-played tuneful Fisk compositions. Drummer Mike Carroll, as slight as his drumsticks, was a wonder. How he managed to tastily mesh his spritely clever fills and seemingly effortless (and complex) rhythm patterns with Fisk's sometime groove-lock bass lines or fleet-fingered free-spirit explorations of the double-bass's sonic range from tuning head to bridge is a testament to his quick-study musical mind, experience and excellent training from the St. FX jazz program. Also reed-slender, guitarist Tom Daniels coaxed liquidly languid melody lines in perfect counterpoint to Fisk and Carroll on his Fender Stratocaster run on reverb through an effects box. Fisk cites as influences, Wilco, Radiohead, Daniel Lanois, Beck and Tom Waits. And echoes of each ring in his song-like numbers. Often tinged with a longing (unusual in jazz) and melacholic hue, his tunes portrayed open, spacey, atmospheric, myserious soundscapes. None would have seemed out of place as soundtracks for David Lynch movies. How many, during the set break hankered for a cup of diner coffee, a fine piece of pie and the solution to the mystery behind the murder of Laura Palmer? Maybe just me. A Tom Waits-inspired number entitled Under The Clay stood out as a highlight. Fisk had been absorbing the Brawlers section on Waits's CD, Orphans as he mentioned in his introduction to the piece. "It never occurred to me that my mom would like it, Tom Waits, " he said, mimicking Waits' s signature rummy baritone. "It didn't seem right. But she loved it." With that, he roughly snapped and slapped out the rudimentary bass lines to a foot-stomper field holler. As if right on cue, in slipped Carroll on brushes, occasionally cracking sharp gotcha shots on the snare. Guitarist Daniels poured in a bluesy Marc Ribot style series of riffs, letting that evolve into a Bill Frisell feel to finish the tune out. The crowd of mainly twenty and thirty-somethings loved it. Musically, Fisk's melodic compositions and instrumental skill solidly connected, often drawing the audience forward in their seats in a sign of involvement and attentiveness. Only late in the evening did Fisk reveal that, what the crowd had enjoyed, happened to be the trio's first time playing the music ever, that day, beginning at 5:30, as a unit. I think the word to describe the audience's reaction is 'gobsmacked'. Stuff happens. Sometimes for the best.

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