A farewell note at its website (“We might be back again later in some other form, but for the time being we'll be moving on to other places and other things”) hints pretty clearly that Canaille (“riff raff” or “the mob”) is no more—which is a particular shame given the quality of the Toronto-based jazz outfit's second full-length Practical Men. That makes listening to this swan song a somewhat bittersweet experience, as one realizes at every moment that the notes played are the band's last. What makes that even more regrettable is that its sound has noticeably expanded since the 2009 release of Potential Things; whereas that album is all-acoustic, the new one adds electric guitar, Fender bass, and electric piano to the mix and in so doing advances the sextet into an electric jazz-funk realm. As a result, there's a free-wheeling, rough-and-tumble quality to the playing, as the band, which saxophonist and Feuermusik member Jeremy Strachan formed in 2008, attacks the new pieces with high-wire intensity and navigates complex charts with aplomb.
Like any experimental jazz-based outfit, Canaille draws upon the recorded legacy of others in its own tracks. There are moments during the charging “Watusa” (a high-energy cover of a Sun Ra composition), for example, where the band locks into the song with a controlled cool that's reminiscent of mid-period Soft Machine, and hints of the World Saxophone Quartet occasionally surface in the sax playing. It's also impossible not to hear the influence of late-‘60s Miles Davis during “Angeer,” for example, when Dan Gaucher's drumming recalls the inventive free play of Tony Williams and Jesse Levine's electric piano the explorative dabblings of a Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea. Though Miles circa In A Silent Way is a reference, Strachan puts distance between his group and Miles's via the guttural honk of his baritone sax solo. In addition, “Pillows” adds funk to the band's mix, while organ playing gives “Safer Than We Know” a greasy, ‘60s-styled r'n'b flavour.
This is an album of multiple contrasts, sometimes between songs but just as often within them. It emerges during “Angeer” in the relay from Strachan's baritone playing to Jay Hay's tenor sax, while the title track grows increasingly spacey in moving from an opening flute solo to electric guitar (both by Strachan). In short, the band is—was—versatile, among many other things, which makes its coming to an end after only two releases feel a bit like an opportunity lost. One expects, however, that Strachan and company will re-emerge soon enough within new configurations and that the Canaille muse will live on, if in less direct manner.