Archives for category: Concert Reviews

Concert Review: Kamasi Washington, Toronto, November 16 2017, Danforth Music Hall (Late Show)

Kamasi Washington delivered a solid performance last Thursday night in Toronto. “Solid” is apt in so many ways for this show. Washington and his sidemen are musicians’ musicians. The set was a packed 90 minutes. And the vibe was one of clenched-fist solid(arity).

Washington’s live sound is crisp but loose enough for the musicians to have some fun. All the soloists are virtuosos on their instruments. Vocalist Patrice Quinn was flawless, just as she is on Washington’s album, The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015). The setlist featured selections from The Epic and the recently released Harmony of Difference (Young Turks, 2017). The great thing about Washington’s live show is that it can draw from a recorded body of work with great depth in each composition.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of the live show was Brandon Coleman’s keyboard sound choices –  quite different from the studio arrangements, adding a dose of funk to the night’s soundscape. In particular, the opening of “Truth” is changed up with a haunting organ sound. The staccato opening of “The Rhythm Changes,” delivered in duet by Washington and long-time collaborator Ryan Porter, was another departure that teased the audience before Quinn revealed the selection with her first verse.

Washington himself is a humble and utterly likeable persona on stage. For someone under 40 who has just recently been vaulted into a global spotlight, Washington presents a maturity both in his rapport with the audience and his mastery of jazz.

In many ways, Washington made Harmony of Difference come to life that night. Introducing “Truth,” he explained, the interplay of 5 melodies within the composition are a metaphor for how humanity’s differences are actually a unifying strength. Through his music, Washington makes his point brilliantly.

Setlist (setlist.fm)

  1. Change of Guard
  2. Leroy and Lanisha
  3. Little Boy Blue (Ryan Porter)
  4. Miss Understanding
  5. Humility
  6. Truth
  7. The Rhythm Changes

The Players: Kamasi Washington, tenor sax; Ryan Porter, trombone; Rickey Washington, soprano sax & flute; Ronald Bruner Jr., drums; Patrice Quinn, vocals; Brandon Coleman keyboards; Joshua Crumbly, bass; unnamed, piano.

 

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Concert Live Stream: Incognito, Live at the Java Jazz Festival, March 5, 2017

I crossed off a bucket list item two years ago when I saw Incognito live in Detroit. It was a short set but still a thrill to see them live after decades of my unwavering fandom. Last weekend, Incognito played the renowned Java Jazz Festival from Indonesia, a performance that was streamed live and enjoyed thoroughly by yours truly…from my couch.

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From Right to Left: Vanessa Haynes, Francisco Sales, Francesco Mendolia, Tony Momrelle, Francis Hylton, Imaani

Live stream concerts don’t look much different than any live recording. Indeed, one of the best Incognito shows I’m aware of is their 30th Anniversay Concert in London at the Indigo2. I’ve watched that recording but seeing a live stream does have an additional appeal – being a part of something in the now, no matter how far away.

The show was impeccable of course: energetic funk, deep soul, astounding jazz musicianship, great songs. One of the greatest treats of seeing Incognito live is witnessing virtuoso performances by each and every member of the band. Matt Cooper on keyboards is positively possessed by the music and has a natural touch that brings so much of leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s compositions to life. The horn section, though only three strong, has a presence that you might expect from twice as many players. Guitar, Bass, Drums, and Percussion are equally featured and well served. The George Duke tribute after “Colibri” in particular features generous solos from Francis Hylton (bass guitar), Francesco Mendolia (drums), and João Caetano (percussion).

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During a brief instrument swap, Bluey takes vocals with Matt Cooper moving to drums while drummer Francesco Mendolia covers bass guitar for Francis Hyslop (not pictured), who took over keyboards

Another feature of the live experience was the unexpected swapping of instruments among band members. Bluey took to vocals with some whimsical rapping, Keyboardist Matt Cooper got behind the drum kit, Drummer Francesco Mendolia played bass guitar like it was his first instrument, and long-time vocalist Vanessa Haynes stepped into percussion. The music was just as tight and proved yet again that Incognito demands an exceptionally high standard of well rounded talent from its members.

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Incognito vocalists from Right to Left: Vanessa Haynes, Tony Momrelle, Imaani

Finally, the vocalists shined as they always do. In particular, Vanessa Haynes who has been with the band for over 20 years, showcased her power on “Just Say Nothing” from the latest record, In Search of Better Days (Shanechie Ent. Corp., 2016) and “Everyday” from 1995’s 100 and Rising (Mercury Records). Imaani did more than justice to “Deep Waters,” originally sung by Maysa who wasn’t on this tour. And Tony Momrelle delivered his signature performances of Stevie Wonder’s “As” and Incognito’s latest chart hit, “Hats.”

Bearing witness in real time to a show like this is the next best thing to being there. A distant second, admittedly but not without a hint of magic.

Setlist

  • Expresso Madureira
  • Goodbye to Yesterday feat. Tony Momrelle
  • I Love What You Do For Me feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Smiling Faces feat. Imaani
  • As feat. Tony Momrelle
  • Just Say Nothing feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Still a Friend of Mine feat. Imaani & Tony Momrelle
  • instrument swap interlude (Bluey rap)
  • Colibri feat. Vanessa Haynes + A Brazilian Love Affair feat. Francis Hylton, Matt Cooper, João Caetano, and Francesco Mendolia
  • Deep Waters feat. Imaani
  • Hats feat. Tony Momrelle
  • Everyday feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing feat. Vanessa Haynes
  • Nights Over Egypt feat. Vanessa Haynes & Imaani

The Players

Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick; Matt Cooper, Keyboards; Vanessa Haynes, Vocals; Tony Momrelle, Vocals; Imaani, Vocals; Francesco Mendolia, Drums; João Caetano, Percussion; Francisco Sales, Guitar; Francis Hylton, Bass; Sid Gauld, Trumpet; Alistair White, Trombone; Jim Hunt, Saxophone.

Media: 

Note, the March 5 concert is reviewed above but the stream was interrupted during the second last song. The March 4 recording is complete.

Roslin Orphanage: The band adopted this cause while in Indonesia for this tour. If you would like to learn more and support the cause, follow the link to the orphanage’s website.

Concert Review: Incognito, Detroit Opera House, April 4 2015

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Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, on stage with Incognito at the Detroit Opera House (April 4, 2015)

I’ve been listening to Incognito’s recorded music for about 25 years and they consistently qualify as my favourite band, my favourite music, and the best group creating new music today. Seeing them live has always been a dream of sorts. For this year’s tour, egged on by my sister, I finally made it happen. We saw Incognito’s short but quality set on a triple bill at the Detroit Opera House on April 4, 2015.

Incognito had a one hour set in between two other well-known ensembles from the smooth jazz realm: Hiroshima and fOURPLAY. Both acts demonstrated strong songwriting, musicianship, and a love for performance. fOURPLAY, in particular, was a pleasure to watch for a couple of reasons. First, they are talented musicians who play together with the cohesion you would expect from a band with their longevity. Second, because two living legends were on stage in leader and pianist Bob James and drummer Harvey Mason. Chuck Loeb on guitar and Nathan East on bass guitar were virtuosos of equal calibre.

But this post is really about Incognito.

One of the most remarkable things about their performance was the setlist itself. Staying in tune with the smooth jazz tone of the evening, Incognito chose to weight their selections with older material, mostly from 1992’s Tribes, Vibes, & Scribes (Phonogram) and 1994’s Positivity (UMG Recordings). With such a short set, they squeezed only one track from their most recent album, Amplified Soul (Shanachi, 2014). Paying respects to Detroit’s musical pedigree, they included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s As, sung with relish by Tony Momrelle.

Incognito Playlist (from memory)

  1. L’Arc En Ciel De Miles
  2. I See the Sun
  3. Roots (Back to a Way of Life)
  4. I Love What You Do For Me
  5. Still a Friend of Mine
  6. Colibri
  7. Deep Waters
  8. As
  9. Everyday

Maysa joined the band for “I Love What You Do for Me” and subsequent songs. She brought her magic to the songs she originally recorded with the band, including free-wheeling scatting on “Colibri” with the incredible range she is known for.

With precious little time, some of the songs were played at a slightly higher tempo than their recorded versions. This kept things moving and jammed more great music into the set.

After the show, we were fortunate enough to meet leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, vocalist Tony Momrelle, and sound engineer Chris Lewis. Bluey was gracious with his time and sincerely thankful for our patronage through the years. It was a warm meeting and one I’ll cherish because of how much Incognito’s music has meant to me through the decades.

 

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (guitar); Matt Cooper (keyboards); Maysa Leak (vocals); Tony Momrelle (vocals); Vanessa Haynes (vocals); Katie Leone (vocals); Francis Hylton (bass); Sid Gauld (trumpet); Jamie Anderson (sax/flute); Trevor Mires (trombone); Francesco Mendolia (drums); João Caetano (percussion)

 

Concert Review: Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life: The Performance (Toronto, Air Canada Centre, November 25 2014)

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Stevie Wonder is one of those musicians who is prone to being taken for granted. He has been around long enough to be a household name across three generations of music lovers and he is still performing.

Wonder’s concert on Tuesday night in Toronto was a stirring reminder that he and his body of work are so much more than a familiar background. It was especially fitting that he chose to perform his 1976 masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life (Motown) for this 11 city tour. Songs is one of the most celebrated albums in pop music, voted to the top of numerous lists, including Grammy for album of the year in 1977 against now legendary competition like George Benson’s Breezin (Warner Bros., 1976), Bozz Scagg’s Silk Degrees (Columbia, 1976), and the rock classic Frampton Comes Alive! (A&M, 1976).

With this tour, Wonder brings this work to new life in the vibrancy of a live show. This is where Wonder’s currency hits home. He is, above all, a great songwriter and musician. This show proved it all over again.

Wonder performed the entirety of the album, mostly in order, including the four extra tracks on the special edition of the album. The concert’s run time was 3 hours including a short intermission and an encore.

Aside from the songs themselves, the performances of Wonder and his collaborators made this a simply excellent show. Wonder’s energy and power never waned, despite a slight hoarseness in his speaking voice when addressing the audience between songs. Original session musicians from Songs, Greg Phillinganes (keyboards) and Nathan Watts (bass guitar), were among the 30+ musicians sharing the stage, including an 8-piece string section sourced locally in Toronto, a 6 piece horn section, 6 back-up singers, 2 drummers, and 2 percussionists.

Wonder’s special guest for the tour is vocalist India.Arie, who complemented Wonder on several duets. More remarkable, however, was Keith John, one of the back-up singers who engaged in an impressive ad lib call-and-response with Wonder at the end of “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” John, who is 1950’s Motown singer Little Willie John’s son, has a voice like Wonder’s that offered a seamless boost to some of the most acrobatic vocal passages of the night, including the layered climax of “As.”

Other memorable moments of the night:

  • Three of the back-up singers, including Aisha Morris (Wonder’s daughter and muse of “Isn’t She Lovely”) took turns belting out the hard hitting coda of “Ordinary Pain.”
  • “Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing” featured a playful sing-a-long with the audience and a mezmorizing harpejji solo (zither-like instrument Wonder started playing 2-3 years ago) blended with a few phrases of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
  • Wonder challenged members of the string section to an impromptu jam. He proceeded to play a few phrases and was responded to in kind by the first violinist who echoed them on his instrument.
  • The encore was a medley of hits from other albums. Wonder chose to adopt a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop persona, dubbed DJ Tick Tick Boom, as the emcee of the proceedings. The segment was hammed up enough to distance itself from the solemnity of the Songs performance but done in a way that allowed the audience to hear some other favourites.

Like many others, I’ve always recognized Stevie Wonder as a “living legend.” But at some point during the show, ‘knowing’ this as a matter of common knowledge paled in comparison to bearing witness. Now I really get it.

SET LIST (from setlist.fm):

  1. Love’s in Need of Love Today
  2. Have a Talk With God
  3. Village Ghetto Land
  4. Contusion
  5. Sir Duke
  6. I Wish
  7. Knocks Me Off My Feet w/Fever
  8. Pastime Paradise
  9. Summer Soft
  10. Ordinary Pain
  11. Saturn
  12. Ebony Eyes
  13. Isn’t She Lovely
  14. Joy Inside My Tears
  15. Black Man
  16. All Day Sucker
  17. Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)
  18. Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing / The Way You Make Me Feel
  19. If It’s Magic
  20. As
  21. Another Star

ENCORE: DJ Tick Tick Boom (AKA Wonder) plays recorded snippets of various hits

  1. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
  2. I Just Called To Say I Love You
  3. Master Blaster (Jammin’)
  4. Do I Do
  5. For Once in My Life
  6. Superstition

 

Concert Review: Spoons Arias & Symphonies 30th Anniversary, Toronto, Revival Bar, November 30, 2012

When the Spoons announced a show dedicated to their 1982 classic album, Arias & Symphonies (Ready Records, 1982), it immediately made sense to thousands of fans who still follow the band, myself included. You see, Arias & Symphonies is not just an album but it is also a milestone. For those of us who grew up in Southern Ontario in the early 1980’s, our musical awareness sprang from a number of influences, the deepest of which was this album by a band that was ‘of us’ and, at the same time, from the ‘otherworld’ of modern music. In a previous post, I even argue that Arias was the best album of the 80’s.

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The Spoons delivered a solid show musically that Friday night in Toronto. Joined by original recording members, Rob Preuss and Derrick Ross for select cuts from the album, the band was tight and did their repertoire justice. Preuss was flawless on the intricate “Blow Away” and even used a vintage Roland 808 drum machine for the show. Gord Deppe and Sandy Horne interplayed as adeptly as ever, still masters of their voices and instruments. The current keyboardist and drummer, Casey MQ and Chris McNeill, were in their stride as well. McNeill in particular reminded us how vital a strong drummer is to the Spoons’ music and how a good drummer can complement, rather than compete, with the signature programmed beats in their music.

The most remarkable thing about that night however, was not the music, great as it was. It was the chemistry of the crowd, the band, and the event. Spoons fans are a loyal bunch. We are in our 40’s and 50’s now (although a younger set was on hand as well). We have “grown up,” leaving to nostalgia our youthful memories of early Spoons concerts in small spaces and summer nights in the Ontario Place Forum. Those “old emotions” well up pretty fast at a Spoons show. Suddenly, we are transported, not to our past per se but to a place where music is really really important and seeing it performed live is bliss. There is a unity of sorts when you’re among true fans who were imprinted, like you, when this music found them so many years ago.

This is not to say that the Spoons are purely about retro-music. Their latest release, Static in Transmission (Universal Canada/Fontana North, 2011) is a progressive album with a refreshed Spoons sound that makes it both contemporary and authentic. Read my short review of that release here.

Leaving the venue that night, I was utterly satisfied with the show. My favourite songs were played. The band had some fun with an alternate arrangement of “Tell No Lies” and entertaining tom-tom solos on “Walk the Plank.” Several fans even got to meet and greet the band before the show. But the most important part of why I was feeling good on that cold walk back to my car was the camaraderie I had felt with a roomful of strangers for two blissful hours.

Setlist

1. Trade Winds; 2. Arias & Symphonies; 3. Smiling in Winter; 4. One in Ten Words; 5. No Electrons; 6. Nova Heart; 7. Walk the Plank; 8. Blow Away; 9. You Light up; 10. Escape with You; 11. Old Emotions; 12. Tell No Lies; 13. End of Story; 14. Romantic Traffic; 15. Nova Heart (Singularity mix); 16. Rodeo; 17. The Rhythm; 18. Symmetry

Players

Gord Deppe, Guitars/Vocals; Sandy Horne, Bass Guitar/Vocals; Chris McNeill, Drums; Casey MQ, Keyboards; Rob Preuss (special guest), Keyboards; Derek Ross (special guest), Drums.

Concert Review: Sade, Air Canada Centre, Toronto, June 28 2011

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Sade is a group with unparalleled longevity and unrelenting quality. Since their recording debut with 1984’s Diamond Life, this band has released only 5 studio albums. While not prolific, they are one of the most musically discerning groups in contemporary music.

It was this reputation that drew me to their 2011 concert at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, an indoor arena venue. What they delivered that summer night was essential Sade. Fittingly centred around lead singer Sade Adu, the show opened with “Soldier of Love” from their most recent album. Adu emerged from a beam of white light shone from under the stage. With each riff of the opening snare drum and guitar, she took the steps one by one, arriving on stage to a frenzy.

The catalogue of familiar songs were nostalgically received, perfectly performed, and refreshingly accompanied by a video presentation that blended wonderfully with the live action on stage. The most striking use of the video screen was for the new song, “Love is Found,” from The Ultimate Collection (2011). A silhouetted Adu and male figure play out a courtship on screen with mesmerizingly original choreography. Meanwhile, in the foreground, silhouetted by the backlit video screen, the real Sade mimics the video moves and performs the song. The band are black shadows, almost unreal.

Sade’s guitarist and saxophonest, Stuart Matthewman, is the unsung musical soulmate to Adu’s diva persona. Throughout their recording history, Matthewman’s saxophone defined the smooth, easy-going flow to their music. It is hard to think of any popular music group whose sound is so distinctly yet subtely defined by a saxophone. Then, with Lovers Rock and again with Soldier of Love, Matthewman’s use of a hard edged distorted guitar breathed a new aural aesthetic into their work. Suddenly, Sade was ‘edgy’ while still being the smoothest sound around.

The beautiful thing about Sade live is that all this musicianship and the iconic vocals are perfectly reproduced in high fidelity. Their sound is simple and lends itself to a high quality performance. Like their recorded work, the calibre of Sade’s live performance is unparalleled.

Setlist:

1. Soldier of Love; 2. Your Love is King; 3. Skin; 4. Kiss of Life; 5. Love is Found; 6. In Another Time; 7. Smooth Operator; 8. Jezebel; 9. Bring Me Home; 10. Is It a Crime; 11. Love is Stronger Than Pride; 12. All About Our Love; 13. Paradise / Nothing Can Come Between Us; 14. Morning Bird; 15. King of Sorrow; 16. The Sweetest Taboo; 17. The Moon and the Sky; 18. Pearls; 19. No Ordinary Love; 20. By Your Side; 21. Cherish the Day (Encore)