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macrophages; \\livingfossil//; NEVER DIE!; lorraine; satellite; baby steps; listen to the quiet voice; meta max; lessforgettable.
Gordon Hyland: Tenor Saxophone; Mack Longpre: Drums, Mike Murley: Tenor Saxophone (4, 6, 9); Andrew Roorda: Electric Bass (1-3, 5, 7, 8), Torrie Seager: Electric Guitar (1-3, 5,7,8); Vivienne Wilder: Acoustic Bass (4, 6, 9); Neil Whitford: Electric Guitar.
‘NEVER DIE!’ is the debut album by \\livingfossil//, led by Toronto born-and-raised saxophonist Gordon Hyland. The band features a roster of musicians who are all active players in Toronto, and have all had important roles in Hyland’s career as collaborators, friends, and/or mentors. The central band is comprised of Mackenzie Longpre on drums, Neil Whitford on guitar, and Andrew Roorda on electric bass, all of whom have played music with Hyland for over a decade, having been members of the band Ninja Funk Orchestra. Torrie Seager (Hush Pup) adds additional guitar, often doubling the melody in Hyland’s arrangements. Vivienne Wilder provides acoustic bass, and Mike Murley (Metalwood), on tenor saxophone, is featured on several compositions. Murley also co-produced the album with Hyland’s longtime collaborator, engineer and mixer, Andrew Mullin at Canterbury Studios in Toronto. The non-standard instrumentation with double guitar is intended to allow each musician to shine equally, as there is always a chordal instrument available to accompany each soloist in a live context. Interesting new timbres are explored with unison doubling between guitars and saxophones, effected instruments, and compositional forms influenced by graphic scores and free improvisation. Most of the tracks on this album are original works composed by Hyland, several of which are highly programmatic. The lead track on the album, ‘Macrophages’, zooms into the world of the white blood cell on its noble quest to seek and destroy an infection. The album begins with a nebulous opening section that coagulates into the pulsating rhythmic heartbeat provided by Longpre and Roorda, underscoring the mysteriously determined melody of Hyland’s sax. ‘Living Fossil’, from which the band’s name is also derived, alludes to a concept that Hyland discovered while reading ‘The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau’, a series of books that Cousteau published in 1975. At one point, the author asserts that a sea creature called the nautilus is effectively a ‘living fossil’, having apparently not evolved significantly since the Cambrian period some 500 million years ago. Hyland explores this theme by guiding the listener through a lush, whirling ocean of crystalline chords and shimmery guitar that cradle an exquisitely lonely sentiment. ‘NEVER DIE!’, the album’s title track, encapsulates the overall theme of the album by staging a tragicomedy where the nostalgic saxophone melody is interrupted somewhat rudely by an explosively Zappa-esque groove crisis. Thus, Hyland’s sense of humour never allows the album to sink completely into the darkness. Levity is also provided - with slapstick insanity - in the playful rendition of the Ornette Coleman song ‘Lorraine’ and Hyland’s arrangement of the aptly re-titled ‘Lessforgettable’, his take on Irving Gordon’s classic standard originally made famous by Nat King Cole. Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ is retitled ‘Baby Steps’, both a tip of the hat to one of the world’s greatest saxophonists, and a simultaneous wink to the absurdity of jazz school hero worship. The stadium saxophone track ‘Satellite’ harkens back to Hyland’s days in the electro- prog rock club scene with Ninja Funk Orchestra. While all of the tracks on ‘NEVER DIE!’ ultimately explore themes of introspection and the inner dialogue of the creative process, perhaps none are so clearly connected to this theme as ‘Meta Max’ and ‘Listen To The Quiet Voice’. Both of these works bear a direct connection to Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategy cards, designed to be artistic un-blockers, featuring simple mantras for helping clear the mind so it can get down to work. ‘Listen To The Quiet Voice’ is named after Hyland’s favourite card from the deck, while ‘Meta Max’ is a reference to ‘Mad Max’, in which the composer conjures a wasteland where the artist is torn between the conscious and unconscious, here illustrated in the contrast between the brooding pedal section and the more traditional improvisational section. As the album progresses, one gets the sense of a mature harmonic sensitivity that results in a post-bop jazz idiom that feels at times like a synesthetic dreamscape. It would be no exaggeration to say that ‘NEVER DIE!’ is essentially an album about human struggle and conflict. This may seem like a grandiose statement, but when broken down to the essentials, it is absolutely true. On the one hand, the title itself is tongue-in-cheek; a postmodern and hilarious battle cry of the soul for survival. On the other hand, it is uncomfortably earnest: these works were created between 2013-2017, after the disbandment of Ninja Funk Orchestra after so many years of recording, touring, and playing Toronto’s rock club circuit, and before the founding of \\livingfossil//. This was a period of time in which Hyland also experienced a series of devastating losses within his close family and friends. As Hyland puts it: “it’s very frustrating… because I always want to share what I’m doing with all the people I’ve had to not spend time with in order to create something like an album. The musician as some sort of ascetic is a tired cliché, but as much as music needs people for it to exist, musicians and artists in general sometimes require isolation from the people they love in order to create.” The album is therefore as much an empowering manifesto for Hyland as it is a loving homage to those who he has, and who all of us have, lost along the way. -Sam McLellan