"Before I start", Paul Cram, at the bar in the Holiday Inn's Commons Room, said between sips from a cold beverage with lime slices, "it's like an an ax blow to the head. Once up there playing, I'm fine." This was to be no Jane Goodall lecture as the emcee quipped for the benefit of those in the audience that had never before experienced a concert of Cram's idiosyncratic music; thereby mistaking the evening as a chimp talk.Haw haw. This you should know. The guy is funny, a bottomless well of musical imagination, a standout instrumentalist whose tone and blowing on clarinet and tenor saxophone has become even fuller and richer in colour since he quit smoking. The Guerrilla's in his midst couldn't have performed any better last night. Or have had any more fun. When the horn musicians were laying out, smiles sunnied their faces. Non-horn players beamed grins as they played. The Guerrillas were Cram on clarinet and tenor, Dawn Hatfield on baritone sax, Rick Waychesko on trumpet, Lee Park on electric violin, Toni Pigot on vocals, Dave Burton on drums, Lukas Pearse on bass and electronica and completing the lineup, Jeff Torbert on guitar and electronica.
Markedly different from other Cram outings last night was the canny use of electronic effects brought aboard by the wildly inventive bass player, Lukas Pearse and the brilliant guitarist Jeff Torbert. This addition created new sonic elements to an already full instrumental sound. Lusher. Or ethereal. Or simply, downright laugh inducing. As witnessed in a number called B Flat Restaurant in which electronic effects combined with the guitar and bass to imagine the sound of disgruntled diners chomping down mouthfuls of chocolate-covered ants. You had to be there.
For the kick-off number, Cram grafted together a couple of his compositions: Vanishing and Underwater Highway. This extended workout showed off what to expect from the Guerrillas throughout the evening. The Monty Pythonesque Cram wit. Always surprising musical twists and turns. Incredible section playing. First rate inventive soloing. Gossamer, sometimes ethereal soundscapes. Mood shifts from reimagined Rhythm and Blues ravers to achingly beautiful slower tempo pieces. One of these, a cover of Ornette Coleman's Lonely Lady, wondrously sung by Toni Pigot, sensitively supported by Torbert, Pearse and Burton, seemed to catch the audience's collective breath. Pigot is a find. Her vocal elasticity enables her to sing airy upper register lines like jazz singer, Blossom Deary; in works calling for it, full-throated excursions from low alto to upper soprano range; yowling monkey shrieks and squawks and trilling jungle bird cries tailored for a piece called Jungle Trek; to act as a boxing play-by-play caller in a musically picaresque number called Round One; a Valley Girl/ Paris Hilton/ teen girl (complete with fluttering stance and flapping hands) in a side-splitting rave-up entitled Omigawd (the entire lyric content chanted over and over for a comic build that drew repeated laughs from the rib-tickled audience); to the poignant portrayal of a woman singing of a shattered life in a fascinating mini-movie composition, The Royal Hotel.
Many if not most contemporary new music composers write exclusively for the aural sense. Cram is a rarity. You as an audience can "see" the story he's telling through his compositions. And, as a bonus, even feel compelled to dance with abandon, energized by the rock beats Cram likes to employ, as the woman who shared my table expressed when the band's encore finished.
Happily for those of you who missed this fantastic concert, the Guerrillas will be romping again sometime in the Fall. Likely September. Watch for the announcement. You'll feel all the better for taking time off on a Guerrilla Vacation. You have to be there.