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At the Avalanche Bar & Grill 275 8th Street, Courtenay

December 17th at 7:30 pm - Loose Gravel

It all started 5 years ago as a jazz workshop featuring a rotating roster of players. Loose Gravel has transformed itself into a regular quintet + 1 special addition for the show on December 17th. The band features some the Valley's best known musicians in unusual musical settings.

"We like to challenge ourselves and our audience", said bassist and co-leader James Lithgow. Featuring bass, two percussionists, and a three horn frontline, one of the challenges for the audience is the absence of a piano or guitar. "It's a harmonic challenge for the band too, and opens up any given tune for all the players to explore fresh territory", which Lithgow says is true to the original intent of the band.

Loose Gravel draws some of its material and inspiration from the famous piano-less bands of saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker during the 1950s. Called at the time, West Coast Cool, that Mulligan band laid the groundwork for much of the Cool Jazz movement.

"Cool, but not too cool," co-leader Tony Morrison cautions, "we like to Bebop and play more modern styles too". Material from jazz greats like Charles Mingus and Duke give the frontline an opportunity to swing hard with a take-no prisoners attitude. More modern material from composers like Chick Corea and their own Jeff Agopsowicz update the whole jazz feel.

Morrison leads with his flute, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, ably joined up front by some familiar jazz society performers: Jay Havelaaron trumpet and Jeff Agopsowicz on trombone. Morrison's playing is both studied and intuitive. With a big tone reminiscent of Dexter Gordon, and fluid repertoire he likes to wander through jazz history in some solos and highlights communication between band and audience by breaking down the fourth wall.

Jay Havelaar comes from a musical family and learned music while still in the womb and later, on his mother's knee. In demand as a soloist for all kinds of projects, great strength of musical concepts and tone are the hallmarks of his playing - whether sweet or hot.

Recent arrival Jeff Agopsowicz has been a tremendous addition to the Valley immediately finding himself in great demand with his mastery of trombone gained through decades in Canadian Forces bands as well as civilian projects. An unassuming fellow Jeff can make the trombone talk, sing, laugh, cry and shout all in aid of the music. Playing with Loose Gravel cuts Jeff the space to explore all those emotions.

As a frontline these three play intuitively, intelligently and incredibly well. Familiar jazz melodies can truly soar without the strict harmonies imposed by a piano or guitar chord.

"We pick a lot of piano compositions from Monk and Duke and then remove the piano part, which leaves the melody alone on stage". Lithgow likens the process to making gravel from a boulder, and points out that gravel is far more useful than a single big rock

Keeping the pulse and structure throughout is Oscar Robles Diaz, a familiar band leader/member around town on numerous Latin, Popular and Experimental projects. A gifted guitarist as well, he brings terrific melodic as well as rhythmic sense to the percussion discussion on stage.

Joining the band for this Jazz Society performance is the + 1 one of drummer Bill Street. Lithgow and Street have been playing together longer than either likes to admit and have a telepathic rapport that can lead to some stellar swinging.

The addition of another percussionist promises to keep Loose Gravel moving in the right direction, although sometimes turning at 90-degrees, says Lithgow, "just to see if the frontline is paying attention".

At moments like that the innate musicality of the band shines through and jazz breaks out that makes everyone smile.

Throw in some Christmas music and Loose Gravel promises an entertaining evening, showtime is 7:30 p.m. All you have to do is join the friendly crowd that now gather every Thursday for the best show in town. Admission is $10 for members, and $12 for non - members.

Note, this is the last show for 2015. Thursday night jazz will take a break over Christmas and New Year. Regular shows commence on January 7th with Jake Masri.

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