Moves represents a giant leap forward for the Toronto-based octet known as Eucalyptus. Saxophonist Brodie West has had many projects moving at once over the years, meaning that Eucalyptus never got around to recording a full-length album until now. Having released a slew of EPs since 2012, Moves will be a welcome arrival to those who followed this modern jazz outfit from the beginning, even if it is just seven songs under 35 minutes. Throw in trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud’s relocation to New Brunswick and a global pandemic, and you have an unlikely success story. How does someone organize recording sessions for an eight-person band with all of that going on?
You’re not likely to encounter an album like Moves anytime soon. It begins with a track best described as an acquired taste. “Infinity Bananas” is built upon busily steady percussion but utilizes its base to let everyone else in Eucalyptus to make tremendous noise. West’s saxophone sets the stage, playing a heavily pointillistic melody that barely keeps up with the beat. Once everyone else makes their entrance, all bets – as they say – are off. West stays with the beat, but Rampersaud is off on her own, making the musical equivalent of squiggly marks in the margins. Guitarist Kurt Newman, the newcomer among Eucalyptus, causes his instrument to squeak and buzz while avoiding almost any detectable motif. The following song, “Cookoo Birds”, is more orthodox by comparison. The horns mimic the bird’s call in a see-saw motion before playing a broader melody over the skittering percussion.
Moves has its less refined spots. The smooth Latin-flavored “It’s in a Move” is a chance to show off Ryan Driver’s use of the clavinet as a tool for shading, but it’s also a lackadaisical piece of horn work where everybody, by fault or design, aren’t gelling. At least West’s solo is nice and slick. The slow blues of the concluding track “Lookie” is also a little sloppy-joe, with West taking flights of fancy above Rampersaud’s drowsy ascending figures. Again, it’s hard to tell if the lack of synchronization was meant to capture some first-take magic or if it was all part of a bigger overall plan.
When Eucalyptus move away from clearly-defined genres, they really come into their own. “Rose Manor”, for instance, sounds a great deal more like early Tortoise than most cutting-edge jazz attempting to inject a little swing in their sound. In particular, Michael Smith’s bass work helps make the track stand out. “Snapdragon Hop” affixes a happy melody to a beat caught between a march and light, place-holding groove. Along with Smith, percussionists Evan Cartwright, Blake Howard, and drummer Nick Fraser make this selection work for them. Even Driver dives into the mix with stuttering chords and skewed harmonies. “Dust in the Wind” wants to take it easy with its lazy melody and wah guitars, but odd-timed taps to the cymbal keep the listener guessing when the relaxation will start.
Moves is one of the good kinds of mixed bags where the foibles are forgivable, and the victories are unique enough to pass off as successful experiments. Eucalyptus aren’t quite the Lounge Lizards, but such greatness is within their grasp. If Moves is only the (relative) beginning of their album saga, we’re in for great things down the road.