To truly appreciate Peripheral Vision, a quartet based in Toronto, Canada, one may want to be hip to overtime hockey. It's like this: tenor saxophonist Trevor Hogg is the forward standing/playing nearest the goal/melody. Guitarist Don Scott is the other forward who stands near the faceoff circle ready to capture any rebounds and embellish Hogg's shots/ideas that he may not take, or need help to complete. Watching from a distance -- and providing an airtight, rhythmic foundation – are the defensemen on the blue line, bassist Michael Herring and drummer Nick Fraser. While the scoring/soloing almost always goes to the forwards on the frontline, the d-men keep them inspired by providing the footwork and foundation.
On Spectacle: Live!, recorded at the Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver, this ensemble shows that meticulous arrangements and energetic improvisations can coexist.
Hogg, whose precise sound and energy recall the late Michael Brecker, benefits from the color and comments added to his melodies by Scott, the co-leader who composed three songs. This is evident on "Living the Dream," the opener. Fraser, who is very precise throughout, punctuates his accompaniments with crisp press rolls that fuel Hogg's solo. As the solos by Hogg and Scott progress, the rhythm section vamps in perfect order. While such military-like precision can threaten to put the ensemble's overall sound into a straightjacket, Herring – the other co-leader who composed five songs -- and Fraser keep this from happening with a bass slap here and a cymbal shot there.
More volatility exists on "Teenage Breakup Song." Peripheral Vision is most daring here, as intensity is attempted through softness. Hogg offers delicate questions that Scott answers in a scenario where two people seemingly express themselves honestly while trying not to upset the other. The song's emotions well from a low-intensity conflict to uninhibited (teenage?) energy and back again thanks to Fraser's percussions. He begins with brushes on his snare and cymbals and then pushes the song to a crescendo with mallets on tom-toms and cymbals. All this drama from the drums happens underneath Hogg and Scott's hectic exchange.
"Butter Side Down," which echoes Monk's "Misterioso" with its carousel-like melody, is the first scoring opportunity for the "defensemen." While Herring solos, Fraser delicately accompanies, mostly on his cymbals. As the rhythm mates take their bow upfront, Scott provides the anchor as the accompanist.
Peripheral Vision also reveals a bluesy, relaxed feel on "Max." After Scott delivers a very warm and reaching solo, Hogg, Herring and Fraser take a brief stroll. The highlight here is Fraser's solo, aided by a strong guitar and bass vamp. As this solo unfurls, Hogg sneaks into the fray and arrives at the finish line with everyone else.
Seconds into "The Instigator," voices from the audience are heard, followed by a "Shh!" That friendly reminder to listen seems to come from an audience member, but it's really Fraser's cymbals following Herring's lead. Once the audience is quieted by...whoever! the ensemble then launches into a feature where Fraser shapes the song's texture from his drums.
Peripheral Vision's cooperative vibe is reflected first by its name – as opposed to having a name or names in front of the word quartet – and furthered by the very professional teamwork needed to make such thorough arrangements succeed.