July 2005

July 3, 2005BenQ StageToronto
Report by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
Soozi Schlanger, the leader of Swamperella tells us that strange as it may sound, they played at this year’s National Jazz Awards dinner reception. People seemed to be wondering what they were doing there and so did they — maybe to accompany the Cajun chicken? Ah, the ever-burning question: Is it Jazz?

No. They’re a Cajun-zydeco-creole-band. Is it interesting? Yes. Is it fun? You bet. And it turns out, their first tune is partly improvised.

The instrumental introduction to the first tune stretches out as Soozi steps up to the mike, opens her mouth, and discovers the mike has no power. Her expression communicates distress, but she’s on stage and as the technicians scramble, she adjusts her look to ‘there’s a slight hitch, one moment please’. The band plays on. She switches to another mike and they’re back on track.

Peter Jellard

Soozi says, ‘this music is not about virtuosity’. It’s poor folks’ music. Poor folks doing what they can with what they have, singing about their lives and having a good time. That said, they show themselves to be darned good musicians. Peter Jellard is a creative artist on button accordions, sometimes playing rhythm, sharply pushing and pulling notes; sometimes playing soft and melodic. He also plays fiddle, both harmonizing with Soozi’s fiddle and lead, plus he sings.

Cajun music has lots of prison songs and they play two for us. One of them becomes a French quiz for the mostly anglophone audience. They offer their latest CD as a prize for the first person who can tell us why the person in the song is sent to prison. C’est parce qu’il a volé des moutons.

Soozi trades her fiddle for the washboard in the bluesy, rhythmic "J’ai du papier dans mes chaussures" (I got paper in my shoes). The scraping of the metal brings the sound of a guiro to mind. Soozi and Peter’s vocal harmonies enrich the piece and Dave Pontello sets the brushes to snare and cymbal. Rachel Melas on bass and Conny Nowé on rhythm guitar and back-up vocals move it all along.

Soozi Schlanger
Two-steps, waltzes and reels follow. On "Reel de joie" Peter and Soozi both play fiddle and Dave plays triangle. In her typical humorous style, Soozi tells us ‘he went to university to study jazz and now he’s playing a farm implement’ and then explains that this type of triangle was originally fashioned from an old hay rake (there’s improvisation). They play "Black Cat Boogie" (‘you know things are bad when you start writing love songs to your pets’), the rollicking "Single Row Zydeco" (with a bass solo from Rachel) and 'because it’s Sunday' the "Flames of Hell", a kind of Zydeco cha cha cha.

A crowd pleaser? Oh yeah. This band had more people up dancing on the burning concrete of Nathan Phillips square than any group I’ve seen at the festival.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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