The Montreal-based band Togetherness! injects a shot of jubilant foot-patting rhythm into free-form improvisation. The band splashes a couple of trumpeter Ellwood Epps’ high-spirited compositions into the swirling pool of free-jazz, high-life, second-line, and brass-band creations that include material from the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana, and Mongezi Feza.
Epps’ ebullient trumpet adds zest to tunes, such as his own “Homescoolin,’” when he uses the plunger mute to intersect with trombonist Scott Thomson’s elaborations. Throughout the entire recording the intervallic beat of drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel and the unshakeable double-bass patterns of Stéphane Diamantakiou together give many tracks the lilt of a 1960s soul-music session. Moderated vibrations from alto saxophonist Erik Hove and lower-pitched flutter-tonguing from tenor saxophonist Rus Nerwich—who joins the band on three selections—are particularly imposing on “Bamako.” This piece, also notable for Thomson’s modified gutbucket-styled smears, bounces between sonic freedom and traditional theme-preservation and head-recapitulation. South-African jazz phrasing, which seeps into most tunes, balances kwela exuberance with precise ecclesiastical melodies. The quintet’s ability to negotiate those contradictions is striking on “Angel Nemali,” and especially so on the sardonically titled “Blues for a Hip King.” While “Angel Nemali” jumps along with the layering of textures from trombone burrs, a counter melody made up of reeds and peeps from the alto sax and trumpet, plus chunky drumrolls, “Blues for a Hip King” recognizes, defines, and conquers the contradictions. As velvety trombone lines propel the hymn-like theme, saxophone split-tone variations and brassy trumpet flutters add ambulatory excitement to the narrative.
Togetherness! is more than a band name here. It’s also a declaration, indicating that original compositions and distinctive interpretations can be melded into a whole that’s festive, fitting, and fresh.