Concert Review: Calgary Jazz Orchestra's "Blues & Our Songs”

Variety, impressive licks and smart big band arrangements were on tap at the Calgary Jazz Orchestra's final concert for the 2011/12 season. This concert took place on Sunday, May 6, 2012  at the River Park Church in Calgary, Alberta.
Sir Winston Churchill High School's jazz band opened with  “Alice in Wonderland” (Bob Hilliard), an upbeat jazz waltz which featured solos on piano, electric guitar, saxophone and bari sax.
This was followed by “Pick Yourself Up” from the musical Swing Time (Jerome Kern). Director Judy L. Wishloff got the entire audience singing the refrain. This featured solos on bass, vocals, saxophone and trumpet.
Humour, Charm and Smart Arrangements Showcased in Calgary Jazz Orchestra's Own Works
The first half of the programme showcased works by Calgary Jazz Orchestra's own, a “ smorgasbord collection,” quipped CJO Director Johnny Summers. The opening number, “For PJ” (K. Hutchinson & G. Bane) was written for a colleague and friend who passed away. This upbeat work contained echoes from classic TV shows in the 1960s (e.g. Spider Man, Get Smart).

“For PJ” featured a driving bass line supported by a shuffling drum beat. The solos displayed a wonderful contrast. There was a fast and rhythmic solo by Johnny Summers on trumpet, followed by a sparkling solo on sax by Gerry Hebert in the high register. Gareth Hughes presented a soaring solo that built up to high-energy wails and shakes, while Brian Walley gave listeners a dramatic contrast with his more subdued solo on trombone. Joanna Borromeo, delivered an explosive and highly syncopated solo on piano, while guest artist Russell Broom presented a softer, yet still rhythmic solo on guitar.

“Father's Time” was a last minute addition to the programme. Gerry Hebert wrote this when his first child was born. The shifting meter shows off his “feeling askew” combined with the excitement of fatherhood. This featured solos by Jim Brenan on saxophone, Johnny Summers on trumpet, Gerry Hebert on flute and Joanne Borromeo on piano. This catchy number is from Gerry Hebert's jazz CD, BeatNiq Sessions Volume 2: Constructive Interference.Drummer Greg Baker described “Riff Knot” as a “young Count Basie type” tune. This medium jazz-blues number featured driving repeated notes followed by catchy licks on piano. This was followed by the trombone section and then the saxes and trumpets together. Sarah Matheson's solo on bari sax created an adventurous weaving line, while Russell Broom's guitar kicked up the energy a notch. Al Muirhead's trumpet solo weaved a line that was as beautiful melodically as it was rhythmically punchy.  John Gray's energetic bass solo segued smoothly into Greg Baker's punchy solo. Shane Statz's solo brought together all the weaving and pushed the ensemble towards the climax.

Three more numbers rounded out the first half. They were “Sudafed Blues” and “Chance Charm” by Shane Statz and Greg Baker's “Just a Memory”.

CJO Performs Music Made Famous by Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King and John Mayer 

From the moment Russell Broom cut loose on his guitar for “Hey Joe”, the entire audience began to bop their heads or tap along to the beat. This arrangement by Greg Baker opened with said guitar solo, complemented by “splashes” from the trumpets, saxes and trombones. Greg Baker was on double duty for this jazz blues number, delivering gritty vocals without missing a beat on percussion. The groove switched to more of a rock flavour, with the ensemble vamping to a climax.

The soundscape leading to the climax of “Hey Joe” featured jaw-dropping guitar riffs and an equally exciting drum solo.  The rhythm section traded bars with each member of the trumpet section before the audience heard one last guitar solo.

“The Thrill is Gone” (R. Hawkins, R. Darnell) is a medium blues number made famous by B.B. King. This arrangement was done by Greg Baker. It opened with Russell Broom on guitar plus the rhythm section. Gradually, layers were added, building up until Greg Baker began to sing. Russell's guitar solo featured beautiful melodies, soulful slides and varied rhythms. This segued nicely into Shane Statz's solo on sax, which shifted the melody to the upper range. The vocals returned with the trombones before being joined by the entire ensemble. The guitar and rhythm section brought the number to a rousing close.

Calgary Jazz Orchestra's Johnny Summers (Photo by R-M Arca)
The CJO ended with a slow number that was high on soul, with a bit of blues, rock and gospel thrown in. This big band arrangement of John Mayer's “Gravity” was done by Johnny Summers. This showcased Johnny's vocal range wonderfully. It featured a dramatic solo by Russell Broom, a strong and an introspective solo by Joanna Borromeo on piano that gradually built up the excitement. The choir walking in from the back midway through the number was a delightful surprise to many.Two other numbers were performed in the second set. These were “Forty-Four Blues” (R. Sykes, H. Wolf, Arr. J. Summers) and “Pride & Joy” (S.R. Vaughan, Arr. J. Summers).

CJO

About the Calgary Jazz Orchestra

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra is a 17-piece big band founded by Johnny Summers in 2004. The CJO's “Blues & Our Songs” concert featured Gerry Hebert, Gareth Hughes, Jim Brenan, Shane Statz and Sarah Matheson on saxophones. The trumpet section was comprised by Johnny Summers, Kim Beachum, Al Muirhead and Dave Foley. Brian Walley, Tim Embree, Nathan Gingrich and Greg Robertson make up the trombone section.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra was joined by guitarist Russell Broom. Based in Calgary, Broom has won awards from the WCMA, Junos and AMPIA and has perfrormed in many concerts in Calgary and jazz music festivals.

The rhythm section included Joanna Borromeo on piano, John Gray on bass and Greg Baker on drums. Pianist Joanna Borromeo made her debut with the Calgary Jazz Orchestra at this performance. Her strong playing incorporated a mix of R&B, jazz-blues and rock that meshed perfectly with the ensemble.

“Blues & Our Songs” concludes the Calgary Jazz Orchestra's 2011/12 season. You can buy concert tickets for the 2012/13 season on the Calgary Jazz Orchestra website.

(c) 2012 by Rhona-Mae Arca, Musespeak(TM). all rights reserved.