August 2007

Firefly Cabaret
Lori Cullen Amanda Martinez Tyler Yarema
Elizabeth Shepherd
Swing Rosie
August 22, 2007 Hugh's Room Toronto
A Canvas of Music for a Critical Cause
by Carol Lipson with photos by Roger Humbert
With Firefly Cabaret, Hugh’s Room showcased five musical acts on Wednesday August 22nd in support of Camp Quality, Canada’s multi-recreational fund-raising program for children with cancer. Led by jazz singer/MC, Heather Bambrick, the audience was offered jazz-infused music ranging in colour and style from folky self-revealing songs to boogie woogie three–part harmonies. Most of the performers on the roster, including Lori Cullen, Amanda Martinez, Tyler Yarema, Elizabeth Shepherd and Swing Rosie, remembered loved ones, reflecting briefly and in hushed tones, how cancer has touched their lives. Music, the audience understood as a community, affirms hope for these artists, for their listeners, and most importantly, for the children who will be enriched, albeit temporarily, by proceeds derived from this benefit concert.

A non-profit, volunteer organization, Camp Quality spans across Canadian and international sites, setting up programs as diverse as week-long camping and school-year puppet shows, to boost the spirits of children living with the disease. Volunteers, buoyed by donations from businesses, foundations and personal contributors, participate in marathon-like bicycle tours, soccer and golf tournaments, in a joint effort to raise funds and nurture the lives of children. The five performers that night were just such volunteers.

Opening the evening with her bluesy inflections, Bambrick, a singer’s singer, served up the tried and true “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. We were in for a treat, Bambrick signalled, with her sure sense of swing and tasteful phrasing. The first act, Lori Cullen, singer-songwriter-guitarist, presented a thoughtful trio of songs. Her wispy, near-plaintive vocal quality is a fit companion to her honest, unassuming writing voice. Working within a folk frame, Cullen surprises melodically as she opens up her choruses. An able and rhythmic lyricist, the conventional “I’ll be there” promise we so often hear on pop radio was deftly replaced under Cullen’s care by the paradoxical: “I’ll always be the answer/ one question away.”

Amanda Martinez is an interpretive singer with a honey-coloured, seductive voice who is equally comfortable singing in Portuguese, Spanish and English. In her fluid rendition of the closing Cuban song of her set, Martinez became an ambassador of Latin music, caressing the notes without losing the percussive quality of the song. She owns the stage as she sways to the music, confident and seemingly impromptu in her presentation.

Amanda Martinez &
Scott Kemp
Good musicianship came in surplus supply that night. What struck this listener about Tyler Yarema, the singer-pianist-songwriter was how his funky, honky-tonk bluesy piano playing contrasted his male crooner vocal stylings to singular effect. Yarema is a quality act, a crowd pleaser who flexed his musical muscles with the dreamy, complex modalities of an original jazz ballad or the strong bedrock of blues. His vocals were complemented by the lyrical and pronounced trumpet playing of William Sperendei. Noteworthy as a back-up unit was the rhythm section that evening: Scott Kemp on bass, Peter Hill on piano, and Glenn Anderson on drums.

Singer-songwriter-pianist Elizabeth Shepherd allotted equal time for vocals and piano. Reed-like in her vocal ability to bend to the chromatic demands of a jazz melody, her singing was clear, a little breathy on her high register, as she delivered an autobiographical song about her “vagabond heart”. Her self-proclaimed restlessness or musical curiosity, I would guess, provides the impetus for what she does.

Finally, with Swing Rosie, I was thrown back to a long-gone era of tightly-woven three-part harmonies delivered with dynamic and feminine charm. Kira Callahan, Shannon Butcher and Chantelle Wilson have synchronized their voices and stage presence to create musical unity and synergy. They move with ease from Andrew Sister standards to songs cut with a more contemporary edge, connecting musical legacies to the present.
Swing Rosie
Firefly Cabaret rewarded the audience with a rich canvas of music for a worthwhile cause. That is a donation of many gifts in one, by my count.
We welcome your comments and feedback
Carol Lipson
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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