TicketMOMster Review: Alicia Olatuja @ Berney Theatre
OH! MY! GOD! I HAVE TO TELL YOU ABOUT THIS SHOW!!!
TicketMOMster’s inner voice: Turn the caps lock off, you’re yelling. No one is going to read this if you yell it at them.
OKOKOKOkokokok…eeeeeeEEEEEEEE!!! Where do I start?! How do I…I don’t even…alright…ok…breathe…ok…let’s start here…
These are my favourite non-local bassists, in no particular order:
1. Dennis Mohammed – he’s currently playing with Jesse Cook. I remember seeing him at The Burt last year and being totally captivated by his funk and coolness. He was so interesting both as a musician, playing catchy bass lines, and as a performer on stage, delivering those funky bass lines to the audience.
2. Ben Williams – Last year I saw Ben play with Kenny Barron at Dizzy’s in New York. That whole band was impressive, but Ben really stood out. There was something special about him and his playing and my interest was definitely peeked.
3. Michael Olatuja – For the life of me, I can’t remember who he played with the first time I saw him; probably because he overshadowed everyone else in the band. Michael plays the bass like the bass is THE BEST THING you could ever play in the whole world. He has so much fun and he’s so good at what he does, that the lines become blurred. His personality outshines the instrument and he becomes the bass. It’s all one entity. That sounds insane doesn’t it? But it’s true.
I remember looking at the pamphlet for the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances 2016/17 Season and thinking “Huh…Alicia Olatuja…I don’t know who that is, but that name sounds familiar…” I Googled her and sure enough, she’s married to Michael Olatuja. ONE TICKET PLEASE. I wrung my hands in anticipation of what this show may be like. He’s an amazing bassist; is she going to be equally or MORE amazing?
A couple of days ago, I was on my Twitter page (twitter.com/TicketMOMsters) and Ben Williams tweeted “Umm, whatup Winnipeg??” Huh? He’s based in New York, so I responded “Hi! Are you playing in Winnipeg???” No response, so I kind of forgot about it.
Fast forward to this afternoon, I’m sitting in my seat at the Berney Theatre, reading the show pamphlet and my eyes bulge out of my head. “Ben Williams, bass”. YESSSSSSS!!! Talk about being at the right place at the right time, I almost squealed with excitement. Suddenly, the potential for this show was through the roof!
AND IT DELIVERED.
Half way through the first song, the band was smokin’. By the second song, Chaka Khan’s “Love Me Still”, I knew I was witnessing something special in each of these musicians; that this grouping was dynamite. Everyone played with such feeling, from pianist, Josh Nelson to drummer, Ulysses Owens Jr. They were all supportive of one another, woohooing and bobbing their heads when their fellow musicians played something unexpected or extraordinary. There was SO MUCH extraordinary.
The arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” was fantastic. Everyone on stage was practically dancing even before the song started.
Guitarist, David Rosenthal played one of the most interesting, imaginative solos I’ve ever seen. It left me feeling like I had just returned from some sort of holy day spa. My brain slid into my most relaxed state and everything felt kind of sacred. I sat perfectly still and hardly breathed for fear I would break the landscape this band was creating around me. I wonder if others were feeling that too, because at the end of his solo, I actually heard people in the audience take a deep breath. Truly magical.
The next tune was an upbeat number and we all clapped to the beat. Then Ben performed the best bass solo I’ve heard this year, by far. I almost cried. The audience clapped for what felt like two minutes after that solo. They had already moved on and we were still clapping and whistling.
Sorry, let me stop here. I feel like I’m going a bit “fan girl” on you. That’s not my intention. I’m passionate about this music and today I feel like I witnessed the perfect storm of talented musicians playing this music, right here in Winnipeg. This is not something that happens every day, every month or even every year in Winnipeg. This was special and it’s damn exciting.
Alicia was personable and even vulnerable on stage. I loved her banter between songs, offering wisdom and humour with a song about “Complisults” (compliments that turn into insults). At one point she had us create rain in the theatre by snapping our fingers. She sang a song about two lovers who were pulled apart and it really did sound like she was singing in the rain.
I looked forward to all of Ben’s solos. Some musicians play notes: here’s a note, there’s a note, everywhere a note, note. Ben plays liquid. Everything feels fluid and the whole solo moves in the most interesting and pleasing directions. It all feels…right; like this is how the bass was meant to be played.
The set ended with “Amazing Grace” and you could hear the gospel influence in Alicia’s voice. It started off kind of funky and then we all went to church with the lively hand clapping. Then she sang the band member’s names and they each performed a solo. David’s guitar solo was phenomenal, his fingers flying all over the strings.
As soon as the song ended, I stood up. I’m not sure if I lead the ovation, but there was no one standing in front of me. WINNIPEG?! DID YOU NOT JUST SEE WHAT HAPPENED HERE?! GET. UP. Ah, Winnipeg audiences..(sigh)…so frustrating. Oh well.
Most of us stayed for an encore and Alicia came back out with David for a haunting version of “Everything Must Change”.
Man, I was pumped after this show. I couldn’t wait to come home to tell you about it. I’ve been thinking a lot about my annual “TicketMOMster’s Top 5 Shows of 2016”. Will this one make the cut? Heheh…
TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here: www.facebook.com/TicketMOMsters