Multi-Juno nominee John Stetch returns to Canada, returns to full-band recording with Vulneraville

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Album launch for Vulneraville

May 5 – The Bassment, Saskatoon
May 6 – Yardbird Suite, Edmonton
May 7 – Pyatt Hall, Vancouver

Five-time Juno nominee John Stetch is turning over a few new leaves with the release of his brand new album Vulneraville; the project marks a return to full-band performance for Stetch after several albums of solo piano work, and a return to a home-base in Canada – Vancouver this time – after well over two decades in New York State.

Consider his May 7 concert at Vancouver’s Pyatt Hall his homecoming.

Stetch will arrive in town with the shit-hot team of players he’s been working with in Harlem for the past year: saxophonist Steve Kortyka, who has been touring with Lady Gaga’s jazz project; in-demand Dutch drummer Philippe Lemm; and bassist Ben Tiberio, a 25-year-old wonderkind who has already played some of the hottest clubs in New York.

Together, they’ll set fire to a new collection of Stetch originals, titled Vulneraville, that exudes virtuosity, groove and soul.

Stetch calls the opening track, “Do Telepromptu,” a Bulgarian bluegrass number in 9/8 time that he composed while coaching students on bluegrass instruments at Ithaca College. Stetch and Kortyka furiously trade licks on the track in classic swing fashion, collectively taking the piece from intricate piano solos vaguely reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi to searing sax crescendos.

“Phun Toon” is a toe-tapper of a fan favourite that Stetch wrote in the 90s, which got him picked in the blindfold test for the first round of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.

“Vulneraville Suite” is the vulnerable piano-dominated piece its title suggests, with Lemm helping set the mood on percussion.

“Oscar’s Blue Green Algebra” is a tribute of sorts to Oscar Peterson, in whose league critics have not infrequently placed Stetch.

And “Polonaise in A-Flat Major” is Stetch’s reworking of a Chopin piece and the only throwback on the album to Stetch’s days as a solo pianist.

The compositions and improvisations on the album are classic Stetch, whose style All About Jazz once succinctly summed up as “complex and accessible, earnest and playful; full of quirky rhythms and harmonies, it’s still rooted in classic swing.”

It’s undoubtedly a product of Stetch’s quintessential jazz pedigree, rigorous training and diverse musical interests.

Born in Edmonton into the family that launched the Yardbird Suite, the city’s iconic jazz club, Stetch grew up listening to jazz radio and taking clarinet lessons from his dad. He also spent years immersed in the city’s Ukrainian community, taking part in cultural performances and playing in a Ukrainian wedding band.

He earned a degree in jazz piano studies at McGill University and began touring across Canada, ultimately winning the 1998 Prix du Jazz at the Montreal International Festival, the award for the artist who makes the biggest impression on the audience.

In 1993, he settled in New York City and became a side-man to Rufus Reid. Since then, he has recorded and/or performed with Jim Black, Seamus Blake, Anat Cohen, Javon Jackson, Mark Turner, Jeff Ballard, Jorge Rossi, Charlie Haden, Reid Anderson, Chris Cheek, Victor Lewis, Hank Roberts, Ben Street, Reggie Workman, Billy Hart and others.

He has also collaborated extensively with classical and world musicians and been commissioned to compose for the CBC Radio Orchestra and the Borealis String Quartet.

Stetch’s 16 albums range from a solo piano trilogy to a collection of variations on television themes.

He’s been nominated for Junos five times, most recently for 2014’s Off with the Cuffs.

Jazz Times once praised his “unlimited imagination, unique harmonic and rhythmic conceptions and the digital dexterity to execute any idea he hears.”

Billboard called him “exceptional,” and said he has “a way of hearing that few pianists have.

Now Canadians can look forward to hearing more from Stetch in our own back yard as he settles down on the West Coast.

The release of Vulneraville assures us we have lots to look forward to.

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