June 2007

John Alcorn
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 28, 2007 The Savoy Toronto
The John Alcorn Trio 'Trans'-Porters the Savoy to Another Era
by Laila Boulos with photos by Mike Colyer
Although John Alcorn has been out of the Toronto music scene for a number of years, people have not forgotten him. This was evident as the room packed with a very diverse crowd who came out to see him perform songs from the Cole Porter songbook.

The trio is composed of the joke-telling Steve Wallace on bass, the awe-inspiring Richard Whiteman on piano and the storytelling, room-charming John Alcorn on vocals. All three performers are very well known individually in the Toronto music scene and together, compose a real musical powerhouse.

The band played two sets of about seven songs each. Instrumentals between Steve and Richard opened both sets with John gliding in for the second songs. Although there were plenty of spaces between the songs that showcased the instrumentals, it seemed to add just that bit of sophistication having John arrive later in the set.

John has always been a gracious and warm performer and tonight was no exception. His delivery has become more powerful over time. He doesn't just sing the song. He makes the music come alive with his animated and expressive delivery, using his whole body to tell the story.

John Alcorn
From the moment the evening began, one could hear the proverbial pin drop as the immersed and appreciative audience remained glued to their seats drenching themselves in the musical rays. This was refreshing compared to many live performances with irritating chatter and cell phones. One could easily see that this audience's sole purpose was to drink in the music.

The trio's version of "Night and Day" was quite a rousing one. In fact, most of the evening's pieces were lively, energetic renditions. "Get Outta Town" was introduced by John as his favourite Cole Porter song. With his sultry vocals and the delicate piano playing of Steve interspersed with staccato variations it was one of the crowd's favourites too.

The trio's interpretation of "After You" with John's vocals from the depths was so truly heartfelt, that one could almost hear reps from Kleenex calling to use it in their next ad campaign.

John introduced "What Is This Thing Called Love?" by stating, "Cole asked a few questions. This one dives deep". The dramatic opening of a haunting refrain was followed by vocals ranging from low and raspy to open-the-floodgates intense.

As with many of the vocals during the evening's performance, you could feel the audience’s anticipation, wondering where the musical path would lead. This was no different with the next piece as John wove the introduction, throwing in famous names such as "Juliet said to Romeo", "Face it" as he led the musical path into "Just One Of Those Things".

John's delivery of, and eye contact during "I Concentrate On You", was so intense and focused that everyone in the room was left feeling that he was directing the song and his 'concentration' on them. His scatting of the words during this rendition was so creative.

As previously mentioned, the trio works so well together with none of the members trying to turn off the limelight over the head of their bandmates. In fact, they are visually applauding each other on stage which enhances their synergy. Individually, they each bring diverse strengths to the whole. Richard's playing is evocative of the carnival showmen of a bygone era who perform all these over-the-top stunts leaving their audience in disbelief, only to take all those stunts to greater levels of difficulty — all the while making it look simple. Although in the background, Steve's bass playing is so fluid, powerful and visibly difficult, that one cannot help but become centred on this ironman player. With all the intensity of his playing, he still manages to throw in some jokes without losing his concentration. Frank Sinatra was known for his original interpretation and especially his phrasing. Our Mr. Alcorn, as a performer, radiates whatever he is singing. And as an audience member watching his expressions, looking at his eyes and taking in his very physical delivery overflowing with emotion we are feeling it too. John works the room explaining the history and background to each of the songs, bringing them to life. He does not just sing the song, he oozes it.

John Alcorn
And John was definitely oozing during his extremely unique version of "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)", before which he proceeded to inform the audience that Cole was well into his 30s before selling this first song of his.

This was ultimately the high point of the evening as John gave a sultry, flirtatious and humorous version, playing with the words and growling through some of the phrasing. Some interesting moments were "c c c cold Cape Cod clams do it" — a cold chill could be felt flowing through the room. Later, he looked knowingly at the crowd while singing "Even owls do it, and they're supposed to be wise..." and finally "...even the most refined lady....bugs do it". The added emphases, phrasing and innuendos were definitely not lost on the crowd and John was rewarded with lots of hootin', hollerin' and laughter during this piece to which rousing applause was added at the end.

The evening's performance was mostly upbeat but there were some very tenderly touching pieces such as "Every Time You Say Goodbye" and "So In Love Am I". The evening was certainly a trip into another era as the band performed with sophistication, showmanship from long-ago and understated panache which can all be attributed to each of the members and the material they were playing.

John introduced their last piece of the evening, "I've Got You Under My Skin" with "Our friend could be obsessive at times" which needed no other introduction as the crowd appreciated the humour and significance.

After two too short sets, the band left their salivating audience to the sounds of disappointed 'ohs' and rousing applause. They quickly returned to the stage with John laughingly announcing "Well, the good news is that Cole Porter did write at least one other song". As they played "I Get A Kick Out Of You", the audience was nodding appreciatively, agreeing with the sentiment regarding the band.

They tried ending the night once more, unsuccessfully. Back on the stage, they played, as Steve announced 'the elevator song' which was more commonly known as "Miss Otis Regrets". Although a very sombre song, the playing and delivery were so skillful that everyone left the venue upbeat and saturated with the wonderful, heavenly sounds and sights that were the John Alcorn Trio that evening.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
• •
The Live Music Report

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