What better manner to warm a frosty Toronto night than taking in a concert by West African born and New York based Lionel Loueke at the spacious and grand TO Centre for the Arts in North York. My guest and I are led to our seats in the theatre, the usher quickly finds the required points of detail that will place us in the correct seats. The theatre is a good size and I was happy to see so many people out to enjoy the show. The curtain was drawn and musicians were warming up, horn players running through some scales, I was contemplating who in the opening act could be doing this. I should have clued in with the program, it was a program for the show "The Adams Family". However, it took two people with real tickets coming in and informing us we had the wrong seats. "Oh you're here for the jazz." We were pointed in the direction of the small theatre.
This is more like it, an intimate theatre with a couple of hundred seats, instruments on stage and visible - no curtain. A stand up bass, a jazzy looking set of drums and a few microphones on stands at the front of the stage. Confirming this as the right place I was given a new program announcing the JPEC 2011/2012 concert series. This is the first concert of the series, The Lionel Loueke Trio and Darren Sigesmund Strands Sextet. The series also includes: Lucien Ban & John Hebert, Enesco Re-imagined also featuring Peripheral Vision, February 17, 2012. The Tom Harrell Quintet also featuring Paul Tynan Quartet March 16, 2012. And the finale concert, Luciana Souza & Romero Lubambo Brazilian Duos also featuring Amanda Tosoff Quartet April 21, 2012.
Darren Sigesmund Strands Sextet opened the show; the band is made up of Toronto musicians: Sigesmund - Trombone, Luis Deniz - Alto Saxophone, Reg Schwager - Guitar, Jim Vivian - Bass, Fabio Ragnelli - Drums and Eliana Cuevas - Vocals. The sound was not great on the first song. I could not hear a good mix of the instruments. The sound magically came together for the second song and the sound remained pleasant throughout.
A most memorable song from Sigesmund "Dance for Leila" with influences of Latin, Sephardic, Middle Eastern and the Balkan rhythms swirling and dancing in delightful concert with each other as vocalist Cuevas sings with wordless power and splendid tonal control. Sigesmund composes complex tunes with multi ranging tones that crisscross musical borders with seamless ease. He weaves layer upon layer of sound that comes through clearly on most of the songs the group performs. The solos that were played in all of the songs are indicative of first class musicians at the top of their craft. I hope to hear more from Sigesmund and the Strands Project, with two independent CD's released since 2008, Strands I and Strands II, and in the works, due out in the Spring of 2012, Strands III. Somebody should send me some of this for a closer listen.
Lionel Loueke Trio arrived on stage looking casual, announcements were made and members of the trio introduced, Massimo Biolcati - Bass, Ferenc Nemeth - Drums. Loueke announced that the trio would play songs from their first album Karibu and their newest release Mwaliko in Swahili this means Invitation. The songs they performed flowed smoothly, propelled by intricate guitar and founded on the solid, yet probing bass of Biolcati filling out the bottom end. The drums of Nemeth play free flowing with melodic precision and tasteful fills that round out any room for empty space.
Loueke mixes his cultural traditions, the music of West Africa with strong jazz sensibilities and contemporary technology. He has a distinct style, that individualism that sets him apart from your typical jazz guitarist. Loueke has a fearless style of blending all manner of guitar playing - picking, pulling, strumming, harmonic plucking and using the guitars body as a beat box. This combined with his Canadian guitar, a Godin with built in Synth and an ability to sing with a good strong voice as well as an impeccable ability as a percussionist make him one of the stand out performers of our time.
Loueke and the trio played with warmth and passion. They displayed their intense artistry through solo performances and tight complimentary ensemble playing. There were many moments when the stage glowed with the intensity of the blazing musicianship that culminated in a rousing standing ovation that brought the trio back for one more intense song. Bravo!