Bassist and band leader Ken McDonald is bringing an Island version of his Ken McDonald Quartet to Parksville for a performance on Friday, Nov. 10 at the MAC. — Courtesy Ken McDonald

Toronto jazz musician improvising tour with new Island mates

Ken McDonald brings wide array of influences to his original jazz

Never having met his bandmates won’t stop Ken McDonald from bringing his unique jazz to Parksville.

The Toronto bassist, guitarist and composer is eager to bring his music to the West Coast — eager enough to put together an improvised group of bandmates to make it happen.

This version of the Ken McDonald Quartet will be playing at the MAC on Friday, Nov. 10 for what McDonald hopes will be a unique interpretation of his quartet’s work.

“I don’t want people to feel like they need to try to copy something else,” said McDonald. “I want people to feel like they can express themselves differently, and that’s something I value.”

That’s certainly part of the make-up of his regular band as well, and his own artistic process, he said.

McDonald formed the group in 2008 near the end of his York University days with the intention of getting together with musicians outside of his school.

Two of McDonald’s usual bandmates play in a New Orleans-style band, and his guitarist also plays the oud — an ancient kind of lute from what is now the Middle East.

Add that to an interest in Brazilian music and McDonald’s own rock and heavy metal background, and you’ve got a jazz band with a varied sound.

But McDonald’s interest in different styles comes from an natural interest in making something new.

“I try not to repeat myself with rhythmic ideas,” he said. “I’m always trying to find a different type of tempo to work with, different time signatures to work with, and just different overall textures.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t draw from jazz tradition as well, he added.

“There’s always a couple songs I have that have that standard swing feel to it, and I really appreciate that because, when I was learning, I had some really good teachers that stressed the idea of knowing the history behind the music.”

Nonetheless, he said jazz “is always going to change and be different with the times.

“(The range of influences in my music) might just be more of a symbol of my generation and what we listen to and how we got into playing jazz, and how that’s making a difference in how the modern jazz sound is today.”

For his upcoming performance at the MAC, with a whole new group of musicians, McDonald said he’s excited to play with people he’s never met before, and expand his musical community out into the Island through working with them.

“I want (the Island musicians) to be themselves, I don’t want them to play a part… I’ll just adapt to it and try to hold it all together.”

McDonald’s new bandmates include Larry Miller (tenor saxophone), Astrid Lyre (guitar) and James McRae (drums), all from Nanaimo.

The Ken McDonald Quartet performs at the MAC in Parksville on Friday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18, or $15 for Oceanside Community Arts Council members.

For more info or to buy tickets, go to mcmillanartscentre.com/ken-mcdonald-quartet/.

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