j o e s o r b a r a [ d o t ] c o m  .   p r o j e c t s   .   n e v e r   w a s

madeleine ertel . trumpet
reknee harrett . bass
naomi mccarroll-butler . alto saxophone, clarinets
joe sorbara . drums, percussion

madeleine ertel . trumpet    reknee harrett . bass    naomi mccarroll-butler . alto saxophone, clarinets    joe sorbara . drums, percussion

Never Was is a quartet featuring Madeleine Ertel on trumpet, Reknee Harrett on bass, Naomi McCarroll-Butler on alto saxophone and clarinets, and Joe Sorbara on drums and percussion.

On the second Wednesday of each month, the group gathers in the Southern Cross Lounge of the much-beloved Tranzac Club for their monthly residency. The first half of the night features a guest artist who contributes some original music to the Never Was songbook and plays the set as the group's fifth member. In the second set, the quartet continues an ongoing exploration of their own original music in addition to pieces by free jazz luminaries such as Carla Bley, John Carter, Ornette Coleman, and Andrew Hill and compositions they have collected from other members of the creative music community in Toronto and beyond.

The group's name comes from a Sorbara composition called "It's a line that never was," itself named after a curious sentence from The You Train by American science fiction and fantasy writer, N.K. Jemisin. And in some ways this is a quartet that never was since it was always destined to have a fifth member. (An array of fifth fifth members, actually; it never was a quintet, either.) The reading of Jemisin's phrase that inspired Sorbara's borrowing, though, also applies to the band's approach to making music and, in many ways, to creative music making in general. This is a way of musicking that is very focussed on the now, on the is. Which is not to say that the was and the will be are not critical aspects of the music. "Never was" is hyperbolic in many ways, especially for a band that is dedicated, in part, to playing under-explored compositions by some of the pioneers of free jazz. The primary focus, though, is set firmly on how lessons from the past and hopes for the future come to play in the ever unfolding present.

Madeleine Ertel

Madeleine Ertel is a trumpeter, vocalist, composer, and arranger known for her honest and melodic approach to music making. A recent graduate of the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance (2020), she can be seen zipping around on her bike on her way to perform with the free jazz-influenced quartet Never Was, the neo-soul band Moodset, her folk-inspired duo with guitarist Harry Bartlett, or in various straight-ahead jazz ensembles.

In her hometown of Kelowna, BC, Madeleine grew up playing original music around town with her sister, as well as studying classical piano and violin. Now based in Toronto, she continues to incorporate these diverse influences into her composing and improvising.


Reknee Harrett

Reknee Harrett is an award-winning Toronto-based bassist, composer, educator and community builder. Combining their passion for free improvisation, folk music and the jazz tradition, Reknee strives to delve deep into eclectic, genre-defying music. Reknee was selected to participate in the TD Jazz Youth Summit (Ottawa Jazz Festival), School for Improvised Music (Brooklyn, N.Y.), the inaugural TD Toronto Jazz Festival Jazz Musician Intensive Ensemble, and Coalition Canada’s Music Monday Anthem. Reknee doubles as an in-demand musician, a student in the master of music: applied music and health program at the University of Toronto, and an Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy student affiliate.

Naomi McCarroll-Butler

Naomi McCarroll-Butler is a saxophonist, clarinetist, instrument maker and composer based in Toronto. She can be found making a wide range of music, from the full-throated clamour of saxophone duo SALT to spectral whispers in the songs of Decoration Day. Naomi plays with improvising unit Never Was, The Band Named Crow, Dan Pitt Quintet, The Tortoise Orchestra, the Element Choir, The Queer Songbook Orchestra and various ad-hoc ensembles. An active collaborator, she has been featured on over 20 recordings in the last five years on various woodwinds.

At this point in her practice, Naomi's work is concerned with the liminality and ecstasy of trans embodiment, spirituality and connection to nature, loss and renewal, and our fluid perception of the passage of time.


Joe Sorbara

Canadian drummer and percussionist Joe Sorbara has spent more than two decades developing a reputation as an imaginative and dedicated performer, composer, improviser, organiser, writer, and educator. A consummate sonic adventurer, Sorbara’s music draws from a vast array of influences. He is equally comfortable playing jazz, freely improvised music, indie rock, and chamber music, but most at home playing them all at the same time. He has performed and recorded with Ken Aldcroft, Jared Burrows, Anthony Braxton, Nikita Carter, Paul Dutton, François Houle, Germaine Liu, Evan Parker, Allen Ravenstine, Clyde Reed, and Friendly Rich, among many many others. His own projects and ongoing collaborations include a Toronto-based sextet and a Vancouver-based quartet as well as Never Was, The Imperative, Other Foot First, Reliable Parts, My Misshapen Ear, and the Imaginary Percussion Ensemble.


h o m e

[ i ] bio

[ ii ] events

[ iii ] projects

never was  

alien radio
(houle/ meger/ sorbara)

the imperative  

imaginary percussion ensemble  

reliable parts  

paul dutton & joe sorbara  


my misshapen ear  

other foot first  

remnants trio  

squash recipe  

[ iv ] discography

[ v ] gallery

[ vi ] contact

o w m [ d o t ] o r g