Obsessions Octet has been a key figure on the Edmonton jazz scene for more than a decade. It wasn’t easy, however the eight-piece has shown dedication and focus in unifying their diverse talents into a single voice of energetic beats.
Under the leadership of saxophonist Kent Sangster, the ensemble has performed at Carnegie Hall, enjoyed their first European tour in 2014 and played at the 2016 Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Already working at full capacity, the ensemble plans to release their third album on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at the Chateau Lacombe’s Bellamy Lounge.
Steppin’ Up flows from the first two albums Obsessions and Melodia that immediately garnered critical acclaim including a Western Canadian Music Award and Juno nomination.
Initially the octet perfected a blend of classical, tango and jazz into a singular voice. That mix is still the foundation for their carefully composed structures and improvisations.
However, in Steppin’ Up, the ensemble’s style has matured adding hip-hop grooves and electronics to an already sumptuous sound.
The nine-track jumps in with a couple of bewitching Piazzolla charts as well as a synthesized nod to Polish classical composer FrÄ‚Â©dÄ‚Â©ric Chopin and a more traditional bow to jazz guitarist-composer Jarek Smietana.
The title track, Sangster noted indicates where Obsessions Octet will go in the future employing both acoustic and electronic instruments.
In Steppin’ Up Sangster plays the EWI, an electronic wind instrument that functions as a wind controller and synthesizer.
Associated with new age music, the EWI has a tonal range that extends over eight octaves and creates a dynamic palette of sound.
“There’s a whole other world of arts-pop-techno out there and it blends really well with jazz elements.”
Over the September long weekend, the octet sequestered itself for three days, at OCL Studios, a half-hour drive from Calgary smack in the middle of the prairies.
“It was very unique. It accommodates a large ensemble where you can record and live there. Everyone has a room but you come together to work and cook meals. It’s isolated and the best thing about it you can surround yourself with music and forget your regular routine,” said Sangster.
He compares the experiment to sports teams that travel on the road, bond and develop stronger lineups and more cohesive strategies from the experience.
In addition to Sangster, the core group includes Joanna Ciapka-Sangster (violin), Neda Yamach (violin), Leanne Maitland (viola), Ronda Metszies (cello), John Taylor (bass), Chris Andrew (piano) and Jamie Cooper (drums).
Sangster invited Paul Johnson, section head of recording at MacEwan University’s music department, to wear the dual hat of recording engineer-producer.
“Paul is really demanding and that was something I was looking for. He’s a remarkable co-producer and when you see him in action – his ears hear everything.”
Steppin’ Up is available on the Bent River record label.
Steppin’ Up CD Release
Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Chateau Lacombe Hotel