September 2008

Jason Wilson The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur CD Release
with special guests Ernest Ranglin & Pee Wee Ellis

at the 7th annual Small World Music Festival
September 25, 2008 Hugh's Room Toronto
Report by Sebastian Cook with photos by Roger Humbert

Inspired by the famous Margaret MacMillan photo of world leaders’ chauffeurs playing cards while their masters decided the fate of the world at the end of the Second World War, and a meditation on the human condition in times of war and peace, The Peacemaker's Chauffeur is like an epic novel set to music. The vision and craftsmanship behind its lyrical stories and musical construction set a new standard for reggae music in Canada — and perhaps, anywhere else. Indeed, the only other reggae artist comparable to Jason Wilson when it comes to stretching the envelope of what this music can be or where its inspirations may lie is Matisyahu. Wilson's long-awaited first solo album was appropriately celebrated at Hugh’s Room, the live home base for this proud Scotsman, and recorded for broadcast on CBC Radio 2’s Canada Live. Adding even more lustre to the occasion were two of the brightest stars from Wilson’s long list of legendary collaborators, tenor saxman and former James Brown & Van Morrison bandleader Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis and the man who taught Bob Marley how to play guitar, Ernest Ranglin.

Andrew Craig, Wilson’s childhood friend from Keele & Finch during the early halcyon days of Trudeauvian multiculturalism, introduced the band with his usual flair and enthusiasm. Perhaps to mark the transition to even more ambitious and uncharted waters, the show’s first song was “The Downsview Shockout” from Wilson’s previous album with Tabarruk, Dread and Blue: A Canadiana Suite. This bouncy, horn-heavy number distinguishes Wilson’s jazz inspirations which along with his Celtic and folk influences make him unique within the reggae genre. The first taste of The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur live came with “Your Love Shines a Light for Me” that on the album features backing vocals from Jamaican legends The Fab 5. Its crunchy, downbeat-heavy rhythm and melody brought to mind the sound of Wilson’s mentor, Jamaican souljazz legend and founding father of Canadian reggae, Jackie Mittoo.

The singer/songwriter and pop-rock sensibilities, more prominent on The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur than on any of Wilson’s previous records began to shine next on “God Bless You Wally Kelly". This song represents a sort of midpoint between Wilson’s reggae roots and the Van Morrison-esque vibe that has perhaps been brought out in his music through his work with Pee Wee Ellis.

After Fergus Hambleton stepped up to lead the band in a gorgeous rendition of the Satallites classic “Perfect Day,” the show returned to CD mode with “Langford vs. Johnson II”, stylistically another 70s pop-inspired song that recalls the tale of Canadian boxer Sam Langford, who once faced the legendary Jack Johnson and whose dreams of a rematch went unrequited. This is the sort of tune that could only come from a doctoral candidate in Canadian history. “It takes a mighty big man to knock Jack Johnson down,” as the chorus goes, and a mighty big mind to light the story’s lamp again in song almost 80 years later.

The visionary Celtic-reggae fusion of “Matty Groves” followed; Wilson’s sister Juli Genoa making it a family affair with an inspired vocal effort. This tune recalled the vibe of Wilson’s 1998 album Dark Corners, on which many of the songs have their roots in the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. Next up was “Keele Street”, the ska-jazz favourite from Dread and Blue on which the band’s horn section of Marcus Ali (tenor sax), Bobby Hsu (alto sax) and R.J. Satchithananthan (trombone) traded off authoritative solos. The band closed the first set with “Confucius,” made famous by Mittoo and Ranglin’s Skatalites.

The second set started with a brilliant medley of Peter Tosh’s primordial “Equal Rights” segueing into the title track of The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur which once again demonstrated reggae-ska-jazz fusion at its finest. The time had finally arrived to introduce the special guests, with Ellis taking the stage for the Van Morrison classic “Cleaning Windows” which Ellis co-wrote and arranged. Having first heard Wilson and Ellis perform it live in 2007, the song was once again the personal highlight of the show. The title song of Ellis’ most recent album, 2005’s Different Rooms, was up next; a down tempo jazz-funk number that gave pause to savour Ellis’ marvelous tone and arrangement skill. Keeping in the funk vintage, Toronto’s answer to James Brown Jay Douglas then burned up the stage with the Ellis-penned James Brown essential “Cold Sweat.” The funk medley finished up with Ellis’ “The Chicken”.

Jason Wilson

Pee Wee Ellis & Jay Douglas

Ernest Ranglin

The original reggae/jazz fusions master Ernest Ranglin took the stage for “Begin”, the final song of the night from The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur. Slowly and deliberately, on Jamaican time, he tuned up his guitar and integrated himself into the group. Both “Begin” and the next number “Soon Come, Jackie”, Wilson’s tribute to his mentor, fused bouncy jazz melodies to reggae rock-steady beats. Ranglin then stepped to the fore for an instrumental version of one of the all-time Jamaican classics, Toots & The Maytals’ “54-46”. Next was a medley of two Ranglin souljazz originals, “These Times” and “Black Out”, followed by a jazzified rendition of Bob Marley’s “Real Situation” and an encore of the haunting Jamaican traditional song “Jericho”. And so it was that The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur had finally arrived, four years and four generations of artistic inspiration in the making.

The concert will be nationally broadcast on CBC Radio Two’s “Canada Live” on October 22, and will also be available for streaming online.

The musicans
Jason Wilson – keyboards, vocals
Fergus Hambleton – guitar, vocals
Iain Green – drums
Andrew Stewart – bass
Marcus Ali – tenor sax, flute
Bobby Hsu – alto sax
R.J. Satchithananthan – trombone
Elisa Gold – backing vocals

with guests
Pee Wee Ellis – tenor sax, backing vocals
Ernest Ranglin – electric guitar
Jay Douglas – vocals
Juli Genoa – vocals


We welcome your comments and feedback
Sebastian Cook
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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