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Archive for June 2012

October Browne on October Browne

October Browne began her music career busking on the streets of London, England at the tender age of 11 with cymbals, tambourine, kazoo, harmonica and guitar. She immigrated to New York in 1988, where she immersed herself in the Irish music scene. In 1991, she moved to Canada and made Toronto her home. Known for her fine fingerstyle guitar playing and exquisite vocals, October has played with such notable musicians as Kirk Elliot, Anne Lederman, Ena O’Brien and Oliver Schroer. 

Browne’s haunting ballad, “Lady of the Streets” (Stuck on a Cold Steel Pole, 1995) grabbed the attention of the local media, winning high praise from critics and a good deal of air play. Also a founding member of Morgaine Le Fay, she wrote the rollicking song, “The Gate” for their debut album, Up She Flew (1997). This fall she’ll be releasing her own self-titled debut album in time for the Samhain celebrations at the Harbourfront Lakeside Terrace.

Curmudgeon‘s entertainment editor spoke with Browne before the release concert about her songs and working with some of the North American music industry’s finest musicians, guys like bassist Peter Bleakney and drummer Gary Craig, a dynamic duo known for their work with Anne Murray. “My producer, Evelyne Datl, has played with them over the years and that’s how they came to be on the album.”

With talented female Celtic musicians like East Coast fiddler Natalie MacMaster and Irish-Canadian multi-intrumentalist Loretto Reid on board, the album virtually cooks with proverbial “Goddess Power.” Browne met MacMaster while gigging at the Dawson City Music Festival and ran into her again in Toronto. “I love her playing. She has such feeling and she’s very smart, very quick.” Reid, on the other hand, she’s known for years and the two have worked together on other projects. “Besides,” says Browne,” if it’s amazing whistles you want, she’s the obvious choice.”

Other North American greats on the album include guitarists Russell Broom of Jann Arden, Colin Cripps of Blue Rodeo fame, and Kim Ratcliffe, a Holly Cole accompanist. Browne gives the lion’s share of credit to Datl, however, the behind-the-scenes magician who single-handedly wove the project into a cohesive tapestry.

“We started recording two years ago in October, but before that, there were grants to write and musicians to contact. Evelyne was there for me through it all. I really couldn’t have done it without her. She encouraged me to record, helped write grant applications and did all the producing.” Datl also co-wrote two songs with October, helped arrange the material and played numerous instruments (harmonica, piano, synths, organ, tablas).

Although October Browne has a mind-boggling variety of styles, the common thread throughout is Browne herself. “First I thought, ‘What a mish-mash. How are we ever going to make this stuff cohesive?’ But I believe we’ve done it. By having Gary, Pete, Evelyne and myself on all the tracks, we’ve kept a consistency throughout.”

Browne is a gifted songwriter whose versatility is reflected in a wide range of original offerings featuring unique arrangements and a broad spectrum of influences, from Lou Reed to James Bond and old Music Hall. “There’s something for everyone,” says Browne. “When I write songs, I don’t stop to think, ‘Now I’ll compose a pop song, or a folk song.’ I just write what comes. I’m influenced by a lot of different musicians and types of music.”

Although Browne’s ballads are my personal farourites — I’m a fool for ballads and hers are exquisite, all her songs are captivating. There’s not a single “throw-away” track on the album. “I don’t like filler. I may not be as prolific as some songwriters, but I take great care with each song.” In fact, she already has a few new songs under her hat for her next album.

The original ballads include “Faithless,” which show-cases some of Browne’s finest guitar work, and “Just Wanna Dance,” a song inspired by a lone dancer at Lee’s Palace. “I saw a young hippie girl at a Nomos concert doing her own free-style dance among some traditional dancers who seemed to find her a little ‘odd.’ Out of generosity, Dora Keogh and Thomasina Reilly took her by the hand and danced with her, and I was so touched that I wrote, ‘Just Wanna Dance’.” Incidentally, the rich-sounding keyboard in this piece is actually a B3 organ.

Browne’s stirring ballad, “Naked & Small” resonates with old-fashioned border English balladry reminiscent of the sixties Celtic music revival, while the Mellotron gives it a modern feel, “similar to John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields. The lyrics come from a personal experience that a lot of people can relate to, something I probably wouldn’t write now,” she muses. “It was a particular time in my life.” Browne’s upbeat “Distant Shore” is another  ballad original with a subtle blend of electric and acoustic guitar and a powerful lyrical angst that takes it beyond being more than just an old-fashioned love song. “It can touch on a lot of things, like having a rough childhood.”

In contrast to her ballads, Browne’s most recent work, “No Return” is a fast-paced retro number with a bit of everything from James Bond, Peter Gunn and the Beatles to the Addams Family’s Farfisa organ. But despite its camp, she considers it her most meaningful song. “It’s about how offended I am by genetic engineering. Even though the long-term effects are not known, these guys don’t have to label. It’s all based on profit and greed and not caring for the planet. the song is called “no return” because that’s where I feel we’re going. I feel that our hearts need to be more open as a species.”

The first track, “Song of O,” is a catchy tune with Dylanesque mouth harp by Evelyne. And it’s a double entendre. “Since it’s about me, I thought of calling it Story of O, but “Song of O” seemed a little more subtle. It’s the first song I ever wrote, so it’s perfect as the first song on the album.”

Natalie MacMaster plays an awesome fiddle in Browne’s re-mix of “The Gate,” a fun tune she wrote for the Morgaine Le Fay album, Up She Flew, about the James Gate pub on Bloor near High Park. “A lot of my material is emotional and serious, so I needed a light-hearted tune on the album. It’s the Beatles with lots of fiddle.”

Browne and her accompaniment also add a few surprising new twists to old favourites. “I just love the groove that Gary and Pete create on “”Foggy Dew” and Loretto’s amazing whistle.” They also do interesting things to Beatle George Harrison’s version of the Hindu chant “Govinda,” a Sanskrit hymn to Krishna. Evelyne’s arrangements combined with Kim Ratcliffe’s slide guitar and Loretto’s whistles and uillean pipes create an unforgettably cool and unusual Indian-Celtic cross-over. “My album holds surprises for everyone.”

Since surprises are rare in the age of post-modern cynicism, I highly recommend October Browne.


Celtic Curmudgeon: Arts & Entertainment Review, Samhain 1999

Written by barbaramackellar

June 7, 2012 at 5:39 am

Posted in Interviews, Reviews

Tenth Annual Beaches International Jazz Festival

Beaches Jazz Festival Poster 1997Another hot July has descended upon Toronto, reminding its denizens that the Beaches International Jazz Festival is near. For the creative organizing team and tireless volunteers, though, the festival is a year-round project. More energy than meets the eye goes into staging the city’s internationally acclaimed jazz spectacle, a cultural event that draws crowds from around the world, and all for a worthy cause — proceeds are donated to local charities.

Those who have never attended the Beaches Jazz Festival are missing out on one of Toronto’s most exciting annual events. A stroll through the heart of the Queen Street East community during festival time is like ambling down Bourbon Street in the French quarter of New Orleans. The jazz is hot, the cafes are cool and the air is super-charged with the enthusiasm of thousands of tourists from all walks of life.

The festival offers musicians a unique environment for creative expression, resulting in a delightfully diverse repertoire. This year’s Streetfest will feature a lineup of forty-nine bands scattered throughout the neighbourhood, jamming into the wee hours of night in a variety of venues, from cafes and pubs to lawns and rooftops, while the main stage on Alex Christie Gazebo in Kew Gardens Park will showcase a weekend of truly stellar open air concerts.

Lorraine Klaasen

Lorraine Klassen

Fans are in for a special treat with an exciting roster of big name headliners, including three sensational Canadian jazz queens: Ingrid Jensen, Lorraine Klassen and Carol Welsman. In 1995, Vancouver-born Ingrid Jensen won “Best Newcomer” at the Cork Jazz Festival in Ireland, and the Carmine Caruso Solo Trumpet Competition in Kalamazoo, and her album, Vernal Fields, took the Juno for “Best Mainstream Artist of the Year.” Down Beat magazine gave her a four-star rating and she’s been ranked as the freshest hot trumpet player on the world jazz scene.

Exotic Montreal-born jazz diva Lorraine Klassen, daughter of acclaimed blues-jazz singer Thandi Klassen, sings in Zulu, Xhosa, Swahili, French and English while performing dynamic dance numbers. Klassen was all the rave of last year’s concert. Her recent release of a new CD, Free at Last, “a flamboyant collection of rousing instrumentation and song,” proves that Klassen has a whole new bag of jazz tricks up her sleeve.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

Internationally acclaimed jazz singer/pianist Carol Welsman (granddaughter of T oronto Symphony Orchestra founder Frank S. Welsman) received a 1996 Juno nomination for “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” and was voted “Best Female Jazz Vocalist” by the Jazz Report. Welsman spices up old favourites and original jazz numbers with her warm, sensuous vocals in English, French, Italian, Brazilian and Spanish.

The male talents in the concert include such top performers as East Coast piano man Joe Sealy, Aussie guitar sensation Dave Hole, Toronto’s award-winning guitarist Don Ross and piano virtuoso Hilario Duran. Rated alongside Gonzalo Rubacaba as one of Cuba’s greatest jazz pianists and composers and master of sensuous Afro-Cuban rhythms, Duran is at the forefront of the contemporary Latin jazz scene.

Don Ross is the first Canadian to win the U.S. National guitar Championship and was hailed by the Montreal Gazette as “Canada’s best acoustic guitarist.” Son of a Scottish immigrant father and a Mikm’aq mother, Ross grew up in a musical home. His innovative composition and flat picking technique has earned him world renown and five critically acclaimed CDs.

Described as a slide guitar maverick, Dave Hole became an overnight sensation when he sent his self-produced CD Short Fuse Blues across the world. After a football accident that damaged his baby finger, Hole developed a unique and vibrant slide guitar technique that has rocketed him to the top, starting with two European tours with blues guitarist Gary Moore, the release of Working Overtime in 1993, followed by a North American tour and two more albums, Steel on Steel and his most successful CD, Ticket to Chicago, recorded with some of Chicago’s greatest blues musicians.

Joe Sealy trained under Daisy Sweeny, former teacher of Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, and has performed with Sammy Davis Jr., Carol Channing, Zoot Simms and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Sealy’s latest CD, Africville Suite, a deeply moving and beautifully performed tribute to the first black community in Halifax, won a 1997 Juno Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. Sealy was living and working in Halifax during the demise of Africville and began composing the suite in memory of his father, who was born there. The Joe Sealy Quartet is an extremely tight and exquisitely bodacious jazz band.

Joe Sealey

Joe Sealy

In this year’s Streetfest, one of T.O.’s old favourites, the Climax Jazz Band, will be creating a storm in front of Pet Value. The Not Affiliated Big Band will be blowing their classical jazz horns on the Beaches Art Centre lawn, Swing Shift will be swinging outside the Tribute Home Sales Office and Bellefair United Ensemble and the Mississauga Not so Big Band will be amusing the masses at Bellefair United Church.

Stix will be rockin’ the Beach Dental crowd while the Confederacy of Dunces will be playing like fools at Stoney’s. The Blackboard Blues Band will be chalkin’ up dust at the Fire Hall, the Crocodiles’ll be snappin’ at the Roastery and Captain Jack’s, while the Steve Sherman Project conducts jazz experiments by Pizza Hut. For something completely different, catch the funky Celtic band Enter the Haggis piping it up with Craig Downie and fiddlin’ around with Duncan Cameron and at Gallagher’s Irish pub.

For the young at heart, the Etobicoke Youth Ensemble will be groovin’ at Tejas and the Thornhill High School Big Band will be swingin’ by Beach BMW. Fathers and Sons will be hanging out together at the Wave Zone while the Fundamentals are pressing mint by the Bank of Montreal. Those seeking southern comfort will dig Dee Sly & the Crawdads at Lion on the Beach…and the list goes on.

With so many marvelous jazz mavens to take in, the Beaches International Jazz Festival is worth taking time out to enjoy. There’ll be live jazz in the cafes and pubs, quaint little shops along Queen to browse, and a cacophony of street vendors hawking everything from refreshments to arts & crafts and festival t-shirts and programmes to raise funds for local charities. The warmth and hospitality proffered by local merchants is added incentive to return year after year to one of the most happening jazz festivals in the world.


What’s On Queen, July 1997

Written by barbaramackellar

June 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Previews