Each of the musicians who make up The Ostara Project – alto saxophonist Allison Au, trumpeter Rachel Therrien, guitarist Jocelyn Gould, pianist Amanda Tosoff, contrabassist Jodi Proznick, drummer Sanah Kadoura and vocalist Joanna Majoko – have left their own, significant footprint on the Canadian popular music scene. Some, like Miss Gould, Miss Kadoura and Miss Majoko may have made a later entry into the musical landscape, but they are already marquee names, nevertheless, wholly deserving of seeing their names up in lights no matter where they perform – on stage or on the festival circuit. Their musicianship as a collective, however, has not been tested – certainly not all together – until now. The results are quite spectacular.
The music on their eponymously titled album, The Ostara Project, creates music that glorifies the vernal equinox, and is also a metaphor for celebrating a sort of renewal. Appropriately, therefore, each of the songs on the album is indicative of a new way of the thinking and practice of collective improvisation. This may sound as if the women who make up The Ostara Project are hoping for some popular appeal, albeit not at the expense of sending more serious improvised [jazz] music listeners running for the hills.
So, what does all of this mean? Well, not only genuinely modern instrumentation and pitch, for a start. Then there is the experimentation of adding the voice of Miss Majoko who sings vocalise most of the way through her routine, and sometimes – as in the elegant and tender-hearted lyric of Little One, or on the standard Bye Bye Blackbird, for instance – informing her vocals with the liquid glissandos [of her vocalise] that take off, often seem wrong-footed as she bends phrases and soars up and swoops down in molten lines that always seem to land exactly where the perfect pitch demands.
Although this ensemble is the initiative of Miss Proznick and Miss Tosoff, every performer gets the opportunity to not only say, but sing their piece with their own responses to the melodies. In doing so they create emotional and stylistic directions which carry us off to surprisingly tender, profound, and even tumultuous musical waters. It is a struggle to single out any one song as being the apogee of the album. The song Delta Sky, by Allison Au certainly sets a very high bar for the entire album. Miss Au unfolds the melody of her masterly essay with brightness and intensity and in a winning sweetness of tone. Miss Gould’s meditative Tides are Turning reveals not only her marvelous virtuosity but suggests extraordinarily erudite musicianship.
The drummer, Miss Kadoura, is utterly convincing not only as a drummer, but also as an elegant percussion colourist. She is also marvellously authoritative on her song Rise. Enough cannot be said in praise of the glorious rumble [throughout, but especially on the Bye Bye intro] of Miss Proznick’s contrabass, or of Miss Tosoff’s eloquent pianism [especially on Little One]. But it is the almost insolent virtuosity with which Miss Therrien plays her horn that impresses me most of all. She plays with nuclear energy, sending her improvised lines like heat-seeking missiles when the need arises. At other times she can be soft and sensuous, making seduction her brief. She can do all of that seemingly turning on a dime. As a composer and performer, she is nonpareil on Lluviona.
Overall, this is an album where the writing shines everywhere with an easy, fluid perfection, often through webs of contrapuntal complexities. The performers have interiorised each other’s works and expressed themselves idiomatically, raising the bar on so many interactive levels. Add tonal colour spanning the gamut from satisfyingly wiry to full and sweet, and it’s a full house of grit and deliciousness, bolstered by the varied palette of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic riches as well. Really, bravo to the whole.
YouTube Playlist – The Ostara Project
Music – 1: Delta Sky; 2: Storms and Oceans; 3: Little One; 4: Lluviona; 5: Tides are Turning; 6: Bye Bye [intro]; 7: Bye Bye Blackbird; 8: Rise.
Musicians – Allison Au: alto saxophone; Rachel Therrien: trumpet; Jocelyn Gould: guitar; Amanda Tosoff: piano and Fender Rhodes; Jodi Proznick: contrabass; Sanah Kadoura: drums; Joanna Majoko: vocals.
Released – 2023
Label – Cellar Music Group [CM 21422]
Runtime – 44:02