SOCAN Words and Music Magazine
With eclecticism increasingly the norm in improvised music, it takes a lot to confound expectations, yet the quartet The Great Uncles of the Revolution manages to accomplish it. The band's sophomore recording, Blow The House Down, is dominated by a sprightly performance of part of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf - surely the first time the popular suite has been attempted on trumpet, National steel guitar, violin and acoustic bass (among other stringed instruments).
Led by Toronto-based bassist Andrew Downing, The Great Uncles come by their musical sense of adventure naturally, given that members include the British Columbia genre-busters Steve Dawson and Jesse Zubot, as well as veteran jazz trumpeter Kevin Turcotte. It's also an adventure that happened accidentally. Downing had been leading another, more traditional band called Attention Span with Turcotte, guitarist Kim Ratcliffe and drummer Anthony Michelli when he met Dawson and Zubot in Toronto. The Vancouverites joined Downing and Turcotte for a tour in 2001, recorded a debut CD called Stand Up! and the bassist was immediately struck by the combination.
"The music we made together was very different from what I had been doing with Attention Span. It was more like drum-less chamber music, although it also had the element of neo-bluegrass and gypsy music that Steve and Jesse do so well in their band, Zubot & Dawson. It also put Kevin in a much different setting. Most people only know Kevin from his work with Time Warp and Barry Elmes, but he's a guy who can play anything you write and do it with a lot of spirit."
"My tastes have always been all over the place," says Turcotte, "but I had definitely become known for playing mostly in the hard bop style. The Great Uncles were like a breath of fresh air for me. I love the way Andrew writes, and the band has inspired me to start composing, as well."
Given that Downing holds down the bass chair in Zubot & Dawson, and that The Great Uncles record for Dawson's label, Black Hen Music, it would all seem a cozy arrangement that lends itself to cross-pollination. True enough, says Downing, "the association with Steve and Jesse has allowed us to expand where and how we play. Because of the Zubot & Dawson connection, The Great Uncles have played folk festivals as well as jazz gigs, and that has exposed our music to an entirely different audience."
Still, the fact that Downing and Turcotte live in Toronto while the other half of the band, and its business operations, are in Vancouver presents something of a challenge. "It's really hard," admits Downing.
"I wish we could do smaller gigs - things that didn't present a logistical problem every time - but it does have the advantage of making every performance pretty special."
Downing must like a challenge. The band's immediate future involves adding guest musicians - likely some additional strings and horns - to expand The Great Uncles' textural range. But as Downing says, "Each time we are able to get together, we try to make the most of it."