October 2006

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Directly from Gordon Sheard


Gordon Sheard | Crucible CD Release Party
October 12, 2006 Lula Lounge Toronto
Pot’s On High
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert

Just looking at the stage before the start of the show was exciting, still empty of musicians but so full of instruments and equipment, I was compelled to walk up and have a look. Hubbub and chatter filled the room against a background of Latin accordion music. Gordon Sheard was meeting and greeting as most of the band congregated around the bar where John Johnson was sipping espresso. It wasn’t long before Mark Kelso was behind the drums, checking things out, eager to start. It seemed there were as many musicians who came to listen as came to play, always a good sign.

Gordon Sheard is probably best known as the keyboard player-composer with Montuno Police, a member of the band Manteca, and as a teacher at Humber College in the jazz and popular music department. Through his years as a musician, he has gained many fans among fellow-musicians and the public. Tonight was his show. The evening held great promise.

Gordon Sheard opened the night in quintet form with himself on piano, John Johnson on sax, George Koller on bass, Mark Kelso on drums and Alan Hetherington on percussion. With its ultra-eclectic mix of influences and its upbeat, warm and comfy feeling, “The Lion and the Lamb” (the introductory piece on Sheard’s new CD Crucible), set up the audience nicely for the evening.

The second piece, “Manala”, flowed seamlessly into the third, “Dawn Song”, creating one rich twenty-minute tapestry of moods and sounds. Fingers dripping technique, Gordon Sheard moved through sumptuous classicism to ever more insistent, biting jazz chords, building an intense rhythm. Notes flew out like diamonds — sparklingly clear, bright, hard-edged jewels. George Koller’s lovely bowed bass became a powerfully-plucked rhythmic anchor, Mark Kelso’s arms and legs whirred behind the drum kit and John Johnson’s espresso kicked in. These guys were 'on'. By now, they had all shown sensitivity, subtlety and teeth. Despite the world elements, so far they were playing firmly in the modern jazz arena. And then, “Lothario” slunk in. Gordon strapped on the accordion as George Koller introduced us to the tango with some unusual bass stylings. John Johnson blew bass clarinet and Steve McDade joined on trumpet.

Two tunes with important Brazilian elements, “Jongo” and “Stella Maris” wrapped up the set. On the last piece, “Stella Maris”, Aline Morales, leader of the maracatu band Nunca Antes, joined the band on pandeiro and bass player Rich Brown came up to play triangle. Sheard started to talk about the piece, about the importance of the pandeiro in Brazilian music and the basis of the piece, where the rhythm originated and so on, then broke off, apologizing for getting “all ethnomusicological” on us, “it’s really just party music folks!” he said.

In retrospect, this was the transition piece between the first and second sets, each equally enjoyable for this listener but quite different in their overall feel. The first set could be described as closer to mainstream jazz with world and classical influences, the second was more groove-oriented — time for the party. The difference could to some degree be inferred by the use of two outstanding bass players, George Koller on acoustic for the first set and Rich Brown on electric for the second.

The second set started with “Mr. Frango”. Gordon Sheard called Rick Shadrach Lazar (of Montuno Police and Samba Squad), to the stage to play cuica on this one. In case you are wondering, it’s a “friction” drum, I’m sure you have heard it played before — think about the squeaky rubber sound you sometimes hear in Brazilian music, or in Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio”. Rio de Janeiro’s carnival groups feature entire cuica sections (is that ethnomusicological thing catching?).

Anyway, “Mr. Frango” was a great, fun piece with an irresistible Brazilian percussion groove — also featuring some notable trombone from Terry Promane (we were up to septet format for this one). As Gordon Sheard put it (more or less), think samba served up by the Crusaders. As Rick Lazar left the stage at the end of the piece, Gordon Sheard demanded applause for “one of the best” and Rick returned the compliment with “not as good as you Gord, you’re the best!”

Gordon Sheard

John Johnson

George Koller
The second set was shaping up to be the set of exotic percussion as Alan Hetherington started the second tune on a clay drum (moringa). Mark Kelso touched sticks on cymbals and Gordon came in with some strategically placed chords as a motif developed. Alan Hetherington was a complete percussion section on his own, with an astounding array of familiar and unfamiliar objects at his disposal, from the three congas and the Brazilian drum to something looking like the strap that barbers used to sharpen their straight razors on, only made of metal, a large open metal spiral, and a cymbal with holes in it that he would strike with his hand.
A groovin’ reggae-based tune inspired by a certain 'aggressive rabbit' named "Bugs" had us all bobbing along as Gordon played both grand piano and the electric organ sitting on it. With the welcome addition of Geoff Young on guitar, the band was now an octet. “Back to the Garden” was, as the title suggests, reminiscent of the Joni Mitchell tune, played by Crosby Stills and Nash at Woodstock with a Gordon Sheard percussive twist. The last tune, entitled “Our Old School”, was inspired by earlier jazz fusion sounds, by keyboardists such as Joe Sample (Crusaders) and Herbie Hancock’s voice of the ‘70s. For this, Gordon Sheard moved from behind the Yamaha grand to sit at the helm of the ersatz Fender Rhodes at the front of the stage. All of the instruments crowding the stage had been played and the promise of the evening fulfilled.

The genres and sub-genres drawn on through this evening were even more numerous than the musicians that came and went from the stage. What would you expect from a one-time ragtime piano whizz-kid now completing his PHD in traditional and popular Brazilian music? That melting pot’s on high. Give it up for Gordon Sheard!

The musicians
Gordon Sheard – piano, keyboards, accordion
John Johnson – saxes, bass clarinet, flute
Terry Promane – trombone
Steve McDade – trumpet, flugelhorn
Geoff Young – electric guitar
George Koller – acoustic bass
Rich Brown – electric bass
Mark Kelso – drums, percussions
Alan Hetherington – percussions
Rick Shadrach Lazar – cuica
Aline Morales – pandeiro

Musicians on Crucible not present at this release party
John Findlay – guitars
Bogdan Djukic – violin
Scott Alexander – electric bass
Ravi Naimpally – tabla

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
• •
The Live Music Report

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