Josh Cole 4tet+1 is jazz fusion for indie kids

There are a bunch of reasons why Josh Cole has booked two Vancouver shows for his 4tet+1 band, among them the fact that you just can’t get edible Mexican food in Toronto. Not like they serve up in Centralia, Washington, anyway, which is where the bassist and composer is hanging out when the Straight tracks him down by telephone.

“There’s a couple of good Mexican places here,” he notes. “And like all of western Washington and western Oregon, there’s really great local beer, too.”

Food and drink aren’t the only excuses for spending part of his summer in the Pacific Northwest. His sister lives in Centralia, while the rest of his family resides here in Vancouver, where Cole grew up. The local dates are also an opportunity to catch up with guitarist Ron Samworth, who was part of Cole’s original 4tet before the bassist opted to move to the Centre of the Universe.

But the young musician isn’t sure he wants to talk about the real reason he’s able to play his old hometown, which is that Broken Social Scene had a gig in Salmon Arm last weekend. That put BSS saxophonist and 4tet+1 member David French within striking distance of the coast, where he, Samworth, and Cole will be joined by violinist Caleb Chan and Fond of Tigers drummer Skye Brooks.

French—who recently released a quintet album, Dance of the Bees, on Vancouver’s Cellar Live label—is rapidly becoming the saxophonist of choice in Toronto’s indie-rock scene. As Cole notes, he’s also playing with the Sam Roberts Band and other Hogtown noisemakers. “But I try to not mention that,” adds the bassist, “because sometimes it just comes across as indie-cred name-dropping.”

The paradox, however, is that this is one jazz band that deserves to be heard by indie kids everywhere. Whether in this impromptu West Coast version or in its Toronto form—with Dan Gaucher on drums, Alex Goodman on guitar, and either Hugh Marsh or Chan in the violin chair—Cole’s band isn’t limited by any orthodox vision of jazz.

As a composer, Cole admits to being influenced by Miles Davis sideman and Weather Report founder Wayne Shorter’s long singing lines. But he’s also an admirer of Arvo Pärt’s music—the 4tet+1 often plays the Estonian holy minimalist’s Fratres in concert—as well as an advocate of some considerably more secular approaches.

“With this band, at least in terms of the rhythmic aesthetic, there’s definitely the desire to keep it kind of more backbeat- or rock-oriented,” says Cole. “And to be honest, in the last four or five months the only music I’ve been buying is classical and hip-hop.”

The 4tet+1, then, offers a new kind of fusion, just as its name implies.

“I like the history associated with ‘quintet’, but it’s almost too historical,” Cole explains. “You expect a lot more straight-ahead music, whereas with ‘4tet+1’, there’s a little bit of math involved. And there’s also a really great electronic-music artist named Four Tet. So it’s like, ‘Hey, there’s jazz here, but it’s not your normal jazz.’ ”

The Josh Cole 4tet+1 plays El Barrio Thursday (August 25) and Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club on Sunday (August 28).