The Way I Have Always Felt About Life

One day in 2000 I was in the HMV on Sparks St. browsing, a not uncommon state of affairs, and the house stereo was playing some jazz. I immediately recognized the saxophonist as Mike Murley, my favourite Canadian jazz musician. The band was unfamiliar, but my God were they having a good time.

I bought the CD on the spot and, at the end of the year, decided I’d heard nothing more soulful, carefree, intense or melodic, so in the National Post I named the CD, When We Were Little Girls by Jordan O’Connor and Cash Cow, as the best of the year. It is a tremendous pleasure to be able to bestow these meaningless honours on musicians who are trying to do good work. Jordan put out some more copies of the CD, with little stickers on the wrapping announcing that this was The National Post’s Best Jazz Album of The Year!!!

Jordan O’Connor is an Ottawa-born, Toronto-based bassist who has not enjoyed any particular prominence, even on the modest scale of jazz in Toronto. I don’t know him; we’ve had one or two very brief conversations. But because of that wonderful CD he released several years ago, I check up on his website every now and then to see what’s up with him. Last month I found he had made Lebreton, a new CD of solo performances on the upright bass. (Here and there he overdubs a second bass or some synthesizer parts.)

Two things you need to know about the result.

1. It’s just an extraordinarily beautiful record.

2. Jordan has put the whole thing up on his website for everyone to download for free.

After the jump I’ll help you get it.

On his website, he explains the genesis of what became Lebreton. He was planning a new CD with Cash Cow, the band I liked so much in 2000, but he wasn’t feeling prepared. As he tells it:

As a player I was out of shape and felt largely lost as a musician. I didn’t feel I was “a part” of any music scene, and outside of occasional gigs with guitarist Don Ross… and some subbing work here and there I felt like an alien in Toronto. So with Rob’s I decided to record again; yet, as I said, I was out of shape. The solo session (which would become “Lebreton”) began without any specific intent. I needed to play and get back into the game, so to speak.

Additional, I finally had all the things one needs to record; the gear, a place and so on, however, since I had felt so musically “out of touch”, I hadn’t been playing or practicing very much; thus, there was a practical need to “get in shape” on the instrument before the Cash Cow session, not just physically, by emotionally and mentally. My frustration, with my lack of connection to Toronto and the music scene and, by extension, with my lack of playing, led me to act like a child who, if s/he couldn’t be accepted, or feel accepted, was going to become resentful and cynical. In short I was hurt and unfocused. As much as this continues to be a battle for me, I do hope to overturn my lack of focus and hurt feelings– as petty and futile as they might be– into something positive. So over the course of a few nights I decided I would play what I call “open music” and just be who I am and leave the rest behind.

I know solo jazz on the upright string bass is not going to get most people super-excited, but I have been living with this “CD” (what do you call a zip file full of mp3s any more? This performance.) for several weeks now, and every time one of the tunes pops up on my iPod or laptop, it brightens and deepens my day.

As I’ve said, Jordan isn’t even a first-call bassist in Toronto and by his own admission this is a basement tape designed to kick his flabby chops back into gear, so there’s none of the flashy virtuoso in this music. All there is is what I heard in the HMV on Sparks eight years ago: commitment, fire, heart, humility. You either have music in you or you don’t, and I’ve long felt that Jordan O’Connor has it. It’s my birthday soon and I am very pleased to be able to offer Lebreton to all of you as my birthday gift to you. I know you will be touched and heartened by this music. Here it is.

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