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“Suicides,” the first track of Ghost Days, sports a percolating funk line for bass and electric piano, on top of which Andre Canniere places tightly tailored riffs for his trumpet and Tori Freestone’s tenor sax. But the riffs, and the barreling horn solos that follow, show up only after Brigitte Beraha begins singing the short poem that inspired the composition. “My room is an orange graveyard/Ladybirds come here to die, each day a new corpse,” the piece begins. It ends two stanzas later with “I watch them practice death in their red funeral dresses/As dusk rapidly descends.” Not what you’d expect from the opening notes, although it’s somewhat leavened by the knowledge that “ladybirds” is Brit-speak for the insects we call ladybugs.
Ghost Days abounds in such contradictions. The U.S.-born, London-based Canniere has used his fiercely intelligent, tuneful writing to convey thought-provoking poetry, most of it expressing regret of one kind or another (though not as darkly as on that first track). Smartly energetic or post-rock reflective, his songs occupy a sweet spot between pure jazz and a welter of other genres, which leave their mark without overshadowing the band. The lineup sports an all-U.K. rhythm trio including drummer Andrew Bain, whose thunderous beats define the more alt-rock-adjacent material. Canniere’s clean technique and clarion sound — reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard, a main influence — make his improvising a joy, but he doesn’t hog the spotlight. He seems just as happy playing catchy section parts with Freestone, whose passionately acrobatic solos reflect and refract Canniere’s own. Still, the spotlight falls largely on the poems, individually penned by Malika Booker and Rebecca Lynch; on the startling range and control displayed by vocalist Beraha; and especially on how Canniere has knitted them together. The anthemic “Colours” has Beraha backed by a multitracked wall of horns; on the relaxed-shuffle “My Star,” Canniere supports her with a strong countermelody. On “Suicides” and “Erasure,” the voicings evoke classical composer Steve Reich’s blended singers and instruments in some of his 1980s works. Canniere doesn’t live in the past on Ghost Days, but neither does he shrink from its valued lessons. — Neil Tesser