July 2006

Robi Botos Quartet
David Buchbinder
Real Divas with the Bill King Sextet
Severn Records Soul & Blues Revue featuring Darrell Nulisch & Lou Pride

at the Beaches International Jazz Festival

July 30, 2006Kew GardensToronto

Down By the Boardwalk
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
The Beaches Jazz Festival in the area of Toronto formerly called The Beaches (now officially The Beach) is an annual 10-day event that has a real community feel. This is partly due to the charm of the neighbourhood with its well-trodden boardwalk along the beach but also to the variety of the music and the venues. There is a main stage temporarily tacked on to the front of a Victorian gazebo in a shady park (Kew Gardens), information booths, food and beverage vendors, music in the streets, the bars and cafés and on the beach. This really is a festival for everyone. And the concerts are free!
11:30 am – Robi Botos Quartet
On this last Sunday afternoon of the festival, I took in most of the shows at the main stage in Kew Gardens starting with the Robi Botos Quartet. Just one month previous at The Toronto Jazz Festival, The Robi Botos Trio (Robi Botos – piano, Frank Botos – drums, Attila Darvas – bass) gave an outstanding performance but this was the Robi Botos Trio Augmented, same personnel plus Pat LaBarbera, a musical descendant of John Coltrane who has toured with Elvin Jones. It may be a cliché to say that the best jazz takes you on a journey, nonetheless the statement holds true for me and I can’t imagine that this quartet left any jazz lover behind.

The pieces evolved gradually and their development was so natural that they seemed to be forming themselves. To some extent you could say that they did as one sound suggested another and the band members listened carefully to one another, picking up on a hint of a new rhythm here, a different scale there or further developing a phrase in wordless communication. The control and use of dynamics was exceptional.

Robi Botos
Pat LaBarbera demonstrated why he has earned a reputation as one of Canada’s finest soloists with some extended blowing. Robi Botos always likes to get his hand in the piano and this time played a particularly interesting staccato solo. At first only plucking the strings inside the 9-foot Yamaha, he started dropping in sharp, sparse accent chords on the keyboard. As the solo progressed, the frequency of the fattening chords accelerated. Bass and drums were tight and varied, cooking along with a drop-beat. There was even some “funky” stuff from Pat LaBarbera. Maybe this is what caused Robi Botos to introduce him with a smile, as the “real” Pat LaBarbera, a musician who he obviously admires. The Robi Botos Quartet were focused and intense. They were happy with what they were doing and so was the audience.

12:30 pm – David Buchbinder
David Buchbinder took his place on stage with a sextet of excellent Toronto musicians including himself on trumpet, John Johnson on saxophone, Peter Lutek on soprano and tenor saxophones and clarinet, Greg De Denus on piano, Rob Clutten on bass, and Barry Romberg on drums. David Buchbinder used the first piece, “Overture” to introduce the band with a full round of long solos in typical jazz form. Born of David Buchbinder’s interest in middle-eastern music, “Invectus” was next, with spiralling hypnotic lines, entrancing rhythms and a motif that threaded its way through all of the instruments on stage. David Buchbinder and Greg De Denus started the next piece and I was surprised to find myself hearing “Slow Boat To China”, not something I would have imagined them playing. It was the extra slow maybe we’ll get to China one day do we really care?, let’s just savour the journey version, mmmm. It ended in a New Orleans-style flirt with chaos, lots of fun. It is, David told us, one of his favourite songs, despite the stupid lyrics. The following piece, the appropriately named “Fireplug” took that chaos and fun a little further with David Buchbinder signalling drum shots and conducting, when he was not playing.

David Buchbinder and band’s rendition of Dave Douglas’ “Bal Masqué”, was absolutely beautiful. Peter Lutek’s clarinet solo was outstanding. A romp with Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” followed that and the performance ended with a short coda of beautiful melody and rich harmony, “If Truth Be Told”. Before leaving the stage, David Buchbinder announced that he is collaborating with Hilario Duran on a performance at this fall’s Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, a kind of Klezmer-Cuban exploration. There is no way I am going to miss that.

2:00 pm – Real Divas with the Bill King Sextet
After these two shows, it was time for the “Divas”, six in all, ranging in age from fifteen to fifty-five. In order of appearance, Heather Bambrick, Shakura S’Aida, Sophie Berkel Sarbit, June Garber, Janelle Headley and Liberty Silver. They were backed by a band well-chosen to fit the varied styles of each: Artistic Director of the Festival Bill King on piano and Hammond B3, Pat LaBarbera on tenor sax and flute, Jake Langley on guitar, Duncan Hopkins on bass, Terry Clarke on drums and Joaquin Hidalgo on congas, bongos, dumbek and small percussion.

Easy-talking Heather Bambrick (also a radio broadcaster) was the natural pick to introduce and start the show. After warming up the audience, she snatched their full attention with a rousing version of “It’s Too Darn Hot”. The next piece was one that I never would have imagined could be made to sound so good and swing so hard. Nonetheless, it had me cooled. It was the theme song from the blockbuster seventies sit-com All In The Family. Except for a brief imitation of the grating voice of Edith (a main character in that show), the song was sung straight with precise diction and vocal clarity, not tongue-in-cheek. Unlike David Buchbinder with “Slow Boat to China”, I couldn’t get past the stupid lyrics.

Another woman with a lot of stage presence, Shakura S’Aida followed. She sang a piece about not messing around with the blackbird, an interesting jazz piece à la Cassandra Wilson that developed slowly over a simmering rhythm, meandering into tributaries along the way. Did I say jazz piece? Maybe jazz-blues-gospel-world-soul, you get the idea. Bill King played the Hammond B3 for this one and Pat LaBarbera played flute. Shakura S’Aida ended the piece with a fade, walking away form the microphone. Impressive. She started the next piece smouldering, “I want you to drive me”, then quickly accelerated. Soon everyone was clapping 2/4 “Where’s the church?”, she quipped, “I need a chauffeur”. But she certainly was not talking about someone to take her to church. People rose to their feet and danced.

Shakura S’Aida
“Is it hot out here or am I having a hot flash?” Shakura S’Aida asked, as she introduced the youngest singer in the program, “the most sophisticated fifteen-year-old I’ve ever known with a voice to match, Sophie Berkel Sarbit all the way from Saskatchewan”.

Sophie’s two songs were “Midnight Sun” and “Skylark”, sophisticated choices indeed for such a young singer. I especially enjoyed “Skylark”. Her speaking voice is still that of a child but her singing voice is not.

June Garber came out on stage, a bold, brash presence. Originally from South Africa, she has worked in Las Vegas and Atlantic City but is fairly new to Toronto. “I’ll start off cheery”, she said with a South African accent, “and I’ll depress you later.” Expertly, she smiled her way through a bouncy “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (light with a clearly articulated final “t”). There was a huge crowd in front of the bandstand by now and the grey heavy air threatened rain. June Garber sat on a black stool borrowed from the Perrier stand, and started to sing “Black Coffee”. Sultry, more brooding than the sky, she took her time. The pacing, the spacing and the intensity were delicious.

The second-youngest singer, Janelle Headley from Barbados, sang “I Thought About You” and the bossa nova classic “Corcovado” (“Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”). Definitely a dreamy penchant here. As with Sophie Berkel Sarbit I particularly enjoyed her second song.

Liberty Silver in a long, bright pink gown took charge of audience and stage from the moment she appeared. “You’re the Queen!” someone shouted as she thanked “King” Bill for his musical backing and for the wonderful job he had done as Artistic Director of the festival. Liberty Silver has an enormous voice, powerful and full, never strident.

The audience loved her. Singing out a “yeah” she leaned back and held out the mike for them, “please somebody scream!” Audaciously, she walked over to Pat LaBarbera, rubbed the top of his head and slithered down to his knees, singing “Save your love for me”. He may well have been suppressing a laugh, but you would never have known it in his playing. How does one manage that? It was a great moment. Well before the end of Liberty Silver’s performance everyone was on their feet.
Liberty Silver with Pat LaBarbera

3:30 pm – The Severn Records Soul & Blues Revue featuring Darrell Nulisch & Lou Pride
Next was a double header, “The Severn Records Soul & Blues Revue” with New-England-based, Texas-born soul/blues/R&B singer David Nulisch and Chicago blues/soul singer Lou Pride fronting the same band (trumpet, saxophone, guitar, B3/piano, bass and drums).

David Nulisch had the first half of the show. His singing is smooth and easy, never really passionate, more on the melancholy, reflective side and it works well for his style. Although two of the songs he sang were “soul” and three “blues”, I found his voice to be more soul/R&B-sounding than bluesy, perhaps because of that laid-back, never shouting style. He started off with an obscure Little Milton Campbell blues, “Lonely Man”, but I believe most of the pieces he sang were self-penned. They all had a classic 1950s-60s period sound. In “You Tore My Playhouse Down” adapted from the Ann Peebles classic, the excellent guitarist Jon Moeller unleashed a stunning solo, but this was not a 10-minute guitar solo rock-blues show, this was everything in tasteful measure. The soul-funky “It’s a Shame” (the probable title, taking a guess from the lyrics) reminded me strongly of “Chain of Fools”. Darrell Nulisch invited Lou Pride up to join him on his last piece, a Lou Pride tune from the 1970s, “Work For Love”.

Lou Pride grew up in Chicago, moved to Texas, lived in New Mexico for a while and moved back to Chicago. He generally seems to be regarded as more of a soul than a blues singer but these distinctions are hard to make and I heard a lot of blues in there, which is not surprising for someone who counts B.B.King among his earliest influences. He was also influenced by Curtis Mayfield. I found myself making some connections to Muddy Waters and Robert Cray. Like Darrell Nulisch, he is often compared to Bobby “blue” Bland. I guess the thing is he can croon and he can growl. His arrangements are more horn-based than guitar-based. He has a big voice but he tends to keep things light and bright, and he loves to please his audience, starting off his show with “Thank you for having me here, I’m going to do my best for you.”

Lou’s “Midnight Creep” is an eye-winking romp in the park, and when he sang “meet me baby down at the lake” he pointed in the right direction, the man had done his homework. Lou Pride likes to flirt with the ladies. He sent frisbees out into the crowd throughout the show, emptying a cardboard box. The crowd out front stretched in all directions. Woodstock anyone?

Lou Pride

Lou Pride’s concluding song especially showed off his expansive vocal range from its’ depths to its’ impressive falsetto. He told us it was written from the heart for the people of the world and he hoped it inspired people to shake a hand and make a friend, we don’t need any more suffering and killing. He said he could remember when he was upset as a child, his mother would take him on his knee, and sing “Love Will Make It Alright”, singing it himself, falsetto. The sky had cleared and it was once again a sunny day as a green balloon went floating up into the blue sky. The audience rewarded him with a standing ovation, which he thanked them for and asked Darrell Nulisch back onto the stage for an encore “Further On Up the Road”, a Bobby “blue” Bland classic.

A great way to end an afternoon at the beach.

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Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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