Last Ark Out: Lift

The shredding, the drumming, the riffs, the licks, the intensity gets your neurons firing

Last Ark Out: Lift
L-R: James Huumo, Colin Parker, Justin Gorrie, Arthur Pascau Smith, Jeff Gammon

Last Ark Out is a five-piece band made up of Justin Gorrie (who, disclosure, I hire to edit and mix podcast episodes), Arthur Pascau Smith, Jeff Gammon, Colin Parker, and James Huumo. The now interprovincial group was founded in East Vancouver years ago and traverses from synthy, chops-y contemporary fusion to post-rock, becoming a Snarky Puppy of their corner of Canada's jazz scene. The band's first release Lift brings in an ensemble cast of heavy talents to make a brief but weighty album and videos.

The first half of the album is more the fusion fare that you'd expect, though the choice of having acoustic piano playing that riff on "Brackish" is a touch of grounding. Sasha Berliner speaks to the album title by launching that track into orbit with vicious synth playing.

A fascinating creative direction is that this group has invited guests who play their instruments, not just additional instruments: Larnell Lewis on drums in for Colin Parker on "Dyab" and also Allison Au on alto saxophone for "Song Needs Title". It's a big move to go straight into a guest drummer for track two. After Lewis plays, Last Ark Out's own drummer comes back and has a bold snare sound on "Late to the Game". Of all the projects David Sikula has engineered at Monarch Studios for jazz-trained Vancouver musicians in recent years, Lift has to be one of the least-straight-ahead. Perhaps that's the influence of Dan Klenner, who did post-production with the band out of his own studio.

Knowing the band in their early days, I used to think of it as Arthur's compositional vehicle. Indeed, he is the leading composer with three credits. However, the remaining four are split between Justin and Jeff. It's not only electric-bass Jeff Gammon, which I've enjoyed only here and there from groups like Only a Visitor as a contrast to his stalwart upright bass presence. It's also Jeff composing cerebral fusion tunes from the electric bass chair: now we're talking.

The centerpiece track is "Libra", and it opens in the least expected way: a woodwind section led by guest Hailey Niswanger on tenor saxophone, who plays a blazing solo but starts out with that sweet winds orchestration. It ends with another cool touch: a certain sliding up-and-down Arthur's guitar strings that you don't hear often in this genre.

The shredding, the drumming, the riffs, the licks, the intensity: Lift feels like it would be too much for a road trip – let alone your living room – unless you really wanted to get your neurons firing. But the last track, the only track without a guest, is a provocative move away from that vibe. It's jangly. It's the one that could show up on a Mint Records or a Kingfisher Blues album, and that you could never imagine being played by a bunch of lovable nerds shot in 4K with everybody listening along in a room wearing headphones.

There's a duality to Last Ark Out. I don't know how much to read into the spacey cover art – whether it's just a bunch of guys trying to create something rad or if they're trying to escape something. Being based in multiple cities with little chance of permanent reunion, it's unclear how they will get together and play the project across the country. When they do, they have the gravitational pull to immediately become one of the country's leading ensembles in their subgenre.

released Feb. 23, 2024 / Buy digital (Bandcamp) / available on streaming