Symphronia Upfront album cover

Never Judge…

The phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ couldn’t have been more appropriate. I was suspicious about this event, held at 918 Bathurst St, Toronto, yet enjoyed it greatly. Ron Davis and the band Symphronica are successful in Britain. This CD received financial support from many Canadian funding bodies.

I was expecting some kind of Diana Krall/ Michael Buble horror show. (Apologies to fans of those artists, they’re just not my thing.)

Innovation

Success was in the air. But so was innovation. This 8-piece group combines a string quartet with a jazz quartet. A small jazz combo would normally be augmented by saxophones and brass. I found the sonority of strings plus rhythm section really pleasant to the ear. Sound engineer Dennis Patterson made the aural experience near-perfect.

I had thought Ron Davis must be a singer, or at least a megalomaniac, but he is an accomplished jazz pianist and personable communicator. This music has more than a touch of class to it but Davis has the common touch. He demonstrated that in his self-deprecating anecdotes and genuine praise for others.

Showcasing the Album

The set was constructed as if it were a global tour of musical styles. This seemed a natural way to present music with so many influences. We heard early 18th century Germany counterpoint in ‘Drew Bourée’. ‘A Luz (Da Partida)’ started like that but then turned into Brazilian contemporary music reminiscent of Egberto Gismonti. We also dipped into Italian chanson, swing, rock and, of course, jazz.

The composers and arrangers are given prominent credit on the CD. Violinist and string arranger Aline Homzy, despite not being present, was frequently namechecked at the gig. Her solos on the recording help to bridge the gap between classical and jazz.

The bass and drum breaks were exhilarating. Kevin Barrett’s use of harmonics, whammy bar and reverb on ‘Dodeka Nagata’ injected a bit of Mike Stern into the proceedings.

Instrumental Champion

Ron Davis spoke of his fond memories of instrumental hits of the past and lamented how music without vocals has been sidelined. (That didn’t mean Daniela Nardi couldn’t come up and sing a flawless version of Paolo Conte‘s ‘Nina’, though.) ‘So What’ was treated in Picasso-esque fashion. Ideas were communicated through music and arrangement, rather than verbally.

There was one more thing I found unusual about this event. There were no Beatles songs performed. No-one in a Beatles T-shirt was observed. The B-word was not mentioned. Thank you, Ron.

(Addendum to last paragraph.)

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