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I grew up in Windsor, a small town in Nova Scotia that happened to be blessed with a vibrant musical culture. On the surface it was all Friday night dances at the Legion and basement Eagles cover bands, but underneath that there was a strange brew of jazz and punk rock that offered a hearty contrast to the tourist-friendly fiddles and bagpipes one hears in all the commercials. My father ran not only one of the top high school jazz programs in the province, but also one of the finest Dixieland bands north of Bangor, Maine. I grew up listening to my dad’s Louis Armstrong and Count Basie records, rebelled by digging deeply into Rush and Sonic Youth in my tender years, and came out the other side with a keen interest in Ornette Coleman, King Crimson, and psychedelic British folk music.

Several degrees and a relocation to Toronto later, I find myself in a community of inspiring, creative musicians. Below is some information and sounds from groups I have led or been part of over the years.

Most of the music below is available for free streaming and PWYC download on my
Bandcamp page and on the major streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play)

Stranger Still

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Stranger Still is a song project that explores the words of Hants County Nova Scotia-born poet Alden Nowlan (1933-1983). Featuring Mim Adams and Randi Helmers (voice), Rob Clutton (bass), and Pete Johnston on guitar, Stranger Still is either deceptively odd or deceptively straightforward. Nowlan's rural lyricism is paired with music that combines plainspoken folk singing with medieval counterpoint, minimalism, progressive rock, and Scandinavian folk music. The resulting songs are an exploration of how my roots in rural Nova Scotia have shaped the music I've made since leaving for the big city in 2001.

See Through 4

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See Through 4 is a new project composed of Marilyn Lerner (piano), Karen Ng (saxophone), Nick Fraser (drums) and Pete Johnston (bass). This band draws equally on the jazz and progressive rock traditions, with intricate compositions knit together with ensemble improvisations. Below is a recent demo recording we made in late 2018 at Union Sound in Toronto, and some video from our debut performance at Array Music Studio in January 2019.

See Through Trio

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“Comprising three of Toronto’s most skilled and downright interesting players, See Through Trio have delved deep into their own particular idiom … fresh intrigue at each turn.” - Nick Storring, Musicworks

See Through Trio is composed of Tania Gill (piano), Karen Ng (saxophone), and Pete Johnston (bass). Based in Toronto, the members of the trio share an interest in collective improvisation and collaborative composition. See Through Trio’s music encompass a diverse range of influences, from the 1960s jazz avant-garde of Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman to psychedelic British folk. These distinct sounds are connected by the playful deconstructionist spirit of jazz. See Through Trio performs frequently in Toronto, and has toured the East and West coasts of Canada. Our debut CD Our Own Devices was released in June 2007; Lines and Spaces followed in 2009 and Near Northern Static in 2012. Our most recent album, titled Parallel Lights, was released in October 2014.

See Through 5

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"Perhaps the biggest compliment that could be paid to Johnston and company is that See Through 5 sound pretty much unlike anything else out there at the moment". Ron Schepper, textrua.org

See Through 5 is a chamber-prog group that performs intricate, polyrhythmic compositions by bassist Pete Johnston. Featuring Tania Gill (piano), Karen Ng (saxophone and clarinet), Jake Oelrichs (drums), and Mike Smith (synth), See Through 5's music features swaths of electronic colour draped on top of acoustic instruments, wrapped in a minimalism-informed take on the rhythms of contemporary electronic dance music and the melodies of 1970s progressive rock.

See Through Two

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“…Some clever duelling on the basses makes this a most unusual and unique piece of contemporary jazz… a quiet symphony for the brain.” Marty Delia, The Jazz Music Blog

See Through Two is a duo project with the great bassist and composer Rob Clutton. Rob has been a mentor for me for many years, so it’s a real privilege to get to play music with him. Slow Bend is our debut recording, and it features nine compositions by Pete Johnston that afford plenty of space for improvisation and general low end theorizing. Although it’s mostly music for two basses, there are a few tunes thrown in that feature Rob on other instruments he plays.

Aurochs

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“Aurochs’ music sits at the rich intersection of classic jazz-piano-trio instrumentation and a peculiar, asperous strain of minimalism… At once hypnotic and disquietingly propulsive, Rational Animals leaves the listener somewhat fatigued, yet still craving more.”
Nick Storring, Musicworks

Aurochs is: Ali Berkok (piano/accordion), Pete Johnston (string bass), Jake Oelrichs (percussion) and Mike Smith (electronics). We play long, gradually unfolding improvised pieces inspired by dub reggae, American minimalism, and 1970s krautrock.

Reviews

  • See Through Trio
    “See Through Trio’s name is particularly apt, given the uniquely sheer compositional voice of Pete Johnston, the group’s composer and bassist. Its other members - Tania Gill (piano) and Karen Ng (saxophone) have an impeccable ear for restraint and detail, and the tunes themselves often empty out into solos or duets.”
    Nick Storring,
    Musicworks
    Read the full review

    “See Through Trio creates quietly involving, thoughtfully deliberated music. It’s a ‘hear through’ trio, one in which every note of Ng’s light, Lee Konitz like alto timbre and Gill and Johnston’s sparse, linear work is in sharp relief.”
    Stuart Broomer,
    The Whole Note
    Read the full review

    "The group name checks Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman as influences, and it's easy to see why when the music on the forty-eight-minute release often sounds like some playful merger of the two. Each musician contributes strongly to the album… and one comes away from the recording hearing it as an explorative conversation of sorts between individuals sensitive to the expressions of those with whom they're conversing."
    Ron Schepper, Textura
    Read the full review

    "See Through Trio take up the challenge of the Jimmy Giuffre 3... Interlocking piano and soprano sax lines knit beautifully with the plucked bass commentary with chamber ensemble clarity and precision. Lines and Spaces is pensive music that unfolds like a lotus on a quiet pond."
    Glen Hall,
    Exclaim! Magazine
    Read the full review

    "[See Through Trio] bring off one of the most difficult ensemble styles in any music – they combine simplicity of line and texture with ensemble improvisation and solos whose transparency make every note count."
    Stephen Pederson,
    The Chronicle Herald, Halifax NS
    Read the full review.

    "…the trio members have gifts for melody… and an ensemble cohesion that really shines."
    Graham Pilsworth,
    The Coast, Halifax NS
    Read the full review.

    "...Tania Gill, Mark Laver and Pete Johnston extract sounds from every inch of their respective piano, alto sax and double bass for an endlessly inventive and entirely inclusive group improvisation."
    Chris Bilton,
    Eye Weekly, Toronto ON
    Read the full review.

    To read a review of
    Our Own Devices in Wholenote, click here.
  • See Through 5
    "The five electronic-and-acoustic hybrids on Margins pull into their orbit minimalism, funk, prog, krautrock, and, yes, even jazz as they unfold with the precision of a Swiss timepiece…Perhaps the biggest compliment that could be paid to Johnston and company is that Margins and by extension See Through 5 sound pretty much unlike anything else out there at the moment."
    Ron Schepper, Textura
    Read the full review

    “On the thirty-eight-minute Utilities, See Through 5 largely eschew improvisation in favour of through-composition, a move that aligns See Through 5 to prog, post-rock, and krautrock genres. In a typical album track, Johnston and Oelrichs lay down a solid pulse alongside of which Ng, Gill, and Smith engage in complex interchanges with geometric precision.”
    Ron Schepper,
    Textura
    Read the full review

    Some people’s reaction on hearing the synths and loops of See Through 5 on Utilities might be ‘this is not a jazz album.’ But the virtuoso musicians seem to have cut their improvisations to the bone and turned them into tracks with tunes, or at least music with irresistible hooks.”
    Raul da Gama, The Whole Note
    Read the full review

  • See Through 2
    “…Some clever duelling on the basses makes this a most unusual and unique piece of contemporary jazz… a quiet symphony for the brain.” Marty Delia, The Jazz Music Blog
    Read the full review

    “On this masterful performance by Rob Clutton (bass, banjo and fretless Fender bass) and Pete Johnston (bass) we glimpse music from quite another realm of the bass violin… the refreshing overall impression is of a great colouristic soundscape that is dynamic and rich in possibility.” Raul da Gama, The Whole Note
    Read the full review

Other Jazz

Along with these regular projects I perform frequently as a freelance bassist around Toronto, and have been lucky to play with some of the city's most creative musicians. Here are a few examples.

Mike Smith's Muskox (2006-2012)

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Muskox (2006-2012) was a Toronto-based instrumental group formed to play the intricate compositions of Mike Smith. I had the good fortune to play bass on the group's last three albums: Gallantries (2008), Five Pieces (2009), and Invocations/Transformations (2011).

More Muskox on Bandcamp.
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  1. Buff Stop
  2. Ghost Ride
  3. The Wren

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Tania Gill Quartet

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  1. Magpie
  2. Up Down

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Tania Gill is a Toronto jazz piano player who I had the good fortune to play with for many years. For a short spell I was part of her quartet, which also featured Lina Allemano (trumpet) and Mark Segger (drums).

Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra

Back in the day I was a founding member and musical director of the Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra, a scrappy swing revival band from Halifax, Nova Scotia. This band was signed to Universal Records, toured North America for two years, and won a Juno Award for "Best New Group" in 1999 before disbanding in 2000. Along the way I wrote and arranged many songs for the group that while not featured on our two studio albums were a significant part of our live repertoire. Below is a live concert video from the heyday of the madness, some live recordings of the music I wrote for the group, and our rare debut album, The Life Desire (1998)
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Live @ The Horseshoe Tavern
in Toronto, June 1998

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  1. Intro - There You Have It
  2. Down On The Dark Side
  3. Something New
  4. Kick At The Can
  5. Twisted Road
  6. Any Time At All
  7. Choosing Sides
  8. Last Dance of the Year
  9. Losing The Game
  10. Outro - There You Have It

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  1. Country Club
  2. Evangeline
  3. Cheek To Cheek
  4. Root Beer and Liquorice
  5. Molly Marlane
  6. Wild Mountain Thyme
  7. We Still Talk
  8. These Foolish Things
  9. 90 MPH
  10. The Life Desire

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Debut album The Life Desire (1998)

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Holiday Romance, Universal Records (1998). Available on Apple Music

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