When the Bicoastal Collective launches into a tune, audience members soon get the sense that they're being pulled into a distinctive sonic space. The ensemble features five saxophones, four trumpets and four trombones, in addition to a rhythm section of guitar, bass, drums and piano. At this year's San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, the band played some of the music from their new album, Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Five
(OA2 Records), and got a standing ovation.
The bandleaders, baritone saxophonist Aaron Lington and trumpeter Paul Tynan, met while working on their master's degrees at the University of North Texas. They began playing together in local clubs, discussing ways of writing arrangements that would emphasize the unique qualities of their instruments. After graduation, each took a teaching job--Lington at San Jose State University and Tynan at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia--but they stayed in touch.
"We wanted to explore the modern post-bop sound together," Lington said. "When I received grant money from SJSU to make an album, I asked Paul to come out. After we finished recording [Cape Breton
, a 2005 Aaron Lington Quintet album featuring Tynan], we decided to continue collaborating on a new record every two or three years with different size groups--all original music and arrangements. I convinced him to take a sabbatical to make Bicoastal Collective: Chapter One
. We put together a horn-driven, 10 piece chamber ensemble with guys from all over the country. We split the compositional and arranging duties between us."
Tynan received a grant that allowed him to live and work in California while the album was being written and recorded. "Since we were familiar with each other's sound and sense of harmonics and melody, working on the album was wonderful," he recalled. "I spent 14 months out here playing music, composing, arranging and avoiding the Canadian winter. We called it Chapter One
because we knew it was going to be an ongoing project."
Each of the group's albums--which are all on the OA2 label--has explored a different aspect of arranging. Chapter Two was a quintet recording, with guitarist Scott Sorkin, inspired by American and Irish folk melodies. Chapter Three was a blowing session featuring a sextet; Chapter Four was a soul/jazz outing with Tony Genge on Hammond B-3 organ, while Chapter Five allowed the leaders to write big-band charts, heavy on the brass.
"We're good friends, which makes collaborating easier," Tynan said. "We text and call each other on FaceTime almost every day. We talk about our kids and our musical ideas. The main thing is keeping it interesting providing challenges that force us to adapt our skill sets and think of new ways of arranging that will have interesting outcomes."
Lington and Tynan both explained that teaching allows them the freedom, and the income, to pursue their muse and continue their artistic growth. "I would not have the experience I have without my own excellent teachers," Lington said. "They passed on part of their style and the cultural legacy of jazz to me. To not pass it on to anyone else would be shameful. Teaching allows me the flexibility to perform and continue learning. I started out playing classical music, but jazz lured me away with its improvisation and its extended aspect of harmony."
Canada's travel-grant programs allow Tynan to go where the work is, even across borders. "My colleagues cover classes for me if I have gigs, and I do the same for them," he said. "The administration supports us as artists. They want us to play as much as we can. I was studying classical trumpet in Sweden when I met Tim Hagans. He made me want to play jazz. I started hanging out with young Swedish players, listening to Django Bates, Ornette Coleman and Eberhard Weber. That was it for me."