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: 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.