Cory Weeds teams with Phil Dwyer and string orchestra on What is There to Say?

Saxophonist and Vancouver jazz impresario Cory Weeds is backed by a 13-piece string orchestra on his new album What is There to Say?

In a bid to elevate this series of compositions, Weeds enlisted the talents of Juno Award-winning saxophonist, pianist, composer and arranger Phil Dwyer as co-producer and co-musical director.

Coming this November on Weeds’ own label Cellar Music, What is There to Say? is the saxophonist’s 18th album as a leader and his first with a string orchestra. Weeds’ regular bassist John Lee and drummer Jesse Cahill return to bring a sense of familiarity on this recording, while Dwyer took the seat at the piano in addition to writing all of the arrangements.

“I grew up kind of idolizing Phil Dwyer,” says Weeds. “Phil just made everything come off great. He wouldn’t be involved in a project if he didn’t believe in it.”

What is There to Say? includes three of Weeds’ originals along with five standards.

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Having such an established career in the broad scope of Canadian jazz, it was important for Weeds to give Dwyer the ability to leave a creative imprint over all eight tunes on the record, even the ones written by Weeds himself. “I gave Phil carte blanche,” he says. “I said to him, ‘Look, if you don’t like my originals, you are not going to hurt my feelings.’”

But Dwyer saw potential in Weeds’ originals, enough to want to arrange them himself. “Phil said, ‘Oh yeah, I can really make these good.’ Which, coming from him, was very flattering … In some ways, [What is There to Say?] is almost more of a Phil Dwyer record; it’s really about the arrangements and the writing and the ensemble, rather than the individual playing.”

A major influence that contributed to the record was Gary Smulyan With Strings, which provided a template for Weeds and Dwyer to guide their experimentations with a 13-piece string orchestra.

The result is an album that comes off as lush, crafty and decidedly contemporary, rather than a rendition of jazz standards with baroque sensibilities.

The new album follows O Sole Mio! Music From the MotherlandWeeds’ jazz take on classic and contemporary Italian music that was released in early 2021.

Here’s the track listing for What is There to Say?:

  1. At Dawning
  2. The Phantom in the In Crowd
  3. What is There to Say
  4. Love is Wild
  5. Waltz for Someone Special
  6. Alana Marie
  7. I Wish You Love
  8. There’s a Boat Leavin’ Soon for New York

What is There to Say arrives Nov. 19 via Cellar Music.