So first of all, what is A.R.C.C.?
A.R.C.C. is a re-invention of sorts of a collective started many years ago called Women with Horns. At the time, Women with Horns was created with the goal of providing an opportunity for four busy horn players - Ingrid Stitt, Sarah McElcheran, Carrie Chesnutt and Colleen Allen - to play together. Arrangements, created by the collective, were modelled after the Count Basie Band - hard swinging, collective grooving, horn riffing and lots of room for solos. When work and life took Ingrid and Sarah to different parts of the country, the band went on hiatus, until it was reformed (with Ingrid and Sarah's blessing) as A.R.C.C., now featuring Carrie (C), Colleen (C), Rebecca Hennessy (R) and Alison Young (A), and the same original mandate: swinging arrangements performed by four busy horn players looking for an opportunity to play together.
And swing they do. For me listening to the Count Basie Band is the ultimate refresher. The band's groove is irrepressible. The soloing is fantastic. The arrangements are tight and ringing, but with the right amount of looseness, to allow for in-the-moment background figures and a great deal of fun. To me, in so many ways, the Base Band is how good music sounds and feels. So it's a blast to hear four contemporary jazz musicians, backed by a solid rhythm section, re-create that Basie feel with new arrangements for a smaller band. Check out this video, taken a few years back at The Pilot, with the band playing Johnny Hodges' "Big Shoe" - a great head arrangement, groovy solos, improvised background, and some unexpected stop time all go into creating an engaging performance:
For their performance this Saturday night at Geary Lane, the final concert in the inaugural Geary Lane Jazz Series, the personnel will be only slightly different from the video above - Marie Goudy will replace Rebecca Hennessy, and Lauren Falls takes the bass chair. So if you're keeping score, that's: Carrie Chestnut, Colleen Allen and Alison Young on sax; Marie Goudy on trumpet; Stacie McGregor on keys; Lauren Falls on bass; and Mark Kelso on drums. I mean, that's a solid ensemble, and some of the busiest players on the Toronto scene.
To talk properly about each musician individually would take, well, seven different blog entries...so I'll spend a minute chatting about bandleader Colleen Allen and ask that you trust that much of what I say here applies across the band. I've had the opportunity to book and/or work with Colleen in a variety contexts including band leader, side musician, educator and adjudicator. She can basically play anything - from the Caribbean sounds of Kalabash to Manteca's musical traditions from around the globe to her long-standing post in the Women's Blues Revue house band to any number of small and large ensembles. There is a reason she is kept so busy - she is an outstanding saxophonist, an excellent woodwind doubler, an exciting soloist, and she brings incredible passion and positivity to her work. I am always inspired when I see Colleen in action as an educator - the way she works with students, but also the genuine joy she takes in what she does. Who wouldn't want to work with her?! And as I suggest above - the same can be said for each member of A.R.C.C.: any of these players could easily stand alone on her/his own. But together, they create a chemistry that will have you swinging in your seat. Here's another clip, from that same Pilot show a few years ago: