A powerhouse fusion of individual musical giftedness, Toronto’s Peripheral Vision is one of the most innovative jazz quartets to have landed on the international jazz scene.
The band performs at the One Eleven Grill on June 23.
The creative leaders of the group are musical collaborators guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring. They have assembled a musical unit designed to push the boundaries of jazz while engaging the listener with a grooving, toe-tapping immediacy.
“Our first gig as Peripheral Vision was at the very end of 2008,” explains Scott during a recent interview along with Herring. Material for the first disc was recorded the following year.
Scott and Herring were eventually joined by saxophonist Trevor Hogg and drummer Nick Fraser. While the compositions are Herring’s and Scott’s, Peripheral Vision is defined by its group’s close-knit rapport.
“All of us have known each other since the late 1990s; we were all at the University of Toronto studying jazz there except for Fraser,” said Scott. “So we had been playing together in different formats over the years, so there’s a long history of camaraderie there.”
Throughout their project, listeners can hear the influences of the classic 1960s era of jazz mixed with the modern New York scene along with hints of Radiohead, reggae and electronica. The guys have just released their second CD Spectacle: Live! and they maintain a busy schedule to support this new project as well as their eponymous debut.
Interestingly, for someone with such a polished flair for musical creativity, Scott didn’t grow up in an overtly-musical home. His mom was an aerobics instructor in the 1980s so he heard plenty of revved-up pop/rock music mixes. “I remember getting into that music and kind of dancing around the living room,” he laughs.
Formerly, he didn’t start playing until Grade 7 when band instruments were introduced. He first opted for the clarinet but later picked up the guitar in high school because it was, of course, much cooler, he recalls. Playing with local jazz bands was the next step in his development and it became clear he had found his calling.
“At some point in those later years of school I decided this was the life for me.”
His love for jazz wasn’t really sparked until those high school years as well. But he continues to be fascinated by the genre.
“For me it’s the ongoing challenge of it,” he says. “I never feel like I master it which is something I enjoy – it’s another step to go in my progression as an artist. It also seems like there are no boundaries within jazz, especially these days. I find it interesting that it’s a type of music that can pull in all of these other influences around it.”
For his part, Herring was encouraged from early on to pursue music, with his first focus on the bass. Early influences introduced him to jazz, and he moved from his hometown of Victoria to study the genre in Toronto.
“The most appealing part of it to me is the interactive nature of it,” he says. “I really enjoy the feeling of being in a conversation with playing music. It’s fun to be responding, changing and interacting — that’s a big part of how Peripheral Vision works and of our goal. We’re looking to play interactive, dialogue-type of music where Nick and I are constantly kind of causing trouble underneath the frontline of the guitar and the saxophone. We mix things up and respond to what they do.”
In creating the repertoire for the group, Scott and Herring have composed challenging tunes that reflect influences from many of the artists with whom they have shared the stage and recording studio including Dave Clark (The Rheostatics), Mike Murley, Ernest Ranglin and New York City-based alto saxophonist David Binney.
Binney’s influence on Scott and Herring has been profound.
“We learned from touring the country with David Binney that the band has to let go and really go for it, riding the edge of the energy and excitement of raw creative playing, while holding the song’s structures together,” said Scott.
Hitting the road also brings fresh opportunities to reinterpret the tunes as well. “As we are touring, we are constantly tweaking and improvising,” explains Herring. Again, this speaks to the fluidity of the genre – and its endless creative possibilities.
“That’s when that process happens for us.”