Shannon Graham’s Storytellers at The Central – June 25th, 2012

Shannon Graham’s Storytellers hit the stage at The Central Monday night with an array of highly arranged and narrative original music.

Graham’s group signals the return of the "song". She passes on the lengthy solo sections we have come to expect in the jazz idiom, instead featuring a multitude of arranged melodic sections throughout each composition.

The instrumentation of the group (essentially a string trio within a jazz combo) allows for a variety of interesting textures, combinations of which Graham’s compositions explore quite thoroughly. Many of her arrangements allow the ear time to enjoy each combination before moving on – a rare and highly coveted experience for me.

Though the string section consisted of individually accomplished players, the tonal blend was questionable at times. The establishment of uniform bowings for the upper strings could have added some polish to the performance. Although primarily a tenor saxophonist, Graham can also stand to brush up on her viola tone, as it would help to fill out the section (especially considering the absence of a cellist).

A quirky MC, Graham clearly enjoyed herself as she entertained the crowd between songs. She shared with the audience her influences and creative inspiration for each song, which added to the storytelling quality of her music. The last song of her first set was a hilariously “destroyed” pop cover of Lady Gaga’s "Telephone", which showcased her comic personality and set the tone for the break.

On a more serious note, "Claustrophobia", was my favourite song of the night. The composition explored a variety of sounds, featuring long tones in the strings, saxophone harmonics, dynamic swells, and the artfully ambient guitar sounds of Tom Fleming. The song was short and sweet – neither overstaying its welcome, nor ceasing before making an impression.

Keep an eye out for this budding "narrative composer" in the ranks of Andrew Downing, John Southworth, and David Occhipinti. Something gives me the impression that she’s only getting started.

(Complete line-up featured: Shannon Graham – tenor saxophone/voice/viola, Kelly Lefaive – violin/voice, Aline Homzy – violin, Tom Fleming – guitar, guest Ashley Urquhart – keyboard, Matt Fong – bass, Evan Cartwright – drums)

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