Review by Bob Park
This was the second time this year that the South Okanagan Concert Society has had both Mark Atkinson as well as Cameron Wilson on stage at the Frank Venables Theatre. Last winter we heard Atkinson as accompanist to the lovely gypsy cabaret style singer, Cari Burdett.
Listening to Atkinson as a side man is a bit like seeing a Ferrari idling in a parking lot. Last night, as many in the audience had hoped, the Ferrari was going around the corners at high speed, with its pedal to the metal.
Cam Wilson the dazzling, versatile classical violinist—whom we heard in March as part of the Joe Trio— was a perfect match for this tour de force.
There’s something magical about seeing a group of musicians with 30’s era Selmer jazz guitars, and upright bass and a violin. It immediately conjures up images of jazz clubs in the 1930’s in Paris . It evokes the music of the ultimate gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, whose legacy is so influential that these days, — almost a century later— there are countless festivals worldwide and legions of guitarists dedicated to preservinghis music.
Mark Atkinson and Cameron Wilson are among Canada’s best known practitioners of the Gypsy Jazz art.
Along with rhythm guitarist, Chris Fry, and bassist, Scott White, it was apparent that they were going to take things to a “further-out” direction. Instead of being a “What did Django do?” this program was more a “What would Django do today?”
What we got was a wild ride through, for the most part, original compositions by Atkinson that showed all kinds of influences from Bach chorales to Piazzolla Tangos, as well as Chet Atkins style “chicken picken’ “Listening to jazz, it’s always interesting to try to get a sense of the balance between “worked out” material and improvisation. On this night the group was tight, with lots of interesting “worked out” arrangements, but there was also plenty of spontaneity happening.“All of Me” becomes “Five Foot Two” which turns into “The Street where You Live” and “When you’re Smiling”. As the tunes went by, we could recognize “A-train”, “ Mood Indigo”, et cetera! (Did they really plan to go into the A&W Root Beer commercial, or did that just happen in the joyful spirit of the moment? ) Judging by the laughter, the smiles, the eye contact, the cues, the asides, it was clear these four musicians were having fun. They were enjoying each others’ playing and the surprising twists and turns the music was taking as much as we, the spellbound audience, were enjoying it all.
Of course, to be able to improvise at that level takes superb musicianship, and do these guys ever have it!
(How does ANYBODY get that good?—Maybe you start with “She’ll be coming’ around the Mountain” and imagine you’re Paganini to produce the most virtuosic version in existence)
After all this high energy it seemed a fitting finish when, as an encore, we were treated to Django’s hauntingly beautiful “Nuages” (=clouds). With this hymn to French resistance during their darkest days (the “clouds” of occupation,) a bit of “40’s Paris” came to us in Oliver. From start to finish, this concert was a gift to us of an authentic version of gypsy jazz. To each of the musicians: Merci Beaucoup!
Next month, on November 16th, at 7:30 pm, the South Okanagan Concert Society is bringing yet another set of lively musicians to the Frank Venables stage. Don’t miss “Double Double Duo”. With clarinet , accordion, and piano, the duo will bring us good cheer during any November chill. They come with a sense of humour, virtuosity and musical sensitivity. (Oh,don’t forget: to enhance the heart-warming experience, SOCS serves both coffee and decaf coffee during the intermission, plus fresh baked goodies from local establishments!) For Tickets , go to the Frank Venables theatre Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thurs days, 10 -3, or to the venablestheatre website for online ticketing.