Aretha Tillotson: Introducing

Edmonton-trained bassist now out east but recording in her home city with all-Canadians

Aretha Tillotson: Introducing
Aretha Tillotson in front, back L-R: Joel Jeschke, Allison Au, Brendan McGrath, Jacob Do, Brett Hansen.

Though she works on the east coast these days, bassist Aretha Tillotson put together an all-original set of contemporary Edmonton jazz for her first album, Introducing Aretha Tillotson released out of her home city via MacEwan University's Bent River Records in October.

The album has a healthy dose of bass soloing, including a leadoff position on track one, and Tillotson's solo on "Tesla" is especially fresh – like the piano opening on that track by Brendan McGrath, who finds a way to insert an intricate moment without being showy at all.

Across different melodies, Tillotson's band gives some airtime to all the pairings you could find. The tenor-guitar melodic combo is poised and gentle; the alto ends up leading some of the stronger arrangements. Piano and guitar fit underneath both saxes on "Versus", a tightly-arranged track with a twelve-tone compositional mood. Allison Au's solo on it brings a welcome helping of the blues; all the players know this material cold.

Other than "Versus", "Flare" is the other two-sax tune. Just when you settle into Introducing's choreographed style, the ensemble throws you into more stormy waters – both in terms of improv and riffing.

"Next Time" is a saxophone and guitar quartet take, the only one with just four musicians. Jacob Do takes the tenor solo into Joe Henderson territory; Joel Jeschke gets his lone drum spotlight, if you don't count the hard-rocking playing on "Flare".

The last track is a bass and trombone duo with featured guest Audrey Ochoa, who only appears the one time on the record. It's a fun, engaging, and driving performance: sign me up for a full EP or album of just that, too.

As a grad student at the Berklee College of Music, Tillotson gave a 2021 presentation including multiple of these tunes and themes within them:

Tillotson's Introducing project is a thoughtful album with heft and might behind it from all the players, especially the bassist herself who sounds ready for anything and has embedded her personality in every track.

Introducing cover

Listen now

Introducing: Backwards Crossovers; Tesla; Versus; Next Time; Push Start; Sphere; Flare; Eighth Street. (53:01)

Personnel: Aretha Tillotson on bass; Allison Au on alto sax; Jacob Do on tenor sax; Brett Hansen on guitar; Brendan McGrath on piano; Joel Jeschke on drums; Audrey Ochoa on trombone.