Mercoledi Musicale

I think it is pretty obvious from posts over the past three years that this is a musical Island. I’m not just talking the almost nightly Ceilidhs at various clubs, pubs, and venues though that is a large part of it. Music here goes well beyond Irish/Scott/Maritime traditional. We have jazz clubs, blues clubs, punk bands, retro-rock bands, big bands, folk singers, pop singers, choral ensembles, wind, brass and string ensembles et al. Often the same double bass player you see thumping away at a jazz club also plays in the Mahler #3; one friend is an accomplished jazz saxophonist, a member of a professional women’s vocal ensemble and a classical vocal ensemble. The line between genres is often a very vague one even within the same group.

Last Sunday was the final concert of the season for the Atlantic String Machine a group of musicians who perhaps best represent the meshing (and mashing) of musical styles on the Island. As their name suggests they are a string ensemble comprised of Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. Their composition may be traditional but the compositions can vary anywhere from Monteverdi to Metallica in arrangements by members of the ensemble. All the musicians – Sean Kemp, Karen Graves, Jeffrey Bazzet-Jones, Natalie Williams Calhoun and Adam Hill – have classical training and experience with major international orchestras and ensembles. But they also have the chameleon ability to change shape and colour in their approach to other genres as well as the classical repertoire.

And more often than not a new work will be thrown into the mix. Earlier this season they teamed up with baritone Philippe Sly to present the North American premiere of Jonathan Dove’s song cycle Who Wrote the Book of Love. That same evening they premiered Approaching Winter by Kathy Campbell, a music composition major at UPEI. At Sunday’s concert we heard a new piece by double bassist Adam Hill.

A summer concert at the Indian River Festival at historic St Mary’s Church.
Photo by Darrell Therialt.

They have also provided back up and arrangements for well-known Canadian artists both in concert and on disc. Sunday singer/songwriter Nathan Wiley made a guest appearance to do two numbers that I believe he has record with the ASM for their upcoming album. I’ve always loved Wiley’s Home but in Karen Graves’ arrangement I found a new poignancy. Here it is in a video recorded at the Trailside Music Cafe and Inn back in 2016.

When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold
I sailed ships with the cowboys
And I'd never grow old
And my father was strong
And my mother was young
Fell asleep in the backseat
'Till we got home
(chorus)
Pick me up take me back where I belong
'Cause I don't know, anymore
I want to go home
And the sea was my country
And the fields were my den
And I'd sail a thousand ships
To get back again
Tell me when did I grow old
Tell me where can I go
To run in the tall grass
And lay in the snow
(repeat chorus)
Where are the railroad tracks
Where are the summers I used to know
When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold

Nathan Wiley

Somehow this video says so much to me about music on our Island.

May 22 is Buy A Musical Instrument Day – now talk about your serendipity!

Mercoledi Musicale

As we have discovered over the past year there is a vibrant arts scene here on the Island almost out of proportion to the size of the population.  There are any number of artists and studios covering every medium that I know and a few that I hadn’t realized existed (pin-point photography being one).  Though theatre is most active in the summer there are any number of theatrical performances – professional, semi-professional, and amateur – throughout the year.  And not just the “safe” stuff: a mid-winter run of The Laramie Project played to almost sold out houses and a production of The Dining Room played in various mansion venues throughout the city.

And when it comes to music the choice is not restricted to the expected traditional Maritime fiddle playing, though there is no dearth of ceilidhs featuring some remarkable artists almost every week.  There seems to be something for every musical taste from operatic arias to pop standards to heavy metal.  We had a chance to hear a fair spectrum of music this past weekend but the high point had to be an evening of Blues at the PourHouse with singer, song writer, and actor Guy Davis and the legendary blues harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi.

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Many of the numbers Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi gave us were inspired by legendary Brownie McGhee (l) and Sonny Terry.

It was produced by the good folks from the Trailside Music Café and Inn out at Mt Stewart.  The Inn won’t be in full swing until the end of April so they decided to open their performance season here in town.   Davis is Blues and American Theatrical Royalty.  His mother was Ruby Dee, the great American actress and his father Ossie Davis, the equally great actor, writer, and director.  And his musical heritage stems from the protest movements of the last century and the earlier influences of likes of  Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Big Joe Williams.  But he admits that the one man he stole from and who influenced him most was Sonny TerrySonny & Brownie’s Last Train is his most recent album with Poggi and is a tribute to the partnership of those two legends of the Blues:  Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.  The two joined forces to remember these two greats in a concert that was simply two men, two harmonicas (though actually Poggi had a case of about 20 that he switched continually – sometimes in mid-tune) and a guitar.

Here they are doing Black Coffee – first recorded by Sarah Vaughan in 1949.  It has since had covers by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Marianne Faithful.  What I find remarkable in this live club recording is when Poggi lets loose and shows what has made him a master of the harmonica.

Davis prefaced this song much the way he does on this clip – and then asked us to join him in the chorus.  More than one of us in the audience sang it with a sense of recognition that there had been times when we earnestly wished we had not stayed away so long.

A remarkable and more than memorable evening!

On this day in 1928:  The Bremen, a German Junkers W 33 type aircraft, takes off for the first successful transatlantic aeroplane flight from east to west.