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Don's music given a new spirit

Check out Don Ross' new collaborative project!

Reviews

LP Review 

From

TheGuitarJournal.com, November 26, 2019

by Jesse at the Guitar Journal

jesse@theguitarjournal.com

 

Acoustic finger style guitar with… Full band? Horns? 11-minute songs? Don Ross singing? Yes! Earlier this year, fingerstyle guitarist Don Ross released an album with full band, titled Don Ross Louder Than Usual. And it’s really good. 

I will go so far as to say that the album is an inspiration. First, because, yes, it’s really good. Second, because Ross took the risk to try a totally different direction. That’s hard to do when you’re already successfully known for a certain style. And, third, because it answers a question that I wonder often: “What would a finger style acoustic guitar sound like in the band context?” This question has surprisingly few real world answers. 

The answer to that question, “What would a finger style acoustic guitar sound like in the band context?” is evidently this: It sounds great. 

There are other examples of complex acoustic fingerstyle technique incorporated into a full band context (see Tommy Emmanuel’s “Haba Na Haba“, or Antoine Dufour’s B-Side to “Back and Forth”). This album, however, does it really well. The mix is great, the musicianship from the whole group is amazing, and the songs don’t feel like fish-out-of-water adaptations – they feel like they were made for this. 

And this album is not just good, it’s unique. 

It’s unique because it’s an entire album recorded in this style, not just a single track. 

It’s unique because it’s very “live” feeling with a full band. It’s easier to bring a single instrument to a fingerstyle track in order add percussion, or highlight the melody, perhaps. And this doesn’t change the song so much as augment it. But having a full ‘live’ band experience really does change the experience of the songs. 

Most importantly, however, it is unique because it’s improvisational. And I think this is where the magic is. 

Normal acoustic fingerstyle compositions come from one brain, and are played on one set of hands, on one instrument. That is both very powerful, because of the control it affords you. It is also limiting because you yourself are the absolute limit of the music. If you don’t think of it, or if you can’t perform it, then it doesn’t happen. 

But when other musicians can interpret and contribute to the music, those limitations go away. There are more possibilities, more ideas, and more energy. 

You can hear this magic in full bloom on the drum solo section of the track, “”Obrigado (Egberto)”. 

The song builds from a rythmic beginning with Ross playing some intricate melodies into a mind-blowing drum solo section where Marques (drums) is soloing over the bar lines and the only thing to hold you down is the groove of the piano. So good. 

More About The Album 

Canadian guitar legend DON ROSS has been touring internationally for the last 30 years, bringing his trademark groove-based style to audiences in Canada, the USA, Europe, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, India and Australia in the process. His new project, Don Ross Louder Than Usual, is a new collaborative unit that Don has started to achieve some of the arrangements of many of his tunes that, though they work well in the solo context, were actually conceived as working well in a band context. 

The core of the band is a quartet consisting of Andrew Craig on keyboards, Jordan O’Connor on bass, Marito Marques on drums and Don on guitar and vocals. The band got its start in 2018 when Don was invited to perform in ensemble at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Their sold out show was very well received, and made the band eager to showcase further. 

Learn more at https://donrossltu.com/home 

Tracks 

Wall of Glass (11:11) 
Dracula and Friends, Pt. One (5:16) 
A Million Brazilian Civilians (3:20) 
Groovy Sunflowers (3:57) 
With You In Mind (11:46) 
Black Chandelier (3:23) 
Obrigado (Egberto) (6:40) 
Jesse Helms’ Night in Havana (6:22) 
Dracula and Friends, Pt. One (Video Mix) (5:34)

Review of Don Ross Louder Than Usual's performance at the 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival 

LIVE REVIEW

 

Don Ross - Jazzier than usual 

by Alayne McGregor 

OttawaJazzScene.ca

/

26 June 2018 

Don Ross – Louder than Usual 
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Jazz Warriors Series 
First Baptist Church 
Sunday, June 24, 2018 – 7 p.m. 

I've usually heard master fingerstyle guitarist Don Ross playing solo. The man can play three lines at once; he can fill a hall with vibrant melodies and rhythms. For him, a band isn't a requirement. 

But hearing him play with two jazz musicians on Sunday was a fascinating experience, and added even more dynamism to his music. 

Ross has been increasingly working with other musicians over the past few years, and this year formed a jazz quartet with three Torontonians. He had played before with pianist Andrew Craig and bassist Jordan O'Connor, but percussionist Marito Marques was new to him. His aim was to form several quartets in different parts of the world and experiment with “louder than usual” music. 

This quartet recently recorded a six-song EP “live off the floor” in Toronto. Ross mixed it in Germany last week and released it June 20. 

But when the musicians filed on-stage on Sunday, there were only three of them. Ross told the audience that O'Connor had badly thrown his back out a few days before, and had to bow out. Instead, Craig put a laptop and MIDI keyboard on top of his piano, and used that to create bass lines with his left hand, while he played piano with his right. After the show, Craig explained that he also plays bass professionally – and the result was surprisingly good, with both the bass and piano clearly audible in the mix. 

The quartet played all the pieces on the EP, plus one from Ross' 2017 album, A Million Brazilian Civilians. They included several older pieces I'd heard Ross play before – but they were given considerable extra presence with the addition of Craig and Marques. 

Marques, who is originally from Portugal, underlined Ross' strong guitar lines with his own powerful drumming, using all parts of the kit to create thundering climaxes and strong echoing beats – but he could also create barely-there atmospheric touches on drums and cymbals with bamboo brushes. Craig counterpointed Ross' guitar work with intricate piano patterns and sparkling solos, as well as providing a consistent underpinning on bass. 

The quartet open with the classic Ross tune, “Wall of Glass”; its strong rhythms echoed around the church, immersing the audience in a very full sound that constantly evolved while still being safely moored to its primary riff. It’s one of my favourites by Ross and this was one of the best performances of that tune that I'd heard. 

Next came a surprising choice, a piece by Simon Neil of the Scottish alternative rock/heavy metal band Biffy Clyro. Ross assured the audience the depressing lyrics of "Black Chandelier" weren't about him (“Don't worry, I'm fine!”). It was quite enjoyable as a warm-toned acoustic ballad, if one ignored the mentions of cyanide poisoning. 

“Jesse Helms' Night in Havana” featured a dancing rumba beat, with evocative trembling guitar lines and a thunderous drum solo that evoked strong applause. “Any Colour But Blue” created an hypnotic fusion of rolling vocals, driving guitar patterns, supple piano, and atmospheric drumming – very like its inspiration, a long and freezing winter highway trip up to Sudbury. 

Ross happened to hear a BBC announcer use the phrase “A Million Brazilian Civilians” in a newscast, and it so stuck with him that he wrote a tune to fit it. The music evolved from a demo Ross created for the electronic dance band Swedish House Mafia: it was a catchy dance tune with a hard-edged groove, over which Ross' guitar lines flew. 

“With You in Mind” was inspired by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, and showed that influence while definitely remaining a Ross piece. It was a long, multi-layered piece, expressive and in a minor key, with room for all the musicians to spread out. Ross played glistening guitar lines over Marques' restrained drumming with bamboo sticks, and Craig's intense piano lines that deliberately didn't quite resolve – and then the piece built up momentum to climax in an extended and crashing drum solo, before ending in a fine tracery of notes on guitar and piano. 

The audience, which nearly filled the church, was clearly friendly: they applauded strongly as the musicians filed on stage even before they started playing, and continued appreciatively clapping after each song. Ross introduced each song with a story, funny and personable, and spoke in both French and English. He had everyone involved and frequently laughing at his tales, and the entire vibe was like a happy family. 

The band closed with the dramatic and funky “Dracula and Friends, Part One”, with strong textures and patterns on guitar matched by inflected keyboard lines. Everyone – band and crowd – became immersed in the groove, and when the last held note died out, the audience stood for an extended standing ovation. 

For an encore, Ross played “Corvos”, an amalgam of two pieces he wrote at different times in his life. Its title was the Portuguese word for crows, but it wasn't raucous like those birds. Instead, it had a gentle Brazilian feel and evolved like an interesting conversation before ending sweetly – to another standing ovation. 

I'd like to hear Ross again with his full quartet, and with Craig given more of a chance to step out and match Ross' guitar with his piano. Having these musicians on-stage gives an extra richness to Ross' music and challenges him a bit more, to a fine result. This would see a natural fit for the NAC Presents series. Heather Gibson, are you listening? 

Set list: 

(all pieces by Don Ross unless otherwise specified) 

Wall of Glass 
Black Chandelier (Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro) 
Jesse Helms' Night in Havana 
Any Colour but Blue 
A Million Brazilian Civilians 
With You in Mind 
Dracula and Friends, Part One 
(encore) Corvos