Café Varzé Jazz
is subtitled Plays the music of Donald Anthony Varzé
. Varzé is a native of Edmonton, Canada who, after spending his early years playing guitar in local rock and roll bands, went back to school, studied composition, and began writing jazz pieces. Along with brother Ron he formed Varzé Records, to promote his composition work; this is the first recording for the label and, while breaking no new ground, is a pleasant enough album of contemporary jazz with a Latin-tinged feel.
Many of the tunes will sound strangely familiar; that’s because the changes are tried and true reinterpretations of changes from Tin Pan Alley tunes; but Varzé throws in enough surprises to keep things interesting. An example is "Quickie", which moves between time signatures, making things more challenging for the players. But for the most part Varzé sticks with the standard theme-solo-theme format of more traditional jazz tunes.
The group is led by drummer Sandro Dominelli, who is the first call drummer in Edmonton. He plays with confidence, and brings to mind some of his influences, including Peter Erskine and Adam Nussbaum, both of whom which he has studied. Dominelli has a clear understanding of the Latin tradition, and propels tracks like "Calypso Gas" along well enough.
The rest of the band consists of competent, but not outstanding players from Western Canada. They all play well; in particular saxophonist Kent Sangster and trumpet/flugelhornist Bob Tildesley contribute some nice solos; but the whole project, while well-written and well-played, lacks a singular voice. This is all stuff we’ve heard before and hear again and again in local jazz bars across the country; it’s better played than some and not as well played as others. The album feels like a "project" rather than a band; everyone motors through the material but there is little chemistry or interplay, and that’s one element that would have taken this material and elevated it above the norm.
But that being said, Cafe Varzé
is a thoroughly listenable record that fans of light Latin jazz will warm to. The problem is that with the large volume of jazz recordings being released today, both on major labels and independently, a recording needs something to set itself apart from the others, in order to make it stand out and demand to be heard. Sadly, Café Varzé
has no such distinguishing characteristics; it’s simply a collection of nicely crafted, but perhaps too-familiar sounding tunes, played by a group of good but not outstanding players; and that simply is not enough to make it jump out of the racks.