The album deftly intersperses improvisation with composed music. I have placed this album in steady rotation. It is highly recommended.

Available from Bandcamp

Claire Devlin (Tenor Saxophone), Allison Burik (Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet), Eli Davidovici (Bass), Mili Hong (Drums)

This is the debut album of Bellbird, a group formed two years ago in Montreal. The band consists of two couples–the saxophonists are one and the bass and drums are the second. The collective spirit of the four players comes through strongly on the various tunes. There are no self-aggrandizing solos.

Their unique instrumentation of two woodwinds, bass, and drums allows them to explore music and harmony together. “Bellbird’s music is inspired by the sounds of nature and the shared experience between humans and others.” Original compositions by each band member showcase their diverse multi-cultural and musical influences. Each artist contributed two songs.

The album was recorded at a lakeside cottage, Wild Studio, in January 2023 where “the frozen lake and falling snow provided a beautifully surreal setting for our music making”. Davidovici’s website includes a video of the band performing the song “Bluff”. The studio is in an isolated setting covered with snow, surrounded by pine trees, and, from their dress, quite cold. The studio and setting imbued the music with a reflective undercurrent and music without theatrics or histrionics.

The album opens with “Blurred Season” an energetic composition. It is based on a classic quartet instrumentation with two saxes, acoustic bass, and drums with an updated rhythm and a modern groove. Drums and cymbals drive the music along. The saxophones complement each other as they intertwine in this stimulating song.

“Bluff” is a ballad about loneliness and isolation in the Winter. Although this could convey a darker mood or solitude, the song is both comforting and peaceful. This tune is a reminder of where and how the album was recorded. The collective ability of the quartet shines on this song as each instrument has a role to play by itself and with the remaining instruments. The drummer plays mallets throughout giving it an otherworldly feel.

“If You Can’t Swim, Dance” features a bass clarinet, It and the tenor sax set up the song with interlocking polyrhythms with the bass and drums supporting and driving the tune through its changes. The tenor takes a thoughtful probing solo that is joined by the bass clarinet underneath. It closes as it opens with both horns in concert. It is a beautiful tune and arrangement.

“Pigeons & Disco” starts with an alto sax and bass duet that is then joined by the drummer followed by a tenor. Horns once again complement each other over a modern rhythm. The tenor explores the rhythm followed by a bass-drums duet. The title is as unusual as the tune itself.

Throughout the album, the horns solo, embellish and harmonize with each other in a close collaboration. The bass and drums provide support but also step out as a duet at times. The album deftly intersperses improvisation with composed music. I have placed this album in steady rotation. It is highly recommended.