Monday, November 11, 2019

Proving you can come home again

This Friday November 15th a homecoming of sorts will take place at the Niagara Artists Centre on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.  Longtime folk musician and teacher Jane Lewis, born and raised in St. Catharines, will return to the city with musical partner Eve Goldberg to host a local launch of their new CD collaboration, All That's Real on Borealis Records.  They perform under the moniker Gathering Sparks, which is an apt description of what they do.

It's been awhile for Lewis, as she moved from the city to Guelph several years ago to pursue a music career full time.  Why Guelph?  Why not?  I've always found Guelph and much of Wellington County to be a hotbed of creative organic folk music, much of it making it on to the airwaves of Canada's national broadcaster CBC as well as selling strongly in the Canadian music marketplace.

I used to work in a music store on Carden Street in downtown Guelph years ago, Twelfth Night Music, and it had a relatively large selection of Canadian-grown folk music, and it always sold quite well.  So it should come as no surprise Lewis would follow her folk inclinations to the city.

Somewhere along the way, while recording her solo album Stay With Me, leading music workshops on singing harmony and singing backup vocals for other artists, Jane hooked up with Toronto-based musician and vocalist Eve Goldberg and things just seemed to click.  Goldberg, originally from Boston, moved to Toronto in 1981 and has been a busy performer at festivals, folk clubs and concert venues across Canada and the US ever since.

Eve has released three albums on her own, Ever Brightening Day in 2006, Crossing The Water in 2003 and A Kinder Season also in 2006.  Like Lewis Eva is also an experienced teacher who engages aspiring musicians in private lessons, workshops and classes.

Jane Lewis plays piano, ukulele, accordion as well as sings; Eve Goldberg also sings, plays acoustic guitar and ukulele.  For the CD launch on Friday they will be joined by special guest Cheryl Prashker on drums and percussion, who also appears on the new CD.

Together, Lewis and Goldberg perform as Gathering Sparks and their new collaboration is entitled All That's Real, produced by Jeff Bird of Cowboy Junkies fame.  Joining them on the new disc, which first launched back in early October in Guelph, are the aforementioned Cheryl Prashker on percussion as well as Anne Lindsay on fiddle, Joel Schwartz and Kevin Breit on guitars and a host of harmony singers, all of whom presumably worked at one point or another with Lewis!

Already the lead-off song from the album, Bringing in the Light has been recognized with a 2019 Folk Music Ontario "Songs From The Heart" Award in the Singer-Songwriter category.  That's on top of the group being nominated for a 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year for their six-song debut CD.

Their inclusive style embraces folk, pop, blues and gospel influences all played on acoustic guitar, piano, accordion and of course the ukulele.  They had me at the ukulele, actually.  Although I've never played one I've always loved that humble stringed instrument ever since I first heard British singer George Formby on the instrument many years ago.  Who doesn't love the ukulele?!

Anyway, this is the very first time Lewis and Goldberg have written together but you'd never know it.  They have brought together their passion for wordplay, strong melodies and harmony to create 11 new songs plus one cover of a Pete Townshend classic.  The end result is a collection of songs that are decidedly hopeful and upbeat as well as reflective and full of great storytelling.

Perhaps that's not such a bad combination in these divided times we seem to live in.

If you want to join in on the CD launch yourself, you can pick up tickets for $20 in advance or $25 at the door Friday night.  Advance online orders can be made by going to www.gatheringsparks.com.  The concert/launch begins at 8 pm and NAC is located at 354 St. Paul Street.

Have a great week!

November 11th, 2019.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Bravo Niagara! Voices of Freedom Festival coming up this week

I'm a little late getting to my weekend blog this week as it is now Monday but hey, better late than never, right?

Anyway, I don't want to leave this for another day as an important and interesting music festival is coming up later this week in Niagara.  The entrepreneurial souls at Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts in Niagara-on-the-Lake have organized a three-day festival around this Friday evening's concert featuring pioneering jazz pianist Monty Alexander and musical friends.

The concert, Friday evening at 7:30 in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines, promises to be one of the jazz events of the fall season in Niagara.  Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander, who now makes his home in the United States, headlines the concert.  Opening performances will feature award-winning drummer Larnell Lewis of Snarky Puppy fame along with his band, and special guest, South African bass player Bakithi Kumalo, who has performed with Paul Simon.  Needless to say with talent like that, jazz and Afro-Caribbean music aficionados alike will want to be there.

Kicking off the festival will be a special interactive student workshop with Bakithi Kumalo featuring iconic Paul Simon music at Laura Secord Secondary School Thursday afternoon at 1 pm.  Kumalo will discuss growing up in Soweto, South Africa during Apartheid and the influences of Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid leader who just happened to be a personal acquaintance of Kumalo.

The workshop is free and open to the public.

Thursday evening at 7:30 pm the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library will host the screening of the film Under African Skies with special guest Bakithi Kumalo.  Kumalo, of course, appeared on the ground-breaking Paul Simon album Graceland and he will introduce the film in which he is featured.

The documentary explores the cultural and political climate of South Africa 25 years ago and follows Simon as he returns once again to South Africa.  Under African Skies features appearances by anti-apartheid activists and musical legends including Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Sir Paul McCartney and David Byrne.

Sadly, the film screening presented in partnership with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library is already sold out, but you can join the wait list if you choose.

Friday morning at 10 a second interactive student workshop will be held at Laura Secord Secondary School with drummer Larnell Lewis.  The Toronto native and musician, producer, composer and educator has established himself as one of the most diverse and in-demand drummers around, and has worked with such well-known names as Etienne Charles, Gregory Porter, Benny Golson, Lalah Hathaway, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Lisa Fisher and Kurt Elling among others.

The workshop is free and again, open to the public.

Saturday morning at 11 the Niagara Historical Museum will host an Artists as Activists Roundtable, exploring the role of artists in society and the historic and present-day interaction of music and social change.  Moderated by Jazzcast.ca's Garvia Bailey, featured participants include Bakithi Kumalo, producer and artist manager Celine Peterson, and Stanford Thompson, founder and executive director of the El Sistema-inspired organization Play On, Philly!

The Saturday roundtable is presented in partnership with the Niagara Historical Museum, is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required.  Go to www.bravoniagara.org for more information.

Finally, there is a film screening at the Film House at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines I plan on attending this Saturday afternoon at 4 pm.  Entitled Crescendo:  The Power of Music, the screening will feature special guest Stanford Thompson.

Thompson's organization Play on, Philly! is one of the schools that have embraced the concept of Venezuela's phenomenal youth orchestra programme El Sistema, founded in 1976 and which has brought social transformation to several million disadvantaged children in the country.  Want proof?  Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel came through El Sistema.

The film documents the journey of three students, one in Harlem and two in Philadelphia at Play On Philly!, along with their teachers and the community around them, all responding to the mysterious power of music.

I've seen the trailer for this Jamie Bernstein directed film and it looks absolutely inspiring, so I am looking forward to seeing the full film on Saturday afternoon.  You can too as the event, co-presented by Bravo Niagara! and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, is free and open to the public.  But again, you have to register in advance.

So that sounds like a lot of musical inspiration coming our way this week in Niagara, all presented by Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts.  Want more information on events and on ordering tickets?  Just go to www.bravoniagara.org and you'll find out all you need to know.

Have a great week!

November 4th, 2019.