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Making old styles new again

Jill Barber and Michael Kaeshammer perform at The Exchange

Paul Bogdan
A&C Writer

What’s more awesome than one Canadian artist touring across the country? Two awesome Canadian artists co-headlining across Canada.

On Saturday, Nov. 26, Michael Kaeshammer and Jill Barber stopped here in Regina on their way from one coast to the next. Jill Barber’s blend of folk and traditional pop music of the ’40s and ’50s and Michael Kaeshammer’s mix of boogie-woogie piano and improvisational jazz promised and delivered an intuitive and engaging evening to a full-house audience at the Exchange.

Jill Barber opened the evening with a set of romantic love songs dominated by a heavy six-eight feel. One couldn’t help but feel the urge to leave their seat – if one was lucky enough to find a seat – and dance to the easy-going rhythm of the music. Audience members were encouraged to dance at a space near the front of the stage. Her use of a ten piece orchestra on record seemed no problem to recreate in a live setting as she was backed by a band comprised of a pianist, guitarist, upright bassist, and violinist who played clarinet on a few numbers. The band was spot-on and provided beautiful accompaniment to Barber’s splendid vocals. Even though the band was there to back Barber, there were moments for some of the members to solo. There was nothing overly flashy or flamboyant, but it was nonetheless tasteful and meant more to serve the song than showcase an individual.

She closed her set with a song that endorsed a call-and-response motif with the audience that had the entire crowd singing by the end of the song. Barber received a boisterous standing ovation from the crowd as she left the stage and as Kaeshammer prepared to follow.

Michael Kaeshammer’s song arrangements were nothing overly spectacular, but what was truly amazing was the unwritten part of the set. His and his band’s performance was almost more of a jam than a rehearsed set. The performance relied heavily on extended improvisation with sparsely placed lyrics. At times, simple three-minute tunes became thrice their length.

The level of musicianship between Michael Kaeshammer and his band – consisting of a bassist, drummer, and featuring trumpet, trombone, and sax players on a few songs – was nothing short of sensational. A lot of the songs were nothing more than simple twelve-bar blues, but the band made each one unique with imaginative solos from each member of the band, which were always played flawlessly. Watching and listening to the band paint an aural picture off the tops of their heads in accordance to how they were feeling at that particular moment was truly stunning to experience.

Moreover, they were a very dynamic outfit. They could be pounding on their instruments with all their might and then bring it down to a whisper so soft that the drummer resorted to playing his kit with his hands.

The man who really stole the show was Kaeshammer, the piano prodigy. There were moments when he would play trills at speeds one didn’t think was physically possible. Occasionally, he would be playing a walking bass line with his left hand, and playing polyrhythmic solos with right; his hands were nothing more than a blur fluttering up and down all eighty-eight ivory keys.

The two artists complemented each other’s performances exquisitely: Jill Barber’s structured orchestrations contrasted with Michael Kaeshammer’s fearless improvisations, and it all culminated at the end of the evening with a gorgeous duet of “Moon River.” It was a perfect way to end two brilliant performances in genres that tend to be overlooked in the present, but Jill Barber and Michael Kaeshammer proved to their audience that older genres are timeless.

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