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The 501 East Make A Short Turn In The Right Direction

The 501 East cover plenty of musical ground on their new album Short Turn — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

There’s an old saying: “The shortest distance between two points is as the crow flies; the longest distance is the short cut.” It’s an apt description of the making of the debut album by these Canadian session supergroup. The members of the quartet — who have backed up everyone from Corey Hart to Anne Murray to Kevin Breit — had been friends and colleagues for over 40 years before deciding to form a unit of their own seven years ago. They jelled so perfectly that making an album together seemed the natural way to go. And with a mutual decision to record it live “off the floor,” a quick and easy process seemed inevitable when they started work in earnest in 2019.

Flash forward to now, and the album is finally seeing release. There was the little matter of a global pandemic getting in the way, see, which necessitated a whole new approach to recording once the bed tracks had been completed. All the remaining parts were sent in remotely, meaning that once the last performance had been captured, the project had come to embody a second credo: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Photo by Koko Tchorbadjian.

The finished product sure doesn’t sound remote. Short Turn revels in an obvious and infectious love of blues- and jazz-influenced Americana, with 1960s go-go grooves for fuel. The first single, a rendition of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, is a perfect example of that iconic sound, the group locking into a jumpy, jaunty rhythm overlaid with scatted vocal syllables. And so it goes for 10 tracks, full of bounce and vigor and boasting some painstakingly picked acoustic guitar. Three cracking originals share space with inventive arrangements of standards by the likes of Sonny Rollins, Bill Frisell and even Lennon/McCartney (OK, that’s not technically Americana, but what do you say we give it to them anyway?).

Taking their name from a streetcar line in the band’s native Toronto, The 501 East represent a once-in-a-lifetime assembly of talent. Carlos Lopes (guitars, keyboards, background vocals) has played with artists like Shirley Eikhard, Cécille Frenette and Sunny Paxton, and jazz icons Maury Kaye, Phil Nimmons, Claude Ranger and Terry Clark. He’s led his own bands with Earl Seymour and Breit, playing prestigious gigs that have included The Montréal Jazz Festival, Québec Festival D’Eté and Festi-Jazz de Rimouski. He’s also a composer and producer who has generated hundreds of projects (both domestic and international) for film, television, and record.

South African-born Aidan Mason (guitars, violin, mandolin, lead vocals) spent 32 years as guitarist and backup singer for Murray, touring five continents, writing four of her songs and playing on several of her biggest hits, including the triple-platinum You Needed Me. Other artists he’s played with include David Clayton-Thomas, The 5th Dimension and Petula Clark. He also wrote and recorded Azania, an album of South African-themed instrumentals.

Photo by Koko Tchorbadjian.

Russ Boswell (electric and acoustic bass, background vocals) has supplied the bottom end for some of Canada’s top acts, including David Wilcox, The Parachute Club, Holly Cole and many more. His recording credits include projects by Serena Ryder, Charlie Major, The Rankin Family and Colm Wilkinson. And Gary Craig (drums and percussion) has thwacked the skins for acts ranging from Bruce Cockburn to Tom Cochrane to Murray to Jann Arden and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, as well as being in Colin Linden’s band and albums since 1984, and touring and recording with the stars of the TV series Nashville. He has been nominated four times for the Maple Blues Awards in the category of Drummer of the Year, winning in 2020.

No mere ad hoc studio undertaking, The 501 East gig regularly on their own, and tour dates are forthcoming. In the meantime, check out the new record. Get there by whatever conveyance you have to; just make sure you take the shortest route.

Check out Short Turn below, and find The 501 East on their website.