This is a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

Will Bonness Records

Will Bonness (Piano), Daniel Fortin (Bass on 1-4 and 6-9), Fabio Ragnelli (Drums), Virginia MacDonald (Clarinet on 1-5 and 8-9), Jocelyn Gould (Voice on 2,4,8), Andrew Goodlett (Bass 1,7), Allison Au (Alto Saxophone on 9)

Recorded May 2022

“Is This A Dream” came after Bonness spent a year in Toronto collaborating with local musician’s bassist Dan Fortin, clarinetist Virginia MacDonald and alto saxophonist Alisson Au. The group performs as a clarinet-based quartet augmented with vocals on three songs and alto saxophone on the final song.

Although the interplay of piano and clarinet is the heart of the album, the arrangements feature different combinations of instruments. There are more layers and more textures as a result.

The “I Get Along Without You” vocal and phrasing, seems to convey that the singer of the song is trying to convince herself that she is trying to get along but we know she is not. The vocalist gets that emotion across with her melancholy and sincere voice.

The clarinet carries the undercurrent of the song, perfectly complementing the vocals. The rhythm section brings the song to an apt conclusion.

“Contraption” starts as an up-tempo boppish melody. The clarinet and piano are in perfect harmony with each other. Here it hit me just how good a clarinetist MacDonald is. It is a pleasure to listen to her gliding over the rhythm section.

“Dusk” has Gould vocalizing over the rhythm section. Her mood is picked up by pianist Bonness who delivers a thoughtful freer form solo. The clarinet enters playing boppish runs stretching the time over what the rhythm section is playing.

Gould’s wordless interplay with the clarinet and piano as they all, pushing and pulling the melody about. It closes out as if dark has descended.

“Blood Count” by Billy Strayhorn is a somber song — one of the last songs Strayhorn composed while in the hospital being treated for cancer.

It is given a sympathetic treatment with the clarinetist and pianist stepping through the great Strayhorn phrases. MacDonald and Bonness are kindred spirits — her tone on the clarinet is quite complementary to Bonness’s piano stylings.

“Don’t Fence Me In,” Cole Porter’s classic, is arranged anew for alto saxophone, clarinet, and piano trio. It begins lazily as the horns trade the chorus off and on slightly slowing the beat and revealing the song’s simple beauty.

Clarinet and alto trade the lead back and forth at one point then return to the melody. A soulful sax solo follows teasing the melody as the impeccable trio plays.

Then the clarinet comes in again coming nearer and nearer to the melody in a very definitive solo. Bonness solos in while the bass and drums carry the song. The whole band settles into the groove of the original melody and closes it out.

This is an album for many moods. I can see listening to it at a small party or to put on when preparing for a night out. The solos are well thought out.

The band members challenge and support each other making for astute choices when soloing. The song choices feature songs from the past that are rearranged to bring out the best of this quartet or quintet colors. This is a thoroughly enjoyable listen.