Nov./Dec. 2004

Michael Kaeshammer
November 13, 2004 Hugh's Room Toronto
There's a sage blues saying about cool moves that goes "Don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing." Aptly applied to Michael Kaeshammer's playing on Strut, his Juno nominated fourth album, the saying means that Michael's left hand is synched with the punchy rhythm section dominated by the hypervivd drumming of Johnny Vidakovich, while his right hand lives free inventing intricate figures, shifting tempos and complex phrases.

Known for his boogie-woogie virtuosity, his roots in ragtime, stride and R&B, on this album, Kaeshammer makes a few moves out of the traditional acoustic jazz enclave. He explores the sounds of Fender Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer, as well as Zappa-like background crazy person noises on "Something Beautiful," which he co-wrote with guitarist Kevin Breit, and his producer Peter Cardinali. He also sings. I like the natural way he does "Comes Love," though he could benefit from vocal training.

Kaeshammer is all over the album. Stylistically, he ranges from Jelly Roll Morton to gospel to funky Joe Zawinul. He does some very good writing in "You're a Good Dancer, Johnny." He arranges, he sings, and he's backed by some of the best musicians around, including Kevin Breit on guitar, Ben Wolfe on standup bass, Brian Barlow on percussion and John Johnson playing seven wind instruments. Kaeshammer is heavily invested. Where is he headed? On Nov. 13, to a solo performance at Hugh's Room in Toronto.

He played alone, at a huge grand Yamaha that filled the small stage in the far corner of a big square tiered room filled to capacity with diners and drinkers and waiters waltzing with trays, and you could hear a pin drop in the space. Michael took the room over with a full tilt boogie-woogie version of the American Civil War Hymn "John Brown's Body" that started off familiar and got funkier and wilder, more playful and more amusing as he improvised his way along.

He made a point of saying that solo was a new kind of gig for him and he had no set list, but would go with the flow. Well, the flow, which is to say the room, wanted New Orleans boogie and blues, so that's what he gave us, playing only one tune from Strut, my above-mentioned favourite, "Comes Love," with a variation where he put his right arm into the piano and plucked and scraped the strings while keeping the beat with his left. He also did another vocal, a very funny slow blues about a guy whose girl looks like a kangaroo and her arms are too short to go around his waist.

The huge hit of the evening was a really, really long tune full of far-out effects built on a boogie base but carrying boogie far from New Orleans into electronic space–and Kaeshammer does it all with his hands on the keyboard and inside the piano. His left hand rolls out a virtual thunder, while his right hand scratches and rattles the strings so creepy you think you're in a Dracula movie; he segues into a Rachmaninoff rhapsodic event (Rach 2) of the kind that drove David Helfgott off his rocker in Shine, into a rock and roll crescendo that peaks, fades, changes tempo and you're in the middle of a movie piano Keystone Cop car chase which tapers off into the distance and the set is done.

So where is Michael Kaeshammer going? With any luck, his left hand doesn’t know where his right hand is going. So he’s going wherever he wants to go. Stay tuned.

Michael Kaeshammer
Report and Photograph by Stanley Fefferman
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