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Jane Enkin

Rady JCC's Tarbut Festival Shines in A Tribute to Paul Simon

by Jane Enkin, December 10 2012

On Saturday, November 24, the Rady JCC's Tarbut festival presented A Tribute to Paul Simon. Glenn Buhr assembled Winnipeg musicians to form the Broken Songs Band. Paul Simon's songs have been part of “the soundtracks of our lives,” and most of the music was familiar to the packed audience at the Berney Theatre.

These were, for the most part, very straight-ahead arrangements of the music, rather than re-imaginings. Significant guitar motifs are as essential to our memories of Simon's recordings as the melodies and lyrics, and these were ably delivered by Greg Lowe and by arranger Buhr, who also played keyboard and piano. On some songs, the band recreated Simon and Garfunkel vocal harmonies.

Three singers were featured as soloists. Both Glenn Buhr and Margaret Sweatman take soft, husky, moody approaches. Daniel Roy's rich voice shone in a range of material. He gave powerful deliveries of “The Boxer” and“Dangling Conversation”. He was terrific when he sang high energy numbers, really connecting with the audience, bringing out the wry wit interwoven with powerful feelings in smooth takes of songs like “Me and Julio” and “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”.

Centre stage on rhythm guitar when he sang solo, Roy was on drum kit for the other parts of the show.“Bridge Over Troubled Waters” began delicately with gospel-tinged piano, then ended powerfully, dominated by Roy's drumming. Percussionist Scott Senior was a delight, bringing colour to songs like “Mrs. Robinson.” Steve Hamilton on bass rounded out the band's sound.

While almost all the songs were well-loved oldies, Buhr offered “The Afterlfe” from Simon's most recent recording, intercutting the song with a jazz piece by another composer. “You gotta fill in the form first, Then you wait in line,” as the ironic lyrics present heaven.

Glenn Buhr, based in Waterloo, Ontario, is a professor, a researcher, and a lover of stories. He filled out the evening with anecdotes from Paul Simon's life, back stories for the songs, and some insights into Simon's writing process. Simon listens to and studies with jazz greats. Buhr described Simon improvising on guitar on a television show, searching for the perfect chord progression. Buhr also talked about his personal connections to the music, “inside my bones”, as he told us, and explained his understanding that there is a simple idea at the core of each song, and these clear melodies and musical motifs are the works of a brilliant composer.. Stories and music together gave us a warm, pleasant evening of well-loved songs.

This was the third in Tarbut's series of concerts in tribute to Jewish composers of popular song – in 2010, Anna-Lisa Kirby led an ensemble of jazz musicians in superb interpretations of Leonard Cohen songs, and last year Glenn Buhr and the Broken Songs Band explored the songs of Bob Dylan. Three times makes it a tradition!

[Next edition Jane Enkin will be reviewingthe Yemen Blues Concert at the Rady JCC's Tarbut Festival

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