Barking Sphinx and Coastal Jazz

Peggy Lee's Film in Music

Date and Venue 17 December 2009@ 8pm | Ironworks

Featured Artist Peggy Lee

Reviewer Sasha Dryden

Composer and cellist Peggy Lee's inspiration for her 'Film In Music' creation was part HBO's frontier-town, gritty, epic gold-rush western series Deadwood and part fellow musicians at last year's Time Flies improvised music series.

Both the TV series and improvised music gatherings share roller-coast rides of expression with grand ensemble explosions followed by equally dense and dramatic subtle solo gestures. Both the grandiose and the more intimate moments pack equal punch. Taking her well-honed musical intuition, Lee set out to explore this range of musical punch with a hand-picked band and a framework of cinematic-style aural imagery.

The packed room at Ironworks Thursday night eagerly anticipated the experiment.

Launching with a soft sway and a patter of sing-song, a shimmer of drums with humming electric bass from bassist Andre Lachance and scatter-shot guitar twang from Ron Samworth, establishing tone like opening credits. With cello and violin strings bowing in an eerie peal and an invisible shift, we were immersed in surrounding soundtrack. From a boom of bass, acoustic bassist Torsten Muller swerved into a rounding spree of rumbling low percussive twangs lifting to higher pitch stringing and sawing.

His solo stirrings rejoined by the ensemble with wide open sound from Chris Gestrin on Fender Rhodes evoking a climbing cinematic pace. Violinist Jesse Zubot, pulling stringy taffy from his effects modified, amplified violin, creating a fuzzy scratch of feedback under each stringed ping evoked a contrast of sweet notes with an undercurrent of muddy buzz. Deftly balanced beauty. Cellist Lee entered the fray on Zubot's heels and the majesty of her round oceanic sound bounced throughout the room, followed by Fender creating cliff-edge drama. With a graceful group clip, the first set landed.

The second set began on drummer Dylan van der Schyff's solo drum-roll smatter, booming asian-gonging mixed with lilting shimmy and rolling rock thud. Kevin Elaschuk, trumpeted old-school smooth wah-wah charm to the mix and we were off again, the final act conflict rising and plummeting like good stories should. The band in unison; low tone basses and guitar and drum rumbling thunder underneath horn and strings, Fender laying ambient drama as the band crested from a rising tempo and pitch of accelerating fever. No denouement; a dramatic finishing climax.

Lee has a way with rhythmic composition, writing movement and momentum well into her music. Switching from clipping jaunts to veering rumbles the music offered rich possibility-filled space; wonderful underscore for each distinct and intertwining musical contribution. Together, Lee and ensemble brought to life Lee's cinematic and imagistic music; epic and dramatic in so many moments, establishing worlds in ephemeral sounds. Both the compositions and band were a complete triumph and I would dearly hope to hear this group and music again. It doesn't get much better.

© 2009 Sasha Dryden