Music makes me happy

I try to keep this blog fairly neutral. When I talk about shows I've seen, I typically speak in broad terms - it's not really my job to review shows and if I tried, I might not be very good at it. That said, I saw a pretty outstanding show last night that I wanted to tell you about - Darren Sigesmund's Strands II at the Al Green Theatre.

Darren's been working on this show for several months and his hard work paid off. I enjoyed basically every aspect of the show. Over the two sets, the ensemble played eight of Darren's original compositions, ranging from straight ahead tango melodies all the way to free jazz. Joining him on stage were vocalist Eliana Cuevas (in a primarily lyric-free setting), Luiz Denis on alto sax, Reg Schwager on guitar, Jim Vivian on bass, Ethan Ardelli on drums, Daniel Stone on percussion and special guests Gary Versace on piano and Mark Feldman on violin.

Each musician shone. Eliana showed off her flexibility while nailing lines that would be challenging for the most proficient of horn players, and blended beautifully with the other players, whether she had the lead line or an inside part. Luiz's soloing built to fantastic heights each time, with some outstanding technical proficiency and musicality on display. Reg - whom I heard play last week with the Dave Young Quintet - showed off his ability to adapt to a variety of musical settings, with comping and solos that fit perfectly in the style of each tune (plus I haven't really heard him rock out as he did on a couple of solos last night).

Jim sounded gorgeous - a wonderful tone which was especially apparent during his occasional solo or when playing unison lines with Gary's left hand or Darren's trombone. Ethan and Daniel's playing was tasty and tasteful - they both easily handled the variety of time signatures, making them all sound natural, with Ethan laying down some fantastic grooves and Daniel knowing exactly what instrument to play to fill out the group's texture.

The special guests, Gary and Mark, were excellent additions to the ensemble, each showing off their respective chops, but in no way stole the show - they were there as collaborators, and each of the other band members were clearly enjoying the collaboration.

The band leader, responsible for the trombone playing and composing duties, did well at both. Darren was a year or two ahead of me at the Faculty of Music so I've known him for several years...and I think he sounded better last night than ever. Plus his writing is fairly consistently some of the most interesting I've heard - he clearly understands how best to use each instrument, and each had interesting lines to play throughout the evening.

The only issue I had was at times I wished some of the solos had stretched out a bit more...but there was only so much time and there was a lot of music to be played, so some restriction is understandable. There is also something to be said about leaving the audience wanting more...

So - my congratulations to Darren on an excellent concert. It was a pleasure to hear the group - they are a fine example of the outstanding talent we have in this city. I encourage you to get out and explore the local jazz scene for these and other jazz gems...


P.S. - Honourable mention goes to Idioteque, the Radiohead tribute band I checked out at the Piston following Darren's show. It was fun to see some great jazz players (Don Scott, Jessica Stuart, Harley Card and Ernesto Cervini among them) performing in a very different setting. It had been a long day so I left before they wrapped up their first set (nice dancing, Don...), but the crowd was enthusiastic and I'm sure the rest of the show was just as fun...

P.P.S. - Some great music coming up: Tonight at Lula Lounge, Fern Lindzon releases her album Two Kites in the final of four TDJ Special Projects - check our website for full details. And Friday night I'll be at Glenn Gould Studio for the Jazz Performance and Education Centre's presentation of indo-jazz fusion group Tasa with special guests Hugh Marsh (violin) and Kevin Turcotte (trumpet).

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