Seattle’s Earshot Magazine will be running a featured article on us in next month’s issue. We’ve just received the story from the author and were very excited upon reading it, so we thought we’d post it here! Enjoy and don’t forget that our tour is only a month away! Check the “Performances” page for our show in your city, and we’re still searching for more Toonies over on the “Donate” page if you wish to help us out. See you all soon!
15 April 2010
Tunnel Six Preview
by Nathan Bluford
Tunnel Six’s formation was as intuitive as the music that resulted. While studying at the 2009 Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Alberta, Canada, the sextet met by chance, proposed a jam session on a whim, decided to create a group and before anyone could think twice had recorded a premier EP. The group’s upcoming rehearsals and subsequent tour of the United States and Canada will the first time that Chad McCullough (trumpet), Ben Dietschi (tenor and soprano saxophone), Brian Seligman (guitar), Andrew Oliver (piano), Ron Hynes (double bass), and Tyson Stubelek (drums) have all played together since finishing their first recording, but they have no reservations over whether their chemistry will do anything other than improve.
The six musicians hail from a range of cities in US and Canada, and despite their bond as a group are currently based out of cities scattered along the border between the two countries, hence their not having played together since the sessions for their EP. When their tour begins with its first date in Toronto, audience members will be witnessing the culmination of a year’s worth of Skype conferences, meticulous logistical planning, and utter faith in a musical connection that became quite thick in just a couple weeks. In an art form that generally relies on practitioners’ experience with and knowledge of each other’s musical presence, it’s exciting to see a group forgoing the conventional wisdom and asserting their mutual strengths over the impediments that separation imposes.
Playing in this band has been a new experience for its members in many ways besides their unusual meeting, however. Each musician is of course involved in multiple other projects, including one based out of Seattle called the Kora Band, which is led by Oliver, features McCullough, and infuses jazz with West African styles. McCullough explains that, although each of the groups he plays in is a unique experience, Tunnel Six is “much more of a collective group thing.” The leader-less mindset that can be heard in the music is reflected in the intra-band interactions. When they met at the Banff Workshop, different members brought independently written compositions to the table, which they then processed through various suggestions and alterations from the rest of the group before reaching the versions that were recorded.
The level of interplay that the group achieved in a very short amount of time is remarkable and easily recognized when listening their self-titled EP, which is available for online listening at www.tunnelsix.com. The relatively straightforward and appealing themes that their compositions begin with almost instantly boil into expansive improvisational passages, where the rhythm section provides the lead players with a palette that expands and contracts according to a given solo’s flow. Stubelek will allow a solid beat to fracture into an ecstatic series of fills in reaction to a single note played by McCullough or Dietschi, but wait for their lines to build enough momentum before swinging back into the central rhythm. Nothing is certain or predictable: if the solo doesn’t require a straight beat then Stubelek will wait until the time is right.
Stubelek is far from being the only member who shows such astute patience. Oliver’s piano solos search for the best way to reach a looming climax at a drifting, secure pace, allowing his hands to switch roles as necessary to exploring the different routes that lay before him. Seligman and Hynes contribute silky, subtle accents and depth to the finished sound, tying the group’s personality together. Seligman alternates between glossy leads and decorative backgrounds in order to stealthily integrate Tunnel Six’s sole electric voice. Hynes’ solo on their recording of “With Without” is controlled and sturdy, utilizing an experienced sense of restraint to pick just the right phrases.
McCullough and Dietschi play confident, varied solos, and are just as comfortable playing supporting lines for each other or their other band mates as they are in the spotlight. As McCullough describes playing with Dietschi, “There’s only been one person that I played with other than Ben where it felt like he was right there with me, really listening. We can make it sound like one horn.” The tune “Not Yet” showcases this connection, as McCullough and Dietschi play a finely interwoven dual solo accompanied by Seligman and Oliver’s energetic and provocative interjections, culminating in a moment of shared intensity before taking a sigh of relief and fading back into the main theme.
Beyond the music itself, this project has allowed the sextet to reach a new level of maturity as professional artists. McCullough notes that neither he nor anyone else in the band has ever written grant proposals, planned and organized their own large-scale tour, or handled their own management to the degree that they do now. “It’s a big step for the whole band,” he says. “For me, this shows that if you put in a lot of time and hard work, it’ll really pay off. We’re all getting our names out there, people are going to be paying attention.”
Despite the short amount of time that they have spent playing together, Tunnel Six’s sound has already won over a sizeable number of fans in the right places: grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Regional Arts & Culture Council will be helping to finance the tour as well as the album that the group will be recording once their cross-continental trip is over. The future from there is unplanned, but McCullough is optimistic and enthusiastic about the possibility of another tour of equal or lesser size, along with another album. For the time being, the anticipation over reuniting with his fellow musicians and observing how they’ve grown over the past year, before displaying that level of growth for audiences in no less than thirteen cities, provides more than enough excitement.