Saturday, August 11, 2007

Shuffling with Skerik at the Paetec Jazz Festival

Skerik's Syncopated Taint Trio & Shuffle Demons @ Power Plant Live Plaza, Baltimore, MD - August 10, 2007.

By happy coincidence a pairing of jazz performers from my Seattle and Toronto concert attending past were scheduled back-to-back at the Power Plant Live Plaza. With several restaurant patios and outdoor bars well positioned near the stage along with several televisions tuned into the local game (Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox versus Erik Bedard of the Orioles just blocks away) this turned out to be a pleasant summer night in Baltimore.

It took a little while to overcome my disappointment that only 3/7ths of Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet made this gig. I was looking forward to a good dose of Hans Teuber's alto saxophone playing. However, Skerik on tenor saxophone with Joe Doria on hammond organ and John Wicks on drums turns out to be a capable, and compelling, trio. Skerik mined a deep groove - as he often does - and occasionally took some unexpectedly lyrical melodic detours.

The Shuffle Demons have reunited to support a Greatest Hits release and they've dusted off several of the classics I remember well from life as an undergrad in Toronto. It was amusing to see a crowd unfamiliar with the Shuffle Demon experience respond to their unique blend of funkiness and humor. They make their entrances and exits through the crowd playing their horns and clapping - and that goes over surprisingly well. Even their outfits have been revived as they wore their loud suits and put on an entertaining show. It was fun to revisit their shtick. But it was their interpretation of the great Mingus classic "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" that offered a glimpse of artistic growth I hadn't heard before from the Demons. That's a soulful blues piece that requires the performers (and improvisations) to be "all in" or run the risk of sounding like a pale imitation of the original. And this band was ALL IN. Great solos and a gutsy move to an a capella of the main melodic theme at one point. They managed to bring something new to this piece while still displaying reverence and love for Charles Mingus.

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