Bird Is The Worm
December 6, 2016
“journeys, places, stories” review by Dave Sumner
The newest from the Tunnel Six ensemble falls pretty well in line with what’s come before. The dramatic builds of intensity, the soaring melodicism, the amiable charm of folk music and how it shakes hands firmly with a modern jazz built on a foundation of imagery and mood more than it is blues and swing. Their debut Lake Superior came out swinging with the dramatic surges and thick melodies, and it really didn’t hold back on the moodiness either, and their follow-up Alive kept to the same formula. It was simply more of the good stuff. Now, with their third recording, the same elements are present, but the expressions are delivered with a greater confidence, and no less importantly, with a wide-open lyricism that trades in the focused intensity for a substantive story arc. Either through compositions that are scripted to open things up or (perhaps “and”) the confidence of the musicians to improvise on the seeds of the ideas and bring something unexpected to bloom. Whatever the reason and whatever the intent, there’s a fullness to this music that wasn’t there before. The sound is much the same, but the ability to express it is dramatically changed.
All About Jazz
May 11, 2013
“Alive review by Dan McClenaghan
The formation of the American/Canadian sextet Tunnel Six wasn’t planned. The six musicians met up at the 2009 International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and discovered rare group chemistry after having played together there. Since then the group has performed across Canada and the U.S., and cut two CDs, Lake Superior (OA2 Records, 2010) and now Alive, recorded at their live shows in Vancouver, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.
The line-up—sax and trumpet, guitar and piano, bass and drums—is a chamber-like collective with more energy than groups that are usually tagged that way. An equilibrium of input, both in tune-smithing and playing is the mode of operation; but it’s tempting to call trumpeter Chad McCullough a leader of sorts. He penned three of the nine tunes, and dishes up some fine solo spots; and he did the cover photo and layout too.
Saxophonist Ben Dietschi does a tight, sizzling solo on his “Tides of Certainty,” in front of some sharp metallic comping by guitarist Brian Seligman. McCullough’s “Pinwheel” features some lyrical horn work, fine and intricate interplay between the guitar and Andrew Oliver’s piano, and includes a hypnotic interlude where Oliver lays down a steady groove for bassist Ron J. Hynes and drummer Tyson Stubelek to churn and rumble over.
Alive is a cohesive statement, from start to finish, full of expansive, slightly blurred—from the melding of guitar and piano—soundscapes, hot horns and seamless instrumental interaction.
Jazz Society of Oregon Jazzscene Magazine
“Alive” review by Tim Willcox
This is the newest offering from the sextet of young, cutting edge musicians from various places in the U.S. and Canada. Two Northwest jazz stalwarts, Andrew Oliver of Portland and Chad McCullough of Seattle, are responsible for making the group a fixture in this region. Former Portlander Stubelek plays drums in the group, although he relocated to NYC several years ago. Formed in 2009 at the Banff International Jazz Workshop, Tunnel Six also released a very nice recording in 2011 titled “Lake Superior.” This one was recorded live during the group’s 2012 tour. One of their greatest attributes is the ability to make a sextet sound like a miniature orchestra. Five of the six members contributed beautiful and unique originals, all of which take advantage of the group’s openness to various styles as well as their attention to the tiniest of details. Dynamics and imaginative mixing of timbre and rhythmic textures play a major role in making this recording diverse and fun for repeated listening. McCullough contributes some of the prettiest originals to the recording. He writes in a fashion which evokes beauty and a certain solemness while managing not to sound sentimental. “The Admiral’s Lament,” for instance, showcases this. Oliver is one of the most prolific composers in our region, having founded the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble as well as the new PJCE Records label. Here he contributes two numbers, a beautiful waltz titled “Columbia,” and the pointillistic, Latin jazztinged “No Mongoose.” Guitarist Seligman, who has been strongly influenced by Bill Frisell in both playing and writing, gives us the album’s imaginative opener, “The Wagon and the Gun.” The track showcases Dietschi and McCullough’s musical camaraderie on an open vamp featuring both men improvising simultaneously. Seligman’s other contribution, “ Heavy Weight,” fuses jazz with rock and is reminiscent of the music of drummer Jim Black’s group, AlasNoAxis. Seligman has written some of the more genre bending music on “Alive.” Hynes and Dietschi both contribute one track apiece, both more straightahead affairs with nods to the modernist and minimalist classical music. There also seems to be touches of Steve Reich’s signature “looping counterpoint” throughout the album.
I know I’ve focused on the writing side of things, but let’s not forget that all of these guys are great instrumentalists too. Each player has their own sound, a feat in this day and age when there are literally thousands of clones out there. McCullough has one of the most honest approaches to trumpet in modern jazz. A dark and warm tone coupled with fresh, spontaneous ideas makes him a real joy to listen to. None of the musicians rely on things that merely “fit under their fingers,” and I get a sense that they’ve all taken paths around the typical modern influences which produce so many imitators. Saxophonist Dietschi reminds me a bit of both Dewey Redman and the lesser known British saxophonist Stan Sulzmann. It’s refreshing to hear a young saxophonist who isn’t imitating Chris Potter, Mark Turner, or Seamus Blake. Drummer Stubulek is a real point of interest, playing with a delicate touch when needed but able to breathe fire into the music when called upon to “rrrrROCK!” He is one of my favorite young drummers, with the musical approach, openness and dynamic range of Paul Motion and Joey Baron, but with a technique and touch along the lines of Brian Blade. Stubelek’s childhood friend, Oliver, is a unique pianist, devoid of cliches as well. He never seems to play “licks” or the conventional jazz lines that we’ve all heard a million times. All of the playing here is a breath of fresh air. I must admit that I haven’t seen this group live yet, but after hearing the album, I’ll be making a point of hearing them on their next jaunt through town. You should as well.
Bird Is The Worm
April 29, 2012
“Alive” review by Dave Sumner
Even with the modern jazz trend of wandering great distances away from a song’s opening recitation of melody, it’s still quite typical for the musicians to return to the home base before the last note of the song has sounded. But for the Tunnel Six outfit, they take it a step further. Proficient in their use of dramatic introductory statements, they store that melody away, and rather than doubling back to it after the long journey of a song, instead, they simply remove it from their pack, and, intermittently, show it to the listener, as one would a photograph. They don’t so much return to home as simply display a picture of it during their course of their travels. It’s a big reason why so many of their tunes possess an epic quality, a sense of long distances traveled, far far away, even as they behave as songs that exist very much in the moment.
On their sophomore release Alive, the Tunnel Six sextet picks up right where they left off on their debut, the excellent 2011 release Lake Superior. Recorded at a series of live dates, Alive stamps in place the group’s development from the time they first met at the International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Banff, through their collaboration on their debut album, and now, as they set out for more.
Your album personnel: Chad McCullough (trumpet), Andrew Oliver(piano), Ben Dietschi (saxes), Tyson Stubelek (drums), Ron Hynes(bass), and Brian Seligman (guitar).
As also characterized on their debut album, Alive displays a level of group interplay belied by the relative short time this ensemble has been performing together. The seamless transitions between solos, the multi-tasking partnerships with rhythm, and the Rube Goldberg melodic directions at unexpected moments… they all point to a synchronicity that only becomes evident when one steps back from the music and attempts to separate the act of performance from the performance itself.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t individual highlights, too. For instance…
“The Wagon and the Gun” starts up with an already classic Tunnel Six approach of opening an album with a promise of Epic Journey. The sextet works together to build the lullaby introduction up to a hurricane intensity, yet it’s when the soprano sax of Dietschi dips back into the wind tunnel to lay down delicate lines that keeps the song tethered to its brilliant opening moments. And then there’s “Up Hill,” in which Dietschi’s sax sharpens the blade of an edgy song.
“Heavy Weight” is characterized by its dramatic builds interspersed with punctuating solos. However, it’s bassist Hynes who shines here, by not just inconspicuously establishing tempo, but also acting as the melody’s disconnected shadow, providing some needed darkness to bright notes from guitar.
“Tides of Certainty” burns with a post-bop center of gravity orbited by McCullough’s soaring trumpet.
“Pinwheel” has a throwback sound, featuring Oliver and Stubelek on piano and drums and a nostalgic echo of the firecracker rhythms and cool blue stride of the “Take Five” days of Brubeck.
“Cowboy Song” delivers Seligman’s countryside charm on guitar and an implied twang, reminiscent of the Americana Jazz of Bill Frisell, but with Frisell’s rustic ear-to-the-ground pragmatism updated for a dreamy sensation of travel by sea.
Album finale “The Admiral’s Lament” offers a sense of finality. A sister song of album-opener “The Wagon and the Gun,” but where the latter expounds on the possibilities ahead, the former draws the curtain down, and begins the time for looking back on all that has come before. Like with any ending, it’s a little bittersweet, a little melancholic, and in possession of a warm, sincere smile.
A remarkable sophomore release, and already has me looking forward to what comes next.
Willamette Week (Portland, OR)
June 21, 2012
Andrew Oliver with Tunnel Six, Blue Cranes
by Brett Campbell
[NORTH AMERICAN JAZZ] Startled by the chemistry they achieved after meeting and playing at the celebrated Banff International Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music a few years ago, the rising young stars of Tunnel Six (Portland pianist Andrew Oliver, Toronto saxophonist Ben Dietschi, Seattle trumpeter Chad McCullough, Toronto guitarist Brian Seligman, Halifax bassist Ron J, and former Oregon—now New York—drummer Tyson Stubelek) resolved to reconvene for annual tours between their regular gigs. The group’s summer 2010 performance at Portland’s Old Church, one of that year’s happiest jazz surprises, revealed a straight-ahead contemporary jazz aesthetic with remarkable interplay and solid chemistry. The musicians have only grown in experience—all lead their own groups. Openers Blue Cranes, Portland’s coolest jazz band, are always worth hearing.
Penticton Western News
June 14, 2012
Tunnel Six, a modern jazz band with members from throughout North America, will tour again for the third consecutive year.
This 11-city tour is sponsored in part by the Canada Council for the Arts and will land in Penticton at the Opus Café on June 16 at 7 p.m.
Comprised of several young modern jazz artists, each notable band leaders in their own right, Tunnel Six has grown from a collective group of friends at the Banff Centre into a deeply intertwined musical unit capable of connecting with a wide array of audiences on a deep and emotional level. Their performances have often moved listeners, and this year the group will capture the spirit of their live performances with a follow-up recording to their internationally-released first album, Lake Superior.
“Every time we get together, it’s an incredible experience and one I always look forward to,” guitarist Brian Seligman said. “Each year, with six guys this gifted, and moving in so many directions there never fails to be some deep musical moments that can only happen when everyone’s on the same page, with the same goals.”
Those moments are sure to be plentiful in the coming tour, with 11 concerts and a considerable time to workshop the new music. Not that they need it. Many of the new tunes were road-tested last summer at the Halifax and St. John’s Jazz Festivals. Those performances notched the group a TD Rising Star nomination, and a sold-out hall in Newfoundland.
The band’s first album Lake Superior (released last March on Seattle-based OA2 Records) was listed on eMusic’s top 100 releases of 2011, right above the new Britney Spears album. A fact that the band’s pianist Andrew Oliver is quick to point out. His pride is instantly understandable. One of his compositions (the title track) garnered him an ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Award.
The upcoming tour, their ‘third season’ promises more of the same, and business as usual is just fine for Tunnel Six.
Banff Jazz: connecting and collaborating
June 8, 2012
by Alexa Hubley
I wanted to know more about the Jazz program at The Banff Centre — figure out what’s lurking at the core of it. What makes it…unique? For the past few weeks I’ve been attending jazz performances in The Club, the Eric Harvie Theatre, late night jams in the Maclab bistro, and what I’ve noticed is that the essence or spirit of Jazz at The Banff Centre is one of openness and collaboration, which might just be the spirit of jazz as an artform.
“Randomly, we all sat down at the same table for a meal, and that was pretty much the instrumentation for creating our band,” says Ben Dietschi, a member of Tunnel Six, a band that formed out of the 2009 Jazz program. “We all decided to book a recording session together, and after we played one tune, we knew. Everybody paused in silence for a few moments, looked around the room, and that’s when we knew we had a band.”
The musicians in Tunnel Six are from all over North America, and before they set out on tour, they use skype and facebook to keep in touch, collaborate on pieces, and give each other feedback, until they actually meet in person and play together. “The fact that we’re all in different places, and coming from different cultural surroundings just adds potency to the projects we create,” explains Dietschi. “When we do meet up, our different backgrounds just add colour to our set and our music.” Like Dietschi, two musicians in the current Jazz program — bassist Patrick Reid and saxophonist/violinist, Angela Morris — also benefit from spending a few weeks a year working alongside and collaborating with a colourful mix of jazz artists. ”I keep coming back because this place is sort of like a creative music fairy tale for me,” says Reid, who first came to the program in 2004 and has returned consistently since 2008.
“Not only am I surrounded by some of my biggest jazz heroes (like Dave Douglas), but I also get to find out what goes into other people’s music, what they think about when they’re making music, how they live, and how that influences their work.” The openness of the program enables Reid and fellow participants to explore one another’s style and work ethic in an extremely creative and encouraging environment. “The connections I’ve made here are so unique — the people are so amazing, so open-minded, and so driven” says Morris, who hails from Toronto, resides in New York, and co-leads a sextet called Common Wealth with former Jazz program participant and saxophonist, Jasmine Lovell-Smith. ”I met Jasmine in the program, we collaborated and hung out, and now we play together in New York on a regular basis — it’s awesome!”
July 18, 2011
Review of Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival, St. John’s, NL
“In terms of precision, the festival’s winners were Tunnel Six. The sextet played highly detailed songs with effortless grace. This might have been the best out-and-out jazz at the festival, and the audience was really into it. More bands like this would be a great way to go for this diverse, solidly attended festival in years to come.”
Top albums of 2011
by Dave Sumner
When the members of an ensemble sacrifice all selfish thought and throw their entire weight behind the compositions of others, it’s a transcendent moment, almost spiritual. There is a sense of a something greater than the sum of the individual parts when an ensemble serves the purposes of the soloist, while that soloist, simultaneously, plays his heart out in honor of the ensemble. Tunnel Six, six young jazzers who originate from across the U.S. and Canada and only came to meet at a music workshop in Banff, have created an album of these moments. Melodies that dare to be epic, jazz compositions that stretch out to the fringes of the genre, and a cohesion and selflessness that would indicate a collaborative period measured in years, not months, and Lake Superior is only the sextet’s debut album.
CD Review: Lake Superior
by David Franklin
For a group of players that individually live all over North America, Tunnel Six shows remarkably skillful ensemble interaction. This is the first recording by the band, whose members first played together at a Jazz Workshop at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, in 2009, although they have toured in both Canada and the United States. Their compositions, all by band members, are quite tuneful, but also sophisticated formally and metrically. Examples include pianist Andrew Oliver’s “Lake Superior,” which begins with his slow, hymn-like intro before the ensemble enters, setting up a passionate, two-fisted piano solo. After recapitulation of the ensemble entrance, tenorist Dietschi offers a dexterous Post-Bop improvisation over a swinging medium groove, the piece ending with another recap of the ensemble section. And all those shifts are smoothly executed. “Tunnel Mountain,” by Trumpeter McCullough, begins dramatically with a forceful repetitive figure underlying short back and forth choruses by soprano and trumpet, but also contains a lyrical piano solo over drums and an active bass line. Saxophonist Dietschi’s “In Between” features shifting metes and a distorted Rock guitar sound. The players excel in the ensemble parts and improvise at a high level in an up-to-date Mainstream Modern vein.
All Music Guide
CD Review: Lake Superior
by Ken Dryden
The six promising young musicians who comprise Tunnel Six met while attending the International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. They quickly discovered a chemistry and worked to interpret the members’ compositions, touring parts of Canada and the U.S. for a few weeks prior to entering the studio to record their debut album. The interaction between them makes it sound like they have been playing together for far longer, while it is clear that each musician dove headfirst into bringing out the nuances of his fellow bandmates’ compositions, so there isn’t as much emphasis on dominating the solo spotlight as there typically is on CDs by young artists. Trumpeter/flügelhornist Chad McCullough penned the loping yet spirited “Tunnel Mountain,” which features lush ensembles, terrific exchanges by the composer on trumpet with soprano saxophonist Ben Dietschi, and an understated, elegant piano solo by Andrew Oliver. Guitarist Brian Seligman’s “Not Yet” simmers for the first few measures as the band builds the tension until the composer’s rockish solo. Dietschi contributed the mellow “Song for Masha,” showcasing his lyrical tenor sax. Bassist Ron Hynes and drummer Tyson Stubelek provide terrific support throughout this rewarding debut recording.
Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB)
May 5, 2011
Most of the time they’re spread all over the continent, but ever since the musicians of Tunnel Six met about two years ago, they have shared a special simpatico that continues to grow.
“We come from somewhat different backgrounds and from all over the country,” notes trumpeter Chad McCullough. “I think that’s one of the strong points of the band, but we also have a very similar musical esthetic. Even though we write very different tunes, they all seem to have the same vibe.”
He sums up their sound as strongly melodic contemporary jazz. The three Canadians and three Americans met as participants in the 2009 Banff Centre International Jazz Workshop. Trumpeter McCullough (based in Seattle) is joined by saxophonist Ben Dietschi (Toronto), guitarist Brian Seligman (Toronto), pianist Andrew Oliver (Portland), bassist Ron Hynes (Halifax), and drummer Tyson Stubelek (New York). All six contribute compositions.
Their name Tunnel Six refers to the Tunnel Mountain that rises behind the Banff Centre, and that’s not their only play on place names. When the group reunited last year for a cross-continent tour, they had one particularly satisfying, if chilly soak after being cooped up in a van for many hours. In memory of jumping into that lake, the album they recorded at the end of that tour is titled Lake Superior.
That all-original collection of tunes has just been released. “That tour really had a huge effect in helping us sort out our musical directions. We like to break down some of the traditional roles of instruments,” McCullough explains, “like using the guitar as another horn, or at other times, like a piano.”
Tunnel Six will perform tunes from the CD Lake Superior and newer works when they hit the stage at the Yardbird Suite (102nd Street at 86th Avenue) Saturday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $18 for members, $22 for guests, from Ticketmaster (780-451-8000) or at the door.
Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB)
May 28, 2010
“Tunnel Six road-testing new tunes on tour”
by Roger Levesque
A multinational jazz group with players from various corners of North America was founded last year as the musicians took part in an unforgettable, enriching experience at the Banff Centre jazz workshop.
The workshop has been facilitating this sort of thing for years, so it’s no surprise that another band has come out of it. They are worth a listen.
This time it’s Tunnel Six, named after the Tunnel Mountain location of the Banff Centre. Half Americans and half Canadians, they were bound up in an unexpectedly inspired meeting that has already spawned some fine, hard-to-classify demo tunes as their current tour brings them closer to recording a debut album. You can just call it tuneful contemporary jazz with a lot of space, considering there are six people involved.
Trumpeter Chad McCullough agrees there is nothing like road-testing your tunes before you head into the recording studio. Dates across the country are allowing them to do just that.
The horn man says the individual demands of six members, all in their mid-to late-20s, have already taught them a few things.
“I think we’ve developed a certain patience. Because it’s six people we know it can’t be a cacophony of noise. It has to be more focused, and everybody is. Everybody is so aware of their role and what everybody else is doing. There’s very little ego involved. It’s more about what the music can bring about and how we can make that happen.”
McCullough is from Seattle, while pianist Andrew Oliver and drummer Tyson Stubelek are both out of Portland, Ore. The Canadians include Manitoba-born saxophonist Ben Dietschi and guitarist Brian Seligman, both now in Toronto, and Newfoundland bassist Ron Hynes.
Tunnel Six makes its Edmonton debut tonight at 9 p.m. at the Yardbird Suite (102nd Street and 86th Avenue). Tickets are $18 for members of the Edmonton Jazz Society and $22 for guests, from Ticketmaster in advance or at the door.
Earshot Magazine (Seattle, WA)
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.