November 2006

Harry Manx & Michael Kaeshammer
November 15, 2006Harbourfront Centre TheatreToronto
Contrast and Confluence
by Joyce Corbett
Greeted by enthusiastic clapping, the young, immaculately shaven Michael Kaeshammer walked out on stage in a deep black suit with bright white pinstripes and a white shirt, slightly open at the neck with no tie. After a bit of humourous banter, with the punch lines timed just right, he apprised us of the format of the show — two short solo sets in the first half, an intermission, he and Harry Manx together in the second half. Michael Kaeshammer then introduced us to Harry Manx and left the stage.

The white-goateed veteran musician Harry Manx took his seat, dressed in a dark grey, waffle-weave suit with a light grey, two-button polo shirt and a dark grey toque. He selected a banjo decorated with Hindu goddesses dressed in red from the array of stringed instruments beside and behind him, and started in on a folksy blues, “Don’t You Forget to Miss Me”, warming us with his voice and precision-picking an easy-flowing accompaniment. For his next piece, he chose a most unusual guitar with a cigar-box body, two broomstick handles for a neck and beer caps hammered into the end to keep the strings on — good quality beer caps, Harry emphasized, he’d tried several brands. You might be wondering how serious an instrument this could be, but he laid it on his lap and played seriously good Indian-accented slide guitar on it while he sang Bruce Springstein’s “I’m on Fire”, making it his own.

Perhaps just as unusual was the instrument Harry Manx played next, a custom-made veena (guitar-sitar) given to him by Rajasthani Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt with whom he studied for five years in the 1980s. This instrument has tuning pegs where you would normally expect to see them, plus a row of tuning pegs all the way down one side of the neck to the body. It has twenty strings, in two layers. “This takes about four weeks to tune”, laughed Manx. He laid the veena on his lap and proceeded to play a beautiful east meets west version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”. He then welcomed Michael Kaeshammer to the stage to show his stuff.

Bluesy, gospel notes rang out from the grand piano under Kaeshammer’s command, deep rhythmic sounds with sharp cutoffs and a slow-building form. Glory Halleluiah emerged in stride accompanied by a heavy two-four foot hitting the floor. Then, Michael Kaeshammer burst out of the gate in boogie-woogie style, striking the time with his left foot swinging like a metronome. Glory Halleluiah, a quicksilver Monkish line, a plunge to the deeps, what a tone! It sounded like the man had three hands, and the audience burst into applause as the melodic phrase “Mine eyes hath seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” emerged. That was “John Brown’s Body”, he said, “or parts of”. Next, was a 'love song', or sort of, the very strange and haunting “St. James Infirmary Blues” beautifully executed, sung with a voice and pacing not unlike that of Earl “Fatha” Hines in his version. This song is closely associated with Kaeshammer’s beloved New Orleans, but although Louis Armstrong is the one who made this song famous, it seems that its history actually goes back at least as far as 1790 when its apparent ancestor was heard in a bar in Dublin, Ireland. (*see footnote)

Harry Manx

Michael Kaeshammer
For the finale of the first set, Kaeshammer launched into “On the Sunny Side of the Street”. He provided his own accompaniment playing a tambourine on the floor with his foot and also reached into the piano at one point, strumming the strings like a Benny Green, then plucking out the melody. He snapped his fingers, stamped his feet and knocked on the piano. So sweet, so rhythmic and so spare (when he is not playing a thousand notes a second).

During the intermission the lobby was a-buzz with people anticipating what these two consummate musicians might do together in the next set. What seemed clear was that both musicians have a great affinity for the blues, on Kaeshammer’s side, combined with jazz, on Manx’s combined with Indian ragas, folk, rock and even pop.

Suitably, Michael Kaeshammer and Harry Manx started their collaboration in the second half of the show with the well-known blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go”, sharing singing duty. They said, the blues is not about feeling bad, it’s about making other people feel bad — but it didn’t, it was just too good.

One of the most spell-binding and interesting pieces they performed together was Harry Manx’s “San Diego – Tijuana”. Harry Manx started playing solo while Michael Kaeshammer leaned in to 'prepare' his piano. Together, they developed an almost Medeski, Martin and Wood style groove, then slowly created a haunted atmosphere, with melodic similarities to “I Scare Myself”, the Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks piece from the ‘70s. The piece was full of complex harmonies and more East meets West integration, with Michael sprinting up an Eastern scale on the piano, tossing in a bit of "Nature Boy", which made the crowd chuckle, some Spanish classical phrases and Latin runs. Harry Manx’s vocals were superb and combined with his and Kaeshammer’s playing, magical.
Harry Manx & Michael Kaeshammer
Next was a rocking, percussive blues about Sarah Bernhardt’s leg — or sort of, you had to be there — followed by Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” for which Harry Manx picked up the banjo. “Didn’t you know Hendrix used to play with Earl Scruggs?”, joked Manx. Somehow, even his banjo-playing was imbued with an eastern flavour and often sounded more like a slide guitar or dobro. As Manx briefly segued into "The Thrill is Gone", Michael Kaeshammer turned the knobs on the electronic keyboard and his fingers nimbly crept and bounced over the keys like a Daddy Long Legs spider. As Manx and Kaeshammer reached the finale of “Voodoo Child”, Manx raised his banjo into the air and mimicked crashing it down on the stage.

The fifth piece featured Michael Kaeshammer as he walked the blues into eddies of notes on the very entertaining “I’ve got a girl, she sort of looks like a kangaroo”, that ended with a soaring guitar from Manx and a few phrases of “Here Comes the Bride” from Kaeshammer.

Tying off the show was the “Indian Bluegrass” version of “Sittin’ on Top of the World” with Manx on banjo and Kaeshammer on electronic keys. Of course, there was an encore, two as a matter of fact. The first was another Hendrix tune, “Foxy Lady” that had Kaeshammer using the distortion effects and electric guitar sounds on the keyboard and incorporating fragments of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. Manx looked at him and said, “I was there, man. You should have seen my bellbottoms.” Kaeshammer’s answer was a bit of psychedelic “O Canada”. The audience loved it. A little more fine picking, a little more breakneck boogie-woogie and the evening was over. The consensus from the audience? “I could have listened to a few more hours of that”.

*St. James Infirmary Blues — check out wikipedia, and especially the following site if the subject piques your curiosity:
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We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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