Eisenman’s heart belongs to the golden age of jazz… This kind of playing can only come from the inside, after having spent decades listening and playing. Your foot may just start tapping, your head may rhythmically nod, and your fingers may snap on the two and four.


It turns out that Ms. Smith was once married to Ellis Larkins, which “proves,” according to an insert blurb, that she has good taste in accompanists. That’s not as persuasive, however, as the empirical decide-for-yourself evidence contained in the digitized bytes of this CD, as pianist Mark Eisenman, held over from Ms. Smith’s previous release is nothing less than unobtrusively empathic in his accompaniment, throughout this recital’s generous hour plus duration. And Ms. S. proves to be a skilled interpreter of lyrics, expertly finding the poetry and proprium in almost every lyric line. This is essentially a cabaret program, withsome Jazz ambiance, owing to the ease and informality of the recording circumstances, allowing both players to relax and indulge their whims of subtle melodic and metric variation. Ms. Smith’s husky contralto illuminates the words and phrases with an experiential weight that proves decisive.

And she sings the verses to many of the songs she has chosen, the only critical ones overlooked are those for “Happens” and “Some Other.” But, in “Ninetieth,” she makes a calculated error by opting to drop Cole Porter’s reference to a “pet pailletted gown” in favor of a “Dior evening gown,” based, perhaps, on a belief that an audience just off the street would not understand “pailletted” to mean “spangled.” Yet, even a casual student of Porter’s lyrics should know that phrases such as the one she chose to bypass are talismans of his unique genius. There is no other lyricist, dead or alive, who would or could have used a word like “pailletted,” much less modifying it with “pet.”

All great songs, with the possible exception of “Go ‘Way Mad,” on which this vocalist sounds just the slightest bit less comfortable than on the other fifteen tracks. Was this included as a gesture of Jazz validation? It seems out of place, like the odd number in an even series, on a simple-minded IQ test. Had I been at the session, I would have found it impossible to resist suggesting any number of worthy replacements. Still, these quibbles aside—and they are mere quibbles, borne of the frustration at seeing such talented and right thinking people flirting with perfection and missing it by so small a margin—this is a lovely recital, full of the grace and authenticity which so often flows from human beings making music in the very act of (Werner Erhard take note!) self actualization.

Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence Magazine

Sweet and Lovely

Although the recording was a spur-of-the-moment event, quickly arranged when Jimmy Cobb found himself in Toronto for a conference, the ad hoc trio sounds thoroughly practiced and assured as they romp through standards, Eisenman’s attractive originals and a couple of less often heard pieces, including Ellington’s lovely “Reflections in D”.


Four’s Company in Zesty Jazz Set

Cam Ryga always maintains the decorous ways of the alto sax tradition, but he has always managed to quick-change from voluptuous lyricism to driving intensity.

His dynamic sense and melodic vitality is upfront at the Senator, where he’s guesting with pianist Mark Eisenman‘s fine-honed trio, with thick-toned bassist Steve Wallace, and precise drummer John Sumner providing an arresting, solid pulse over which the pianoman indulges ideas that are harmonically advanced.

It makes for satisfying music, Ryga incisive and tirelessly engaged on cheery chestnuts (I’ve Never Been In Love Before”) and the sensitive possibilities of a ballad like “Old Folks”. Everything essayed in the group’s keen-edged opening set worked with tunes that were attention-gripping but free of bombast. With the artful Eisenman often taking a number into new and adventurous territory after relatively straight-ahead opening statements, the uptempo flourishes of one of the players were instantly matched by another’s. As a result, this unit sounds as if it has been playing together for years–and also as if its members are clearly enjoying themselves. The foursome shifted gears numerous times during the pairing of “The Duke” and “My Ship”.

The soulful lines of “Jubilation” were delivered with a zesty eloquence that pumped new life into the Junior Mance anthem and here, as in the rest of the set, there was no danger of any patron dozing off.

Geoff Chapman, Toronto Star, August 9, 1998

The Mark Eisenman Quartet featuring Campbell Ryga

At the Top O’ The Senator

Trio Gives sax player an easy, unhurried ride

When Campbell Ryga last graced the stage at the Top O’ The Senator in April – and “graced” is the word – the Vancouver alto saxophonist was a member of the heads-up, hard-bop Hugh Fraser Quintet. Ryga and Fraser go back nearly 20 years together, virtually to their teens; theirs has been one of the more enduring partnerships on the Canadian jazz scene and Ryga’s unflappable calm in the face of Fraser’s unflagging energy is one of the keys to the quintet’s success.

Ryga has made a quick return to the Senator this week as the guest of the Toronto pianist Mark Eisenman. The two men go back only as far as Tuesday night, but by Wednesday everyone present – Ryga, Eisenman, bassist Steve Wallace and drummer John Sumner – had settled in quite comfortably together.

Eisenman, Wallace and Sumner are a stylish trio of several years standing and work together with a sort of supple give and take. They bear down and tighten up only where absolutely necessary – as required, for example, by the Victor Feldman tune The Chant that closed out their first set on Wednesday night. More often though they go efficiently about their business in an unhurried manner.

To the extent that Eisenman has certain hard-bop inclinations of his own, they come with a soft melodic centre. That suits Ryga just fine; the saxophonist is a supremely melodic improviser given to chorus after effortless chorus of lyricism. As such he can step onstage with the Eisenman trio without disturbing its internal balances in the least.

Ryga was given the honour of counting in the evening’s first tune, the safe old standby All The Things You Are. After that, though, Eisenman called the shots, asking his guest to handler material quite specific to the trio’s own repertoire – Leroy Vinnegar’s Walk On, Junior Mance’s Jubilation and the classic ballad Everything Happens To Me.

Of course the trio by its very nature, was not pressuring Ryga, any more than it was pushing itself. Eisenman worked some judicious “locked-hands” effects into his solos for power and a few bluesy inflections for bite, but otherwise refrained from throwing his weight around the piano. Meanwhile a steady Wallace and always methodical Sumner kept things on an even keel rhythmically, giving Campbell an easy ride, perhaps, but still a good one.

Mark Miller, Globe & Mail

Boss Brass Offspring Smaller But No Less Sophisticated.

Rob McConnell has a new band. And what, you might well ask, wrong with the old one, the redoubtably illustrious Boss Brass? Nothing that a few clubs with bigger music budgets couldn’t fix & work has been scarce for the 21 -piece jazz orchestra. So, without shutting the Boss Brass down, the Toronto trombonist and arranger now has fixed himself up with a tentet- as if a 10 piece band will be easier to sell.

Regardless of it’s employment prospects, the new group, which made it’s debut Monday night before a full house at the Montreal Bistro in Toronto, is a wholly likable proposition for it’s Kansas City swing and California colouring. Of course, in these early days, it will be compared to the Boss Brass. And the senior band which is coming up on it’s 30th anniversary next August, is surely a tough act to follow with both Grammy and Juno awards to stand for its achievements.

It’s not as though the two bands aren’t related. Six players, including the leader, are common to both, and while McConnell may be writing less per piece for the tentet, he is still setting out his arrangements with the skill and sophistication that have defined the fluid sound of the larger orchestra.

If there’s a significant difference, payroll aside, it’s the smaller band’s looseness and it’s potential for spontaneity. McConnell has always liked the effortless swing of the Count Basie Orchestra, and it was surely no mere coincidence that the first tune of the new band’s first set on its first night, The King, was drawn from the Basie repertoire. Nothing complicated here; the soloists were allowed plenty of room, (the horns line up seven abreast across the stage) chipped in the prompting riffs, and the rhythm section (pianist Mark Eisenman, bassist Steve Wallace and drummer Barry Elmes) kept everything moving on an easy roll.

McConnell reserved the fancier stuff – the buffed melodies and harmonies that immediately bring the Boss Brass back to mind – for tunes such as speak Low (adapted from an arrangement by Toronto bassist Neil Swainson), Lush Life and Ornithardy. Just as there have been times when the Boss Brass has sounded like at least 40 musicians, there were moments on Monday when the tentet sounded like a good 20.

There are however, no section players in the smaller band. Everyone involved is a soloist of some impact – Eisenman, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and tenor saxophonists Alex Dean and Mike Murley stood out in this debut performance. Here, as with the Boss Brass in recent years, McConnell finds himself in the midst of musicians a generation his junior; in good humour he describes his role in the proceedings as that of “chaperone.” Truth is , though, he seems to be having the most fun of all.

Globe and Mail, Fri Aug 7, 1998

Mark Eisenman comes relatively late to his first CD as a leader after making several recordings over the past 15 years in the role of a much-favored sideman around Toronto. ( The notes to The Chant list nine CD’s including The Power of Beauty, on which he’s heard with Alex Dean.) Now in his 40’s he’s a pianist of impressive idiomatic discipline, a bebopper in the swinging, mid-to-late fifties manner of the unsung Wynton Kelly and Sonny Clark, men who brought taste and technique to solos that were all snap and sparkle. Eisenman’s contribution to this classic school is a comfortably controlled level of invention, not so facile as to seem merely practiced, or so giddy as to turn everything into a romp. He’s also a musician of his own mind, finding something funky in John Lewis’s usually elegiac Django, for example. But there’s a palpable sense of integrity to his interpretations of each of the 11 pieces on The Chant , standards and obscurities alike, and he gets a similarly honest day’s work from his bassist and drummer here, Steve Wallace and John Sumner.

Mark Miller, Globe and Mail,  January 15, 1997

The Chant

Always imaginative, Eisenman is alternately upbeat and bluesy (Jubilation), hard swinging (the title track), lively yet tender (The Wind) and unfailingly inventive (Django). The album is often exhilarating, with thoughtful solo forays on Round Midnight and Everything Happens To Me.”

Mark Miller, Globe and Mail,  December 15, 1997

The Chant

The T.O. pianist needs documenting as leader, though he’s a sideman on many recordings. With bass Steve Wallace and drummer John Sumner he pursues rarer tunes, letting a neat, relaxed group sound develop as he supports his own precise yet involved declarations of melodic and harmonic intent.

Geoff Chapman, Toronto Star, May 2, 1998