It’s a recurring theme throughout the conversation with David Braid.
Voice and language.
Finding a voice, adding to your voice, using your voice, speaking the same language.
It’s striking only in that Braid is, of course, a Juno-winning jazz pianist and composer — an instrumentalist, whose hands speak volumes, whose work has said so much to so many and whose gift is how he connects and speaks the language with others.
Take, for example, his latest project The North, which he’ll bring to town Thursday, Nov. 9 for an Ironwood show as part of a double-bill show with pianist and vocalist Steve Amirault to kick off this year’s JazzYYC Canadian Jazz Festival.
It features, at its core, Braid and longtime friend, sax player and duo partner Mike Murley, himself a veteran figure in the Canadian scene, who has played on numerous Juno-winning albums and was also a member of T.O. indie act The Shuffle Demons.
“I think Mike is probably my longest collaborator out of anyone that I’ve worked with, now that I think about it,” Braid says thoughtfully of the man he’s known for the past 15 years, beginning back when Murley was a teacher at the University of Toronto and gigging with his own jazz ensemble, and the pianist had yet to graduate.
“I always had a gut feeling when I was a student that I was meant to play with (his) band.”
He did, of course, Braid then later putting together his own touring act, with Murley also a member, someone who was one of the group’s “primary solo voices,” Braid beginning to write specifically for him.
“I think that really crystallized the relationship and made it permanent.”
Added into the mix of The North are a pair of much different voices — Scandinavian players, bassist Johnny Åman and drummer Anders Mogensen.
The long-distance relationship came about from frequent performing visits Braid had made to that part of the world over the past decade, collaborating with them both on different occasions.
When Anders wrote to Braid about putting together a Canadian-Scandinavian project “things aligned.”
The foursome did some European dates before they knew they were onto something, eventually recording a self-titled album in Denmark late last year. It really is seven-track stunner, which finds all of the musicians speaking beautifully together in one wonderful, melodic, at-times sweet and dreamy voice.
In other words, it works.
How did Braid know it would?
“It’s an intuitive type of knowing, which is experienced probably in the moment of performing,” he says.
“Normally when it really clicks between musicians you have this intuitive understanding quite immediately. I remember the first time we played together — and this was before we even spoke about ever having a band — I just knew in the first probably 30 seconds …
“Perhaps you’re influenced by the same music, so you feel ‘the time’ the same way or you’re interested in the same type of harmonic language or you’re interested in the same type of compositional ideas, and when those things combine, the musical instincts behind them are also usually compatible, so therefore playing together just becomes easy.
“It’s like you discover you speak a local dialect with a person that you’ve never met before, so you just find it very easy to communicate.”
It’s worked so well that Braid says it will likely continue on after these Canadian dates and some January ones overseas — helped in part by the fact that he’s taken an honorary position at a conservatory in Denmark that will have him returning every so often to teach some workshops.
“It feels like the music is still growing, so the plan is to keep moving forward with it and play as much as possible, obviously,” he says of The North.
Of course, looking at Braid’s schedule beyond these particular dates and it is rather astounding the variety of configurations he can and enjoys working in — from solo, duo, quartet and, yes, accompanying choral groups such as an upcoming New Year date in the U.K. with Mandarin Voices.
The artist says it’s all part of growing, himself, as a musician, taking on projects that can further his own grasp of what he wants to say and improve on how he can.
“For me, there are two types of work that are driving me forward,” he says.
“One type of work I would say has to do with taking outside influences and bringing them inwards, so learning from exploration … So collaborative work with other people is designed, yeah, to challenge me, to introduce me to new ideas, to meet new people and new communities who play in different ways and explore more of, let’s call it, the world jazz scene, and get a taste of what ideas are cooking out there. And when I find things that I like I make them part of my own language or system. So I relish opportunities to go to new places and hear new musicians, and to seek out the likeminded ones …
“The other stream is the opposite process, sort of the going inward and synthesizing all of these various influences and finding out how I relate to them and have that integrate with, let’s say, my identity as a Canadian living at this time period. And how all of that combines is slightly mysterious, but somehow it comes out in my own voice.”
His next recorded project will actually utilize the many, many voices of others to make himself heard. It is, he says, a sacred 40-minutes work, which he calls his “most ambitious piece” to date. Braid recorded it in Prague with a chamber orchestra, adding into the mix Toronto chamber choir The Elmer Iseler Singers, as well as acclaimed Canadian soprano Patricia O’Callaghan.
“The musical language it’s built from is combining, I would say, 1,000 years of western music tradition.”
He continues. “It’s another step forward in this new musical voice that I’ve been trying to build over the last few years.”
The North perform Thursday at the Ironwood Stage as part of the JazzYYC Canadian Jazz Festival. David Braid will also conduct a piano workshop in the afternoon at the Steinway Piano Gallery. For tickets and more information please click here.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.com. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.