Saturday, June 29th, 2019 – The HeidOut Restaurant in Cranbrook
Elizabeth Shepherd and Michael Occhipinti
I remember a conversation I had many years ago with the British Singer / Songwriter Martyn Joseph. His home base was in Wales. I never thought of Wales as the center of British pop culture but he assured me that it was the perfect place to call home. A significant number of major British population centers are only a couple of hours away by car. In any given week he could play as many gigs as he liked without the risk of saturating his audience with too many repeat performances. In terms of numbers he had access to a huge audience. Financial compensations were enough to cover expenses and provide for a reasonable income. The bonus is the ability to have a normal family life style. For variety he could hop on a plane and do short tours into the major population centers of Holland, Germany or Denmark and not be away from home for any extended periods. By and large Canadian performers are not so lucky. By comparison the distances between population centers are huge, weather conditions forbidding and audience numbers small (by comparison). Financial compensations often barely cover expenses and with all the touring family life must take a beating. Case in point is this current tour by Elizabeth Shepherd (vocals and piano), Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Mark Nelson (drums) and Jon Wielebnowski (electric Bass guitar). To play the gig in Cranbrook they left Chilliwack first thing in the morning, drove all day, performed that night, then onto Calgary next day to catch planes back to Toronto and Montreal.
Both Elizabeth and Michael are heavy hitters on the Canadian music scene. Both have numerous academic qualifications, awards and Juno nominations. Michael is from Toronto and Elizabeth is from Montreal and both performers spend the better part of their life on tour. Mark is from Montreal and Jon is from Calgary. This current two week Western Canadian tour included a dozen back to back gigs.
The drummer Mike Nelson is from Montreal and it was obvious from the first down beat that he is a well schooled musician. He obtained his University Music degree in New Zealand and with his deft use of brushes, sticks, shakers and mallets he comes across as a serious percussionist.There’s “no crash and bash” here. It is all a very controlled dynamic sonic landscape supporting the two soloists.
Jon Wielebnowski is “the new kid on the block”. Literally. This is his first significant tour.
The musical vibe of the evening was a pop/jazz mix that owes much to the complex musical world of jazz and the vocal sensibilities of the rock/pop world. In among Elizabeth’s original songs there was a sprinkling of covers such as Leonard Cohen’s Marianne and Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time. As an aside, every time I hear that song I think of the 1982 film The Year of Living Dangerously, staring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and the brilliant Linda Hunt ……a must see film set in Indonesia in 1965. There was that quirky little original French tune Reine du Monde in the mix, the rollicking gospel inspired Doing the Good Lord’s Work, some Brazilian inspired (perhaps) vocalese, a brilliant version of the Beatles Blackbird and Bruce Cockburn’s I Wonder Where the Lion’s Are. In an ironical twist a deer wander by the window almost on queue. A movie script writer could not have written a better scene. Throughout all the music was Elizabeth’s funky keyboard offerings that, to my ear, seem to be influenced by the Cuban masters so lovingly explored by the Canadian Soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett. Her supporting musicians are masters in their own right. Michael Occhipinti is probably one of Canada’s most notable guitarists and his accompaniments and solos, as always, were fluid and seamless additions to music on hand. Michael and has been a frequent visitor to this area and will be back here for a SummerSounds performance in Cranbrook’s Rotary Park on Saturday July 20th, 2019. He will be a member of Lester McLean’s Funk/Soul outfit. The drummer / percussionist Mark Nelson is a new name to me but he is one that we will probably hear more of in the future. He is a very, very tasty player. As I said above, the bass player Jon Wielebnowki is the new kid on the block and looks like he is fresh out of high school. This is his first tour. He was rock solid the whole evening. Here are some images from the evening……..
At the end of “the show” the band kicked back and played through some “off of the top of the head” material and gave the audience that had remained behind some fine jazz inspired explorations.
Last, and not least, thanks must go to the management and staff of The HeidOut Restaurant for their fine food, refreshments and their support of live music. Also the fine contributions of local promoter Louie Cupello for his unending efforts to bring live music to the area. Thanks Louie …. this ones for you …….