A love of well-crafted tunes is evident and arrangements of classic tunes are always given a composer's touch. But this is still improvised music and solos are especially sensitive to the mood. Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay" featured some Latin shaker and lingering rustles executed by Anderson on rainstick, swinging passages by Matheson and chorded bass passages of great delicacy by Lafoy.
Gordon Lightfoot's "Pussywillows Cat-tails" gained a lilt and softness that brought the lyrics to new life with poetic grace. "Bobbles, Bangles and Beads" followed as its brash and bright counterpoint. The prepared song list may be getting perpetually lost but Cullen's sense of how to shape a program is not.
After some years of paying dues it is not surprising that Cullen would like to see a little reward to go with the recognition. She believes in stating her goals out loud in public where people will call her to account if she slips. Great plan, however as Cullen knows through her song lyrics, life is not always fair. Bassist Lafoy had to remind her "we are musicians" as if the rewards that go with talent and dedication are not of this world.
Lafoy has had a measure of success in a variety of musical forms but seems singly attracted to this music and his expression of it. Keeping time may be a bass player's job but some accomplished players, like Lafoy, know how to give musical colour and shape to a song too.
We had a mere glimpse of Matheson's musical versatility as he switched from piano to guitar and vocals on cue showing fluency with each. Leaving space and with phrasing that bring out the best in a gifted vocalist has caused many fine pianists to be overlooked. When done well, and Matheson is at his most sensitive here, the accompanist is an invisible extension of the voice.
Jorn Anderson's work has a capacity to surprise and delight with texture and touch that uncannily anticipates the fluid expression of the other musicians. An invitation by Cullen to "do something" got Cullen a hug from Anderson "nobody ever asks" and he proceeded to create a drum solo that distilled years of experience and featured some unusual percussion artifacts. We had all waited to see where that shiny red wooden apple shaker propped on his bass drum would come into play. Brushes of every colour and description, bits of twigs and floppy plastic sticks were pressed into musical service to create soundscapes of great subtlety.
"Me and My Arrow" has become a bit of a local radio hit for Cullen as it gets repeated airplay on Jazz FM. Not surprisingly, this was selected as the final tune, with bravura solo performances guaranteeing that the audience would demand an encore, which was generously given.
With Matheson, Lafoy and Anderson creating the atmospherically-rich undertones that contributed to an original arrangement, it was possible to have a "Moon River" that sounded completely refreshed and cleansed of its overworked duties. Like much that Lori Cullen touches, she is able to resuscitate fine tunes damaged by overexposure or neglect. For this alone, she deserves to be rewarded.
Over recent days I have rewarded myself with an extended listen to her recent CDs. You may want to catch her in upcoming live performances. After all, we want to be able to say that "we remember her when" before, like others before her, worldly success means she is no longer available to us in such intimate cabaret settings.