Tania Gill: Bolger Station
Barnyard Records

A clue as to how one might best regard Tania Gill's first solo recording Bolger Station comes at its end when the Toronto-based pianist and composer tackles Rodgers and Hart's “It Never Entered My Mind.” Her treatment is understated, casual even, and Gill extends that personalized handling of the standard to her laconic vocal performance; her band's restrained instrumental rendering is likewise respectful in a way that complements the vocal delivery. It's a thoroughly appealing cover that doesn't aspire in any way to be definitive, and much can be said of the album as a whole. Throughout the forty-five-minute recording, Gill and company show themselves to be engaging hosts intent on satisfying their listeners with an eclectic mix of covers and originals of varying stylistic stripe. Gill herself has worked in jazz and improvised contexts for fifteen years and performed with Anthony Braxton, Eve Egoyan, Jean Derome, and Phil Dwyer, among others.

After a quiet meander of bass notes and percussive accents, the opening title track gradually comes into focus with a quietly jubilant piano theme that when taken over by trumpeter Lina Allemano begins to sound both more wistful and evocative of Nino Rota. The oblique melodies and stop-start rhythms of “Magpie,” on the other hand, clearly suggest some tie, however circumlocutory, to the unpredictable be-bop stylings of Thelonious Monk. That's especially apparent when Gill navigates a roller-coaster pathway through the rambunctious heat stoked by drummer Jean Martin. That Rota-esque character returns during “Paso” when a jovial waltz episode evokes memories of Amarcord. The chameleonic piece flirts with both free episodes before returning to the safe haven of the song's woozy 3/4 time before exiting with high-spirited trumpet-and-melodica riffing. Wilf Carter's “Maple Leaf Waltz” is given an audacious interpretation as it oscillates between staccato, improv-styled splatter and the melodic lit of Gill's gleeful vocal (“Springtime is 3/4 time when I'm dancing the Maple Leaf Waltz with you…”) in a way that feels like an oil-and-water mashup.

Only during “By Ear” does Gill indulge herself by stretch outing out liberally, toying with multiple melodic possibilities and treating tempo elastically. Even then, she generously cedes ample solo space to bassist Clinton Ryder before bringing Martin back on board. Though elusively etched on account of Gill's abstract handling of the material, folk melodies thread themselves through “Prelude to Ah Ti Tah.” Allemano waxes reflective during the loose-limbed waltz ballad “Bicycle,” while the recording's loveliest moment arises with the plaintive ballad “Lakeshore,” which is given an appropriately stately and sober reading by the group. Peter Johnston's “On My Sleeve” features a ruminative Gill alone, while other tracks feature trio and quartet arrangements. Gill's economical by nature, content to keep every track but one under the five-minute mark. She nevertheless packs a goodly amount of detail into a given piece and manages to introduce numerous left turns, even during a two- to three-minute piece. Amenable to shaking things up, she also plays organ and even sneaks in some melodica (“Paso”) and accordion (during the rollicking “Up Down”) playing during this engaging album of multiple moods and stylistic flirtations.

January 2011