The Brenan Brothers: Valley of Silence

Trombonist Craig & saxophonist Jim Brenan's work sounds to me more Adderleys than Breckers

The Brenan Brothers: Valley of Silence
L-R: Craig Brenan, Jim Brenan

The Brenan Brothers are Alberta-based Craig and Jim Brenan, who play trombone and the B flat saxophones, respectively. I find the title of their album Valley of Silence to be lateral from what the project sounds like. Take the title track, for instance. Which 'silence' vibes do you get out of a funky tune like that? It's a harmonized melody with a bass riff.

Then there's another track, "Serenity": precisely-positioned close harmonies on a hard bop groove, launching into a six-note repeating piano riff and an old-school bass solo. It doesn't sound serene or like a valley of silence to me. Instead, I think of the Blue Train band with John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, and Curtis Fuller, or Clifford Brown's records.

The Brenans' work to me is more like the Adderleys than the Breckers. Craig is in full command of his trombone articulation, and Jim is a fiery soloist but also a sensitive ballad player, as you can hear on "Theme for Maxine" where he plays a breathy rendition of the melody – and Craig has a beautiful soft trombone entrance.

Ensemble writing is at the forefront of this album all the way through. Track one is an intricate, painterly version of "Blackbird" with drums played loudly. On track two, onetime Vancouver musician David Lavoie's trumpet takes over as the energy rides high. Lavoie, younger than the Brenans and with other interests ranging from co-producing beat jazz to fronting creative indie-rock bands, more than holds his own on the front line with the experienced Brenans.

The band soli on the title track is one of the key points of the album for me, emphasizing the focus on tight ensemble writing. They fade out on that soli, which is an interesting choice. You don't hear it very often. The most interesting thing to me about "Fly with the Wind" is that it basically feels like a big band arrangement. It breaks twice ever briefly into great piano trio improvs, but then it returns to this structure that reminds me of big-band charts, moving logically from one section to another, shaping the dynamic while having all the horns play together. The Brenan Brothers keep it all in the tradition while getting a lot out of their ensemble with intelligent parts.

released Apr. 19, 2024 / available on streaming