What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday afternoon, enjoying the music of the nineteen piece Prime Time Big Band and the luscious vocals of Shari Chaskin at the Ironwood Stage and Grill. Having interviewed Chaskin only two days before I thought it would be a good idea to catch her gig, never expecting that on a warm June 23rd afternoon that I would be treated to the awesomely talented musicians who comprise the Prime Time Big Band and bandleader Captain Dave Jones.
The first set opened with a great swinging tune "Pythodd Fellows," borrowed from the John La Barbera Big Band and their album Fantazm. The number featured some superlative fingering of the fretboard by guitarist Keith Smith, who was equally matched by the fine keyboard chops of Calgary native Derek Stoll.
Throughout the band’s performance the heavy brass section, numbering fourteen (five saxophones, five trumpets and four trombones) was front and center. Trombonist Brian Walley moved from the platform to the front of the stage to take the lead and later solo on a tune unknown to me, "Emily." This was a fun song that sounded like it came from a stage production. It had the same kind of swaying lilt to it as "Hello Dolly."
Later in the first set Chaskin unleashed her stunning vocal performance on an audience that was obviously familiar with her voice, and appreciative of her talent. Her experience in sharing the stage with artists such as Al Jarreau and Colin James, touring North America with Les Miserables and appearing on television, has finely honed her showmanship. She immediately got the audience involved with the party like performance of "Mr. Deedles," became soft and romantic while covering "You’ll Never Know" and owning both the stage and audience with her theatrical presentation of "All That Jazz." Donning a black top hat and a red boa, to go with her black low cut gown, the lady simply sizzled. If you were looking for sultry, pizzazz and energetic then you got it all in this one song. In a traditional call and response format, the boys in the band sang back to her and the song ended with a mock shooting of bandleader Jones.
The set closed out with the band doing a fine cover of Randy Brecker’s "Skunk Funk" which originally also featured his late brother Michael. Without a doubt, what lifted this song to another level was the solo work of tenor saxophonist Pat Belliveau. The sax man is highly regarded in international music circles having performed with the likes of, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker, Harry Connick Jr., Clark Terry, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Koz and David Foster. In addition, he has appeared with Petula Clark, The 5th Dimension, Johnny Mathis, Ben Vereen Neil Sedaka and Canadian rock icons Lighthouse. He also performed private concerts for three of Canada’s past prime ministers, as well as President Clinton.
Al Muirhead’s sweet and mellow trumpet soliloquy was the highlight of the second set’s opening number "Riverdance." Add Muirhead’s name to the collection of brass royalty that comprise the Prime Time Big Band. Among his many noteworthy performance credits, he counts the Manhattan Transfer, Cleo Laine, Paul Anka, Pattie Page and Dizzie Gillespie. "Riverdance" featured another solo by Belliveau and some excellent drumming by John de Waal.
Chaskin sang three songs in the second set beginning with perhaps the prettiest song of the afternoon, Bob Russel and Duke Ellington’s tune "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me." On the Billie Holiday song, "God Bless The Child" Chaskin held the final note for about twenty seconds, and did so without straining or seeming to be winded. With both "God Bless The Child" and her last song the Stephen Sondheim number "Being Alive", she seemed to hold notes endlessly and effortlessly.
On this day Chaskin’s repertoire went from the cabaret like "All That Jazz" to the classic love song "You’ll Never Know," however there is another side that you should catch to Chaskin’s music and that is her soulful R&B music captured on her 2005 EP Sultritude, cuts of which can be heard at her website www.sharichaskin.com . You can also catch video performances of Chaskin at the same web address.
During the second set, we were treated to the splendid solo sax keying by alto Richard Harding. He was at the top of his game in "Better Git It In Your Soul," and then took his music to an even higher level during the swinging "Blues And The Abscess Tooth." During the later tune, he and Belliveau took part in an instrumental call and response, each time one horn player or the other would raise the bar in terms of excellence. The song also featured a solo by fellow saxophonist Eric Friedberg.
In response to the standing ovation and the calls for more music, the band’s encore was "Sing, Sing, Sing," which only served to work the already stoked packed out house into frenzy.
If you are living in or passing through Calgary during the month of September, you may want to drop by Patrick MacIntyre’s Ironwood Stage and Grill to catch the next performance of The Prime Time Big Band and Shari Chaskin. In the interim log onto the band’s website and give a listen at www.primtimebigband.com