I have a suggestion for Mike Herriott: Apply to perform at the 2003 International Association of Jazz Educators convention in Toronto. Herriott appears to be known among Canadian jazz listeners, but his touring schedule, which is confined to venues within that country, implies that he receives insufficient exposure south of the border. He should receive more.
Not only a fine technician, but also an imaginative soloist, Herriott's second, and recently released, CD, A Piece Of The Action,
provides exposure to an audience of Americans who appreciate fine brass work. Herriott not only switches to flugelhorn or trombone as the exigencies of the tunes demand, but also he has recruited his brass-playing friends to fill out the four-part harmonies on some of his original compositions. Except for "Body And Soul," A Piece Of The Action
features Herriott's tunes inspired by the personalities of some of his closest acquaintances, including family members and the owner of Vancouver-based Boathouse Records, Hugh Fraser.
While the following comparison may be unfair to both parties (because I'm sure they would point out dissimilar elements of style), Herriott reminds me of Doc Severinsen. Both were schooled in the performance of the classical trumpet works, and both employ a thrilling, but understated, command of the instrument. Without ornamentation or flashiness, Herriott employs the entire range of his instrument, from the lower range to a quick flight to the higher notes (and always on pitch).
I found myself replaying moments throughout the CD because of the aptness of Herriott's ideas that flow through his instrument. For example, the last 8 bars of his solo on "What If..." consist of tossed-off grace notes, almost imperceptible flatted fifths and ninths, a slight punctuation in beautifully shaped high notes followed by a cascade into the lower range of his instrument, and a final tension that ends his improvisation on a sixth instead of the tonic root. And yet, the effortlessness and naturalness of the finely crafted solo imply that its shape took form as Herriott extemporaneously built his previous ideas into a structural whole, rather than following preconceived phrases.
The sound of Herriott's group is notable too because, more often than not, he uses a brass choir-like fullness with shifting internal modulations. And rather than relying on a piano to lay down the chords behind the group, guitarist Pat Coleman provides a lighter touch, playing unison boppish lines with Herriott on "A Piece Of The Action" or stepping out as a featured performer on his own piece, "Mr. Lister," its faster groove offering the chance for Coleman to shine as bassist Ken Lister pushes the group with sureness and strength.
The fact that Herriott based each of the songs on varying personalities creates a compelling composite of styles differentiated by rhythm, meter or melody--but complemented by a consistent clarity of articulation and brassy molding of effect. A consummate professional, Herriott does more than maintain absolute control of his instrument: He uses it to convey the spirit of the people he honors, as well as his own.