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Anna-Lisa Kirby

Michael Greilsammer

Yemen Blues


Jane Enkin's Review of Rady JCC's Three Concerts at Tarbut Festival 2014

by Jane Enkin, December 7 2014

Tarbut was bursting with energizing music this year.


Carole King

The focus of Tarbut's Music Producer Karla Berbrayer's annual tribute to a Jewish musical artist was singer songwriter Carole King. Like many in the audience, I loved King's album “Tapestry.” From her website: “It was 1971’s Tapestry that took King to the pinnacle. It spoke personally to every one of her contemporaries and provided the spiritual musical backdrop to the decade.”


However, even though I knew that King was one of the songwriters in the famous Brill Building in the 1960's, I didn't realize how many of her songs I would recognize from recordings by other artists. “One Fine Day” and “On the Roof” are early hits nicely covered in this show.


King's website says that she has published 400 songs. A great majority of them, I suppose, are unfamiliar to current audiences. The Tarbut concert offered almost exclusively well-loved hits, giving listeners the opportunity to relive old memories and to hear fresh, sometimes challenging interpretations of favourite songs.


Anna-Lisa Kirby was the leader of this show – she assembled the band, wrote some arrangements and commissioned others, introduced the songs and sang all the lead vocals. Jazz Program Coordinator and Jazz Vocal instructor at the University of Manitoba Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music, Kirby is a powerhouse. Kirby delivered some of the songs in ways that were close to the well-known originals, and gave others interesting twists, like her purring “I Feel the Earth Move.” She sang ballads with delicacy, and belted soul, R and B and pop tunes with a vivacious sense of fun. Kirby's take on Aretha Franklin's hit “Natural Woman” was sensuous and powerful, in a strong arrangement by Derrick Gardner. At these concerts, I often consider which songs an artist might keep in their repertoire, and “Natural Woman” could definitely have a place in Kirby's concerts.


Will Bonness on piano, Quincy Davis on drum kit, Steve Kirby on bass and Larry Roy on guitar anchored the band. Both saxophone players, Jon Gordon on alto and U of M student Lee Tran on tenor, had great solos, and Derrick Gardner took fantastic solos on trumpet. It was a treat to hear the dramatic back up vocals from U of M alumni Heitha Forsyth and Joanna Majoko and 4th year student Jay Buchanan. They were especially impressive in an a capella version of “The Locomotion.”


The arrangements gave real variety to the show, presenting a survey of jazz styles (some more effective than others in reaching the audience and connecting with the song itself) as well as a taste of King's songwriting. My favourite was guitarist Larry Roy's arrangement of “So Far Away,” a tender ballad from King's breakout recording as a singer, “Tapestry.” Intricate tempo changes, beautiful instrumental effects and lovely vocals made for a fascinating musical interpretation without ever leaning too much in an abstract “contemporary jazz” direction. A dazzling work – one I would definitely love to hear from Kirby and Roy again.


The uptempo numbers were real crowd pleasers. Kirby and her band know how to sell an exciting song, taking a simple number with a great hook and building more and more excitement. Derrick Gardner's “Chains” showed how a tightly structured, big band influenced set up, with great horn lines, Andrews Sisters harmonies and boogie style piano, can create a context for the most free, thrilling solos.


Michael Greilsammer

Israeli violinist-singer-songwriter Michael Greilsammer played an inspiring, beautiful concert. He is an eclectic artist, with wide-ranging world music influences. His focus is always on driving beats, delivered by an energetic band. The audience was especially excited about percussionist Uriel Sverdin, who shaped each song and held the music together. The rest of the band left the stage so we could experience Sverdin's spell-binding, shimmering solo piece.


Greilsammer's interest in reggae music flowed through the whole concert, sustained most powerfully by Ohad Eilam's buzzing, laid-back electric bass. Rounding out the band were Shimrit Dror Greilsammer on vocals and guitar and Tamir Gross on keyboard. The band travels with their own talented sound engineer, Eliyahu Zehavi.


Although there is a strong focus on the violin and even more so on the integrated sound of the band as a whole, Greilsammer sings during every piece. His vocals are, again, eclectic – in an interview, he told me, “I use the lyrics more as another sound.” I was delighted by the effects of this approach. Hebrew songs were delivered in a soft, Israeli-pop sound, with the vocals blending with the music of the band. So it was surprising when Greilsammer's gorgeous, full voice was front and centre on Neil Young's Heart of Gold.


Greilsammer's violin is rich and emotional, with flights of delicious, dramatic soloing that left me wanting more. Sections with a Celtic sound reminded me of Canada's top fiddlers. A piece that opened with a Middle Eastern sound, with Greilsammer plucking his violin like an oud, opened up into the Ashkenazi chestnut Hava Nagila.


With that song, but also with quite challenging melodies, some with simple lyrics and others wordless nigunim, Greilsammer effortlessly got the Tarbut audience to join in. Once again, it was brought home to me that Winnipeg Jewish audiences absolutely love the opportunity to sing.


Yemen Blues

Tarbut closed with an outstanding concert by Yemen Blues. Every member of this new version of the band was amazing. But the stage belongs to the charismatic Ravid Kahalani.


Both parts of the band's name are prominent in the music. After the show, oud-player Shanir Blumenkranz pointed out to me common elements in North African, Middle Eastern and American Blues music. The fusion sound comes partly from instruments played in non-standard ways – blues chords on the oud, Middle Eastern ornaments on the Western instruments, and mostly from Kahalani's astonishingly versatile, constantly-changing vocals.


Each band member was terrific, and the sound is fresh and seemingly improvised but always very much integrated. Percussionist Itamar Doari had hand drums and small cymbals sprinkled among his rock drum kit and played with fierce energy and excitement. His solo piece, highlighted by a dramatic spotlight, drew a long ovation. Keyboard player Brian Marsella was playfully wild. Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, capitalizing on her background in funk, soul and jazz, played blistering solos. Bass and oud-player Shanir Blumenkranz, in his solo piece, played intricate, traditional music, flowing into a delicate duet with the singer. Blumenkranz is a warm, grounding presence in this swirl of music.


And how can I describe Ravid Kahalani? Mezmerizing, with his long braids wound in a topknot on his forehead, slender and youthful and strange and beautiful, he pours out emotion and energy, he dances non-stop. For some numbers, he plays the deep-voiced stringed gimbri in counterpoint with Blumenkranz' delicate oud. In every song, he wails, he keens, he growls – all of it musically thrilling. He got us singing along easily. And with a bit of encouragement, he had everyone – all ages and abilities! -- dancing too.


Jane Enkin Music and Story at

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