By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Waltz for Dylan
It’s funny how you can be too close to something to notice it. Canadian jazz is an example; the country is one of the “lower 48’s” closest neighbors, yet the skills of Canadian musicians in this genre are relatively unknown on this side of the border. My own awareness began years ago, with Rob McConnell’s wonderful Boss Brass Big Band, followed by Maynard Ferguson’s entry into Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. Clearly, some “Canucks” could swing with the best.
As further proof, we have this album by the Kevin Crabb Quartet. Crabb is a bit unusual in a few ways: He has dual citizenship (Canada and the United States), and he’s much more than “just a drummer.” He was born into a musical family, and became a professional vocalist at age 8 (earning “big bucks” as a singer of commercial jingles). He subsequently became a TV and film actor, a professional drummer and composer/arranger.
As for his instrumental skill, he’s a musician, not an exciting “showman.”
Some age-old commentary comes to mind: The first, intended as an ironic joke, is a question: “How big is your band?” Answer: “Fifteen musicians and a drummer.” The second observation comes from a famous musician: “A drummer should be felt more than heard.”
To repeat, Crabb is a musician!
Two members of his group, also Canadians, are bassist Don Thompson and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson; both have played with numerous name artists during their careers. Pianist John Beasley, the sole American, also has worked with many names, including Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Carly Simon and Barbra Streisand.
The point? This is a talented, first-echelon quartet.
Crabb’s skill as a composer is evident; he wrote all the tunes featured on this release, and their style, feel and content are not what you’d expect from a percussionist. These tracks are tasty — beautiful at times — and yet they always swing. He has a knack for making the soloists, and the group as a whole, sound even better than they are.
So be on the lookout, jazz fans, and keep your ears tuned to the North!