The verdict of many at the conclusion of Monday’s I Remember Oscar tribute night at the Sea Rock Dome of the Barbados Beach Club was that the Oscar Petersen Legacy Band was the defining act of the Naniki Caribbean Jazz Safari.
Subjective as that might have been, what had unfolded earlier on stage from Danish bandleader Niels Lan Doky on piano, Terry Clarke on drums and Dave Young on bass, was the supporting evidence to which those opinionated souls could have pointed.
It is not unheard of, but seldom does an audience call on tribute bands for encores. They did on Monday night. Only the most impressive acts receive a lengthy standing ovation as their set nears its end. That happened on Monday night. Never do fans suggest they could leave a show at intermission having been fully satisfied for money spent on admission. Some, if facetiously, uttered that sentiment on Monday night.
The band paid and played excellent homage to one of jazz and Canada’s greatest ever pianist for about an hour and a half, delving into some of his early works, as well as some of his later recordings. Theirs was an ample mix of jazz, quite a sprinkling of blues and some classical undertones running throughout several of the compositions delivered.
What was particular pleasing was the cohesion between Doky and Young where Young’s bass led the way in some selections, controlling the texture of the sound, or when the driving of the rhythm was in the capable hands of Doky. One of the highlights of the night was their interpretation of Petersen’s Hymn To Freedom from his 1960s Night Train album.
The song is reputed to have been inspired by the United States civil rights movement of that same period and its tone and texture were testimony to that. The song didn’t bring that harsh melancholic feel of Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit but possessed a softer classical thread with Doky’s soft touches gradually building the song’s intensity without its being garish. Young followed him expertly, and the impression created was a feeling of despair transitioning to hope, and then to celebration.
There were several other quality selections, among them Nigerian Marketplace and Goodbye, Old Friend. This was Young’s opportunity to really shine. The former song which is from the album The Great Connection carried a relatively complex melody that was bass-led. Complex, but not uninteresting. Perhaps this was their interpretative way of showing the “ordered chaos” found in marketplaces of the Diaspora. Whatever the intent, one had to follow the melody carefully and the closer that was done, the clearer it became.
The latter selection had the most calming effect imaginable. Again, it was bass-led, with some timely interjections from Doky and Clarke brushing, not beating, his compliant drums. The trio also brought some improvisation to the number You Look Good To Me which was a mixture of classical piano and jazz.
Truth be told, the late Petersen was very much into classical piano and Doky and his crew could scarcely have avoided that element being a feature of their set. If jazz can be interpretatively sexual, then this piece probably was. Indeed, Young’s bass and principally Clarke’s drum built the song from Doky’s undulating touches on the piano to somewhat of a pulsating, eye-squeezing climax.
These guys were good; damn good!
The Kellylee Evans Quartet, with Evans on vocals, Wesley Allen on bass, Michael Shannon on piano and Mark McLean on drums, provided the nightcap entertainment with a mixture of jazz, hip hop, soul and rhythm and blues that even for jazz purists still meant the evening ended on a high.
The Canadian artistes delivered selections such as My Name Is, Feeling Good, I Remember When from the album of the same name, and Only You, among others. The influence of hip-hop artistes on her music was quite evident; one wanted to dance as much as listen to her.
The bass pattern on My Name Is and the combination of Shannon and Allen on If I Was Your Woman were among the highlights of their set.
Present was Canadian High Commissioner to Barbados Richard Hanley who spoke to the audience and reminisced on the importance of Oscar Petersen and his legacy to the world of music, and especially to Canadians.
Petersen, who passed away in 2007 at age 82, would have been pleased at what transpired at the Barbados Beach Club in his memory.
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