Three heads and pairs of hands are better than one. That is definitely the case with new jazz trio MYRIAD3. Three in-demand young musicians on the Toronto scene have pooled their considerable talents on a joint project that has rapidly attracted serious attention. This is set to increase exponentially with the November 13th release of Tell (on prestigious label ALMA Records) that showcases a dynamic and totally refreshing new sound.
Myriad3 comprises pianist Chris Donnelly, bassist Dan Fortin, and drummer Ernesto Cervini. They'd all been aware of each other's work in various configurations on the T.O. scene, but it took a couple of happy accidents to spawn the creation of Myriad3. Donnelly recalls that 'back in late 2010, Ernesto and I were on a gig together. The bassist got injured, and Dan subbed in. A few months later, Dan and Ernesto had a gig where the piano player cancelled and Ernesto called me. After that one, we looked at each other and went, 'this is a lot of fun. We should take this a little seriously and go out of our way to book gigs for each other.''
The group's creative chemistry became instantly apparent, and Myriad3 quickly became a real priority for all three players. The fact that they have already toured nationally and completed an album in just 18 months together testifies to that commitment.
And what a debut record Tell is. It is indeed rare for a new ensemble to come up with a signature sound as quickly and compellingly as this. Defining that sound isn't an easy task, as classical and pop influences can be detected woven into its jazz-based fabric. They certainly live up to one dictionary definition of myriad: composed of numerous diverse elements or facets.
The three members of Myriad3 have quickly developed a strong personal rapport, but they come from quite different places musically. Chris Donnelly is an acclaimed pianist/composer equally at home in jazz and classical music. He was nominated for Juno and National Jazz Awards for his 2008 debut album Solo, and earned rave reviews for 2010's highly adventurous solo piano album, Metamorphosis (also an ALMA Records release). Peterborough native Dan Fortin has played both jazz and rock extensively. He has accompanied and recorded with such artists as Serena Ryder, Stop Time, The Mike Ruby Quartet, and The Alex Goodman Quintet, amongst others. Drummer Ernesto Cervini leads The Ernesto Cervini Quartet, whose two albums, 2009's Little Black Bird and 2011's live recording There, scored rave reviews from the likes of Downbeat and All About Jazz. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, he has worked extensively in NYC. Ernesto co-leads the trio MEM3 and frequently plays in The Amy Cervini Quintet, Strange Attractors, and The Sophia Perlman Quartet.
Fortin explains that 'a neat thing about this band is that we have quite different backgrounds. On tour, we noticed we were all listening to really different music on our iPods. Often when a band forms they're all into the same thing and pursuing the same kind of sound. With Myriad3, a lot of varied styles and approaches converge, and that makes for very different music.' To Donnelly, 'our mandate was 'let's get together and figure something out. Just let it happen.' For Chris, 'the common mandate is that we want to get together, rehearse and perform. We have no idea what's going to happen, but there is something that happens when we play together that we are all really happy with.'
Myriad3 is a completely democratic ensemble, making all creative and business decisions together. 'We'll each bring a tune in with an idea of how the song is going to go, but then we really workshop the tunes and let them develop,' explains Ernesto. 'The way a song looks like on paper when it comes into the band will rarely look like that a few weeks later. The fact there is no leader here keeps it very easy to share ideas and craft each piece collectively.'
The songs on Tell take more twists and turns than the Tour de France, but they never lose melodic focus. The result is a genuinely thrilling ride. 'For The Dreamers' begins as a Satie-like classically-accented piece, then gradually swells in intensity, with pounded piano and skittering drums, then returns to a peaceful conclusion. 'Tell' is a sweetly reflective gem built around gently resonant bass while showcasing the strength of all three players, while the title song captures the group's wide dynamic range. The only non-original composition on Tell is the Duke Ellington classic 'C Jam Blues,' with the Myriad3 take veering a little closer to the Oscar Peterson version being played on a broken tape deck.
The recording process for Tell was given a huge boost by the trio's road testing of these songs prior to hitting the studio. An eight-date tour of B.C. and Alberta early this summer provided the perfect opportunity to whip their new material into shape. 'We played with the recording in mind, trying to develop versions of the songs that were relatively concise,' explains Fortin. 'We want the songs to be flexible, allowing for longer versions in a live setting as well as five minute versions for the record. A lot of times a band has to make an album to get a tour together, but we took the best approach. As you get off the tour, you're ready to record.'
To Dan Fortin, the Western tour was invaluable. 'Getting to play this music eight times over ten days meant things really started to gel. We started to really hear each other's voices in the music and what each other was going for.' Ernesto Cervini adds that 'by playing together that much you develop a degree of trust. You get to a point with the music where you are more willing to step outside the safety net and try some different things.'
Donnelly notes that 'recording sessions will sometimes feel like rehearsals. For this album's recording, we were well past the rehearsal stage. We had played some of these tunes 30 times, and that makes everything a little tighter. We could focus on the recording and the composition, rather than on nailing the part.'
The advantages of this process are certainly audible on Tell. The album was recorded in just two days at noted north Toronto studio The Drive Shed, and the warm and spontaneous nature of the sessions comes across vividly. Myriad3 was in very capable hands in the studio, via the experienced team of producer Peter Cardinali and engineer John 'Beetle' Bailey.
'It's a lovely room and John is a great engineer, so it was just a really nice place to work,' Cervini recalls. 'Peter acts as an excellent set of ears, hearing the band as a whole,' adds Fortin. 'As you record, there's a degree of tunnel vision where you lose perspective on a song as a whole, so he is the perfect person to have in the booth. He also has a great way of pacing the session and keeping it focused, yet loose and relaxed. It was a pretty effortless process.'
The future holds a myriad of possibilities for this group. One to watch, very closely indeed.