Karl Silveira - A Porta Aperta

Karl is a trombonist from Toronto who has me wondering what makes jazz music "heavy".

Karl Silveira - A Porta Aperta
Karl Silveira. Orange Grove Publicity contributed the original photo for this article.

Karl Silveira is a jazz trombonist from Toronto; and when I heard his debut album, A Porta Aperta, my first thought was, "This is heavy!"

It's an odd but undeniable word of jazz jargon: heavy. If you search 'jazz terminology' and click through the whole first page of glossaries in the search results, you don't really find the word – but I hear people say it.

Heavy music is for when you're trying to do heavy stuff. With heavy creative and improvised music – as opposed to, like, metal and hard rock – you can stop desk work from being dreadful, because it adds such a range of emotion. I know it helps me write.

Heavy means you're going for it, you're taking yourself seriously either for a moment or a career. I like that.

You know what else I like? Dan Fortin's upright bass tone off the top of this album on "Nymark Plaza". And on that first track, Chris Pruden's piano solo is one of my favourite solos from the whole album. He pulls the tune all over the place, recalling everything from McCoy Tyner to Brad Mehldau.

L-R: Allison Au, Karl Silveira, Nico Dann, Chris Pruden, & Dan Fortin from the band on A Porta Aperta. Not pictured: David French

Who is the heaviest jazz musician I can think of? Maybe it's Lennie Tristano. My closest connection to Tristano is from Steve Kaldestad telling me about Lee Konitz on the Rhythm Changes Podcast.

"Rye & Lilacs" from this album sounds the most like Lennie to me.

I wouldn't say Lennie is the best, just that he takes himself most seriously, and he is mostly known for how seriously he approached the music – not always in a good way.

But "Rye & Lilacs" is good!

One of my other favourite tracks is "Shimmy", which resembles the collaboration of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane at the Five Spot in the late fifties.

Portuguese source material for Karl Silveira

"A Serretina em Julho", the closing track, is a mellow tune in a major-key that's a bit cute. Karl's solo is audacious and fun, even though the tune is low-key.

Karl told me about this track's title and its Portuguese connections, which run through Terceira Island in the Azorean archipelago:

"The best literal translation for A Serretinha is 'Little Mountain'. A Serretinha is a street in Terceira, Azores. Its where my uncle's house is. He called the house A Serretinha (or 'The Serretinha'), based on the street it's on."

And from the album's press release, I appreciated this explanation of the title, A Porta Aperta:

"It can mean either "the open door" (in Latin) or "the door squeezes" (in Portuguese). While an open door can lead you to new places, you may also find yourself needing to shrink yourself in some way in order to get through."

That's heavy! Karl elaborated in his promotional video:

"They're conflicting – it's almost a complete contradiction – and I really like the idea of multiplicity: the idea that something can be multiple things at once."

Allison Au on alto saxophone; David French on tenor saxophone

Allison Au brings Cannonball Adderley energy to her solo on "Rye & Lilacs", which makes the heavy tune a bit more accessible. As with the Ostara Project launch, Allison is a wonderful ensemble player who brings a grounded, understated brilliance to any stage she's on.

But she has only two solos on this album; the other one is on "Trip the Light, Fantastic" and it's indeed fantastic. Both solos get in and out quickly, leaving you wanting more of her playing.

David French is the saxophonist on several other tracks. Chronologically, his tenor first shows up on the title track, which is track four – but he plays only a couple notes as the melody weaves in and out!

Then, he steps out more on "Shimmy" with a swinging solo that would sound right at home at Frankie's, if this band makes it out to Vancouver some day. The same goes for his tenor solo on "Serretinha".

The rhythm section: Chris Pruden on piano, Dan Fortin on bass, & Nico Dann on drums

Chris Pruden carries a big weight in these arrangements, throwing in tons of harmony on most every tune. That's why it's wonderful to hear his light touch in all his solos. It sounds like he's having a lot of fun regardless of how intense the music gets.

And the bass playing of Dan Fortin is a highlight. His solos are vivacious; plus, his tone is lovely! Dan and Karl, who self-produced the album, have dialed-in a bass sound that invites you into the room.

Nico Dann is a sensitive drummer on these tracks. He has a wide range of sounds ready to go, and if you listen in stereo, the different sounds are panned with care all the way across. Like Dan's bass playing, his drumming gives you an inviting feeling and is never too loud. And he makes the title track heavy, locking in the rhythmic complexity.

What makes a jazz album heavy?

I still don't know. It's definitely the right word for this kind of listening, but it's hard to pin down. It's one of those words that, as Karl suggests, means multiple things at once.

And with this project, Karl is going for it; he wrote every tune on the album and plays excellent trombone throughout. Kudos to Karl and his band for making such a fully-formed debut statement, one that made me think and smile all the way. At the same time.

Karl Silveira released A Porta Aperta on Friday, March 25, 2022; get it on Bandcamp or stream it anywhere.