Sometimes a song grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Your breath stops and you have no choice but to be still and soak up the mood. The stunningly melancholic jazz waltz “Syrian Lullaby” is one such standout track on the new CD “Kanata” by B’s Bees (named for front man Brandon Goodwin, on drums). Lighter and throwing in a bounce, “Nothing Yet” features the phenom chops of saxman Masashi Usui and an impeccable rhythm courtesy of Goodwin. “For or Against” showcases guitar and sax in unison, then peeling off to separate paths. It’s got positivity and a confident attitude.
“Kanata” has relevance, social conscience and vibe all stirred together into a rich, pleasurable soup.
When did you decide to play drums?
I was 13 years old. I clearly remember the day my dad said, “There’s a drum set for sale in the newspaper classifieds, want to go check it out?” The funny thing is I had saved some money to buy an electric guitar, but it was my dad’s idea to check out the drums. So I guess he decided I should play drums at the age of 13.
How does it allow you to best express yourself?
Out of any instrument I have played (I also play some piano and trumpet) the drums have always been most natural for me. I love rhythm and find that it’s a great outlet for self-expression. I also am big into meditation. The repetitive nature of the drums allows me to go to a deep place and make meaningful statements.
What are your sources of inspiration when composing?
I write music inspired by personal experiences, world events or visual art. On the new album my contribution was the “Kanata Suite” which was inspired by historical points in Canadian history.
I am also very much inspired by visual stimulus and like to visit art galleries or even just look at art on the internet to find my muse. I can also put on about 30 seconds of Charles Mingus’ “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” or Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht”and be inspired for days.
What is the jazz scene like in Montreal?
It’s thriving. There are many incredible musicians who have moved here from across Canada and around the world, and the level of musicianship is very high. There are four universities in Montreal that have jazz studies programs, as well as several colleges, so there are always new people coming to town to keep the scene fresh.
How did you meet each other and why did you form the ensemble?
Joe, Julien and I met in the music program at Concordia University in Montreal. I started before them but then took two years off in the middle of my degree. When I came back they were just starting the program.
We had a lot of classes together and started gigging in different formats near the end of our degrees. The ensemble was formed when I won a scholarship to perform at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. I was given the opportunity to put together a group of my choosing and then perform at the festival!
I decided that I would put together the group I had always dreamed about, which was a seven-piece hard bop-style group, and then play Jazz Messengers’ tunes. I met Alec about three years ago at a jam session in Montreal. He moved up here for a couple of months and I started calling him for everything I could. I just loved the way he played and he brought so much energy to the groups he played in.
How would you characterize your sound?
It’s characterized by the joy we share for the music we make. When I listen to our music, I can hear how much fun we’re having. We also swing very hard and have our own way of grooving together that seems to make people smile when we play. It makes us smile as well.
“Dear Charlie” was recently released. Why did you dedicate an album to Charlie Haden?
Charlie Haden had such an honest and pure way of playing music, and I wanted to learn more about the music he made, so I decided that we should try playing his music.
This became a project of itself, still a B’s Bees project, but no longer about making original music. It became a learning experience.
With each concert we grew so much tighter and even though I never met Mr. Haden, I learned so much about putting beauty into music, and about being true to oneself.
After performing many Charlie Haden concerts, we decided that it was time to record this project as we knew it was something special.
Does the album have an overall feel?
The pieces are mainly freely improvised after playing the melody. The exceptions are “If You Want to Write Me” and “Blues In Motian.” But the main theme behind “Dear Charlie” was to keep the sense of unity that Mr. Haden exuded in his music.
You have just released the new CD “Kanata.” How do you have all this material so quickly?
With the Charlie Haden compositions, we had already performed so many concerts of his music that we didn’t need to rehearse going into the studio, and only needed four hours to lay down the five tunes, setup time included!
“Kanata” was a one-year project that involved writing the music, rehearsing and gigging a lot, touring and then finally recording it. So because we were so prepared for both albums it was quite easy to get the recordings together in a short amount of time.
I mixed and mastered “Dear Charlie” myself, and then had other people mix and master “Kanata.” Because of this we were able to finish them almost simultaneously.
How would you differentiate these two albums?
“Dear Charlie” is mostly based around loose arrangements and free improvisation, and “Kanata” is quite the opposite. Each tune has very specific arrangements and even the improvisations are sometimes in a set order. Both albums tell stories, but in a different way.
What did you enjoy most about the process of making “Kanata”?
Being in the studio with people that I admire as musicians and respect as people. There was such a great vibe and we had a lot of fun! Everyone shared a mutual respect and a love for the music, so the session went very smoothly.
What was the most difficult?
The most difficult thing was listening objectively to the takes. I think because we had been rehearsing the music for a year and we had just gotten off a three-week tour, we were very critical of our performances.
Our engineer Pascal Shefteshy kept telling that us we sounded incredible and that we were nailing our takes, but I had a hard time believing him during the sessions. It wasn’t until the album was mixed and mastered and three months had gone by that I was able to listen to it as music.
Which is your favorite track?
I love Joe’s composition “Atomic Future.” It’s so fun to play because it’s edgy and I like the staggering form. It also starts with a two-feel, but not a standard type of two-feel. It took me some time before I was comfortable playing it.
“Syrian Lullaby” is beautiful! What’s the backstory?
Well thank you, that’s very kind of you to say! I was reading a lot about the Syrian refugee crisis and was very sad about what was going on; it still hurts to hear about it.
I was in writing mode one night and the harmonies and melody fell into place as I meditated on the stories I had been reading.
It is an ode to the people whose lives were lost by this ongoing crisis, but also a gentle welcome to the refugees who were coming to Canada.
What do you like about playing ballads?
I love the amount of space in a ballad, and I picture my brushes as paint brushes when I play them. I didn’t love ballads until I did a three-month stint on a cruise ship back in 2012. We played many ballads each night, and the bandleader had a great way of telling the stories of each piece. He taught me how to really appreciate them. They’re also challenging to play well, and I enjoy challenges.
How did you get to perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival?
I won a scholarship to perform at the festival. It was an awe-inspiring experience and I was in a haze the entire time. I don’t know how many people were watching but it was an outdoor concert and the space was packed. We had rehearsed a lot and wrote some of the Jazz Messenger tunes into a kind of suite, and the audience really connected with it. You could have heard a pin drop at some points.
What is your biggest challenge in marketing the band?
How to make ourselves distinct in such a deep talent pool.
The jazz world has some of the most talented musicians on the planet.Rather than trying to compete with them, we just try to do our own thing and make genuine artistic music.
Trying to find a niche that we can fit into has also been a challenge. I know we have something unique and people find us interesting, but the question is always how to find those people and introduce them to our music.
Talk about the other three instrumentalists.
Joe Ferracuti has played piano in the group since the first concert at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. He is such a uniquely gifted musician and it is a joy to play with him. He adds such an interesting element to the group’s sound.
Julien Sandiford has also been in the group since the beginning. Although he’s in his mid-twenties, he has such a wise sound. I remember when I first heard him play at school I couldn’t believe that an 18-year-old could play the guitar in such a mature manner.
Alec Safy (bass) has officially played in the group for a year. He actually lives in NYC and just does touring with us. The reason Alec plays in this group is because I have yet to meet another individual who is such an incredible force on their instrument but who is also a great person to hang with. Touring can be difficult and it’s important to find the right people. Alec was my first choice when we began planning our tour last year and I’m happy that he chooses to continue to play with us.
Who else do you ask to join you in performances?
We invite artists whom we respect on musical and personal levels. I like to ask people who are ahead of me, musically speaking, so we can grow. The great saxophonist Kebbi Williams performed with us in Atlanta last year and I asked him not only because he is an international-level saxophonist, but he is also a socially conscious person who does a lot for his community.
What do you want people to know about your band?
We play together because we enjoy it. We work very hard at what we do and take pride in our unique sound and our ability to swing. If you like our music then (we’ve been told) we’re also a captivating group to see live!
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Going back on the road and performing for new audiences, meeting new people, and seeing new places.
Check out our music and if you enjoy it then please purchase a copy of one of our new albums, come out to show, and tell a friend about us!
For more information, visit www.bs-bees.com.