Ally Fiola & The Next Quest
Interblaze – featuring Jeff Coffin
Nova Scotian alto saxophonist and film composer Ally Fiola delivers her second album, the contemporary jazz, New Orleans flavored Interblaze. Her guest accompanists are quite impressive beginning with multi-Grammy nominated tenor saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) and keyboardist Glenn Pascha (Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Ollabelle). In addition, add Kurdish rock guitarist, Shvan Kaban, baritone saxophonist and co-producer Chris Mitchell, trombonist Simon Oakey, sousaphonist Addison Sowery-Quinn, and drummer Andrew Miller, making for a rather unusual configuration, leading to quirky, unpredictable moments and the joyous grooves associated with NOLA brass bands. Fiola’s debut album, Dreaming Away, was showcased at the 2019 East Coast Music Awards, and was nominated for Jazz Recording of the Year at the 2019 Music Nova Scotia Awards.
Claiming to be influenced by the music of Maceo Parker, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and the aforementioned NOLA strains, the album has seven Fiola originals and a reimagining second line take of “Amazing Grace.” Most of these compositions were penned during Fiola’s 2019 music residency in Banff and she alludes to these topics when describing them – the wonder of using the London underground, the fear of almost seeing a cougar, quiet mornings with her dog, the bittersweet moment of saying goodbye, and a nod to her grandfather who passed away in April 2022 with the closing “Amazing Grace” wherein she also cleverly quotes Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”
Her highly accessible album begins with thoughts of new explorations and relationships in the title track, a rollicking piece with individual statements from the three saxophonists – Fiola, Coffin, and Mitchell. Following a tricky, syncopated passage, Kaban’s rock guitar adds searing intensity and Miller kicks it up on the drum set. Patscha’s inventive organ introduces “Back Track” before it morphs into a heavy NOLA piece with Oakey and Sowery-Quinn prominent before Fiola and Coffin enter the mix. Aside from the funky rhythms, Fiola’s gifts for melody are evident through just these first two cuts and especially in the brassy “Circular Beginnings’ where her inherent cinematic touch is present as well.
Counterpoint is a key aspect of the Mitchell arranged ensemble-focused “Intuition,” perhaps about almost seeing the cougar (just a guess) due to the drum pattern and short horn bursts which suggest a creeping pace. “Rocket Sunrise” is a gently rolling, sparer piece, perhaps suggesting quiet time with her dog, as her sweet alto plays to Pascha’s comforting organ as if in a late night jazz club. “Thoughts of Home” is also stripped down, beginning as a blaring rock tune with the guitar before taking on another circular, memorable melody, later burnished with rock tinges. The bustle of the aforementioned London subway is evident in the frenetic “Underground,” with strong contributions from the entire band, especially all three saxophonists.
Fiola shines as a composer with a crack band in tow. Her alto playing is just one ingredient in the mix, as she spreads the soloists around democratically. Her ability to mesh contemporary jazz with the NOLA brass band sound is impressive. She bears watching.
- Jim Hynes
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