Sometimes it just pays to shop locally. Such was the case Friday when the South Okanagan Concert Society presented the Okanagan-based Offramp Jazz Sextet from right “next door”. Already well-known for their outstanding performances at Penticton’s Jazz Festival and other venues in the valley, these six excellent musicians puts on shows that are the equal of jazz found anywhere.
Performing at Oliver’s Frank Venables Theatre on Friday January 23, Offramp checked all the boxes that I usually look for in an outstanding show, and a few extra ones I hadn’t thought about before. They left us feeling thoroughly entertained, with a sense that we’d been part of something special. It was as though we were included in the obvious friendship that the musicians had for each other, and the delight they had in the superb music they were creating individually and as a group.
Aidan Mayes is a gifted singer who really knows how to put across the emotional content of a song. Her sultry characterization of the old Peggy Lee standard, “Fever, ” and Amy Winehouse’s sorrowful “Back to Black” really grabbed us. Given Winehouse’s tragic death, the words to this song became even more poignant. Aidan gives an authentic jazz flavour to a wide variety of musical styles that are not usually associated with jazz such as the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
On the saxes Larry Crawford and Stan Sabourin seemed like the old master and the young hot shot, subtly egging each other on to greater heights. Remember, these guys are improvising. That’s not sheet music they’re looking at, it’s chord charts that only provide the basic structure of the tune. They’re thinking of a complex musical phrase and producing it instantly for us to hear! I particularly enjoyed the moment in “Sunnyside” when the rest of the band “laid out”, and left us with just the two saxes creating an almost Bach-like polyphonic effect.
Justin Glibbery, jazz pianist par excellence, sometimes reminded me of Count Basie with his light, almost minimalist approach, not always playing a lot of notes, but coming up with interesting phrases. It was fun to see the eye-contact with the bassist and the drummer, and the obvious communication that was going on. It’s amazing that such a tight and well-rehearsed performance still allows for lots of room for “letting things happen”. I always love it when jazz musicians start laughing and give each other the ‘look’ that says: “Where in the world did those notes come from?”. Jazz at its best! Of all the neat things he played, Justin’s rendition of Brubeck’s classic “Blue Rondo a la Turk” was a tour de force.
In every jazz group, it’s the bassist who makes it swing and is the glue that holds it all together. Stephan Bienz is no exception: he definitely made it swing! His virtuosic bass fiddle playing was a constant, even singing at the same time for some pieces! Unforgettable, also, his solo chops, such as in the intro to “Lullaby of Birdland”.
And then there’s “the drums”. What can one say about Mike Treadway’s drumming except maybe :”Whew!” Capable of soft, delicate nuanced playing as well as high energy intensity while always keeping the groove going, this guy was born to play the drums. Mike’s performance kept surprising us, not least in the encore. He led the band in a beat-box loop station high-speed version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” that really defies description. Again: “Whew!”
As we filed out of the theatre, I sensed people were still mentally humming their favourite tunes from the performance. We are so fortunate to have musicians of this calibre also working as music teachers in this valley. Lucky students! Lucky valley!
Mark your calendars for the next performance brought to you by the concert society: pianist Sara Davis Buechner, on Friday, Feb. 20.