I like pleasant surprises and The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra is one of several in this spring’s concert season. Others worth mentioning are The Love Bullies and Guy Davis who both recently performed at Centre 64 in Kimberley . The Love Bullies did their outrageous take on 50’s rock and roll and Guy Davis did the classic acoustic blues trip. Also worth mentioning is the Quebec band Vent du Nord and their foot stomping French Canadian music at the Key City.
At first, the name Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, was a bit of puzzle but once deciphered by the MC Galen Olstead it made a lot of sense. The name is a clever word play on the title of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mocking Bird. And, as in the novel, these mocking birds provide pleasure with their songs by singing their hearts out and, for good purpose, they add in a hefty dose of virtuoso instrumental accompaniments. The Tequila in the name probably references the intoxicating influences of various Hispanic cultures that keep popping up in the music. What is instantly attractive in the music is the instrumental line up. This is no run of the mill rock and roll quartet.There is only one acoustic guitar, played by Kurt Lowen, in the mix. The upright bass played by Keith Rodger adds a big fat round sound to the bottom of the orchestra. Have you noticed that over the past decade the acoustic upright bass has re-asserted itself in the sonic spectrum? With the invention of the electric bass guitar in the late fifties it was quickly abandoned for the more portable instrument. It is nice to see that trend has finally been reversed and a lot of credit must go to those musicians who are prepared to transport and suffer the consequences of dedicating themselves to such a large unwieldy instrument. A solid rhythmic foundation for the orchestra is provided by Paul Wolda who plays an abbreviated standard drum kit that includes a Djembe and Cajon. Paul comes armed with a bucket load of experience that includes working and studying with the Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and a period as an exchange student in Brazil when he was eighteen. For a percussionist that is like dying and going to heaven. You will have to go a long way before you will come across such an accomplished percussionist. I had a fortune few minutes with him after the show when he demonstrated on my congas just what one could do with a set of three tuned congas.
What I find missing in most bands is the presence of strong melodic voices. Not in this band. A strong melodic element is provided by Mack Shields on fiddle and Ian Griffiths on Accordion. Mack is a newer member of the band and is described as “a song writer, a fine fiddler, and a comedic genius”. One of his major contributions to the repertoire of the orchestra is lovely waltz with a classic old-time feel. It is unfortunate that accordions are generally held in such low esteem. I think that situation is unwarranted. Violins, keyboards and guitars may be the most popular instruments of the day but a casual review of music across the world will reveal that the accordion is one of the most pervasive instruments on the planet. North, south, east and west there is always an accordion within ear shot. Ian started out on a “toy” accordion that he eventually destroyed by over use. He has since graduated to a high class Italian Beltuna acoustic instrument fitted with three internal microphones. He is currently experimenting with a Roland Digital V-ACCORDION. He also plays a small hand operated harmonium that contributes drones that are commonly found in world music.
Given the strong interplay of the instruments, the finely crafted arrangements and the free wheeling virtuosic displays of the soloists this is more than a band. This is an orchestra in the full meaning of the term. They play a wide spectrum of music that could be defined as “world music”. My favorites of the evening were the waltz written by Mack Shield , the tango XO Tango and Mountains on Fire. Here are some images from the evening:
Once again the Key City Theatre enhanced the pre-performance ambience with the music of Dean Smith’s jazz group featuring Dean Smith on Piano, Ben Smith on upright bass, Zach Smith on tenor and soprano saxes, Jared Zimmer on drum kit and Rod Wilson on congas and percussion.
Thanks need to go to the following sponsors – Columbia Copiers, The Prestige Inn, St. Eugene Resort and Selkirk signs. Sweet Gesture add a chocolate taste experience and the numerous staff and volunteers contributed to the smooth running of the event.