Greg Henry Waters Newsletter May 2008

†††††††† The Bowfire Group at the Beacon Theater in New York City on April 24, 2008

The Theme could be the Violin is a fun instrument that plays all sorts of music in a way that makes it fun and happy.  Of course, we know the violin is a serious instrument and doesnít belong in Rock or Jazz but only in symphony music, haha, and as the term of ĎLong Hair Musicí applies..

My first impression of the group was that this certainly was different and a very original presentation. I am not sure what I really thought of the performance because of all the different styles of dancing, Irish Jigs, (Celtic Music and Blue Grass) Jazz Solos, Classical Music, Rock Music, Broadway Show Style presentations or pure drama at times.

The violin is one of the oldest mature instruments and hasnít changed its size or form for hundreds of years (1700).  For example (the violin hasnít changed), the saxophone has changed it size and style and way of performance ever since the 1920; when instrument makers started to change its dimensions and size, along with many new and different style mouthpieces, to change the strength and sound of the tone. Now there are so many brand names of saxophones it is hard to keep up with them all.  So yes, Lenny Solomon had his electric violin, but all the violinists used the traditional violin

How many kinds of electric pianos do we have today for example, but the violin has not changed!  Stephane Allard, the jazz violinist in the group, had his green violin.  So the orchestrations of the group were both traditional and modern.

My friend from Toronto, a great piano performer and educated musician, who invited me to the concert, was playing an electric piano not a traditional grand piano.  I said Bernie was an educated musician and all the musicians on stage were all conservatory trained musicians, which for me is what musicians should be.  Today in our pop market we have so many people earning a living at music who are not trained and are self taught and bring the level of music down to a low level in my opinion which many may disagree with. Bowfire is performing music in a fun style with a highly skilled group of musicians.  They are bringing the joy of instrumental music to the public.  Sometimes musicians, like myself, have such a sour look at entertainment music, but entertainment music sometimes is classy and fun.  For me this was my final impression of Bowfire.

The concert opened not with a concerto, but with the leader and founder, Lenny Solomon, standing on stage, like Miles did with his back to the audience, playing an electric violin during a jazz rock number.  After that number the group came out playing pizzicato, with their fingers on the strings, and making a parade of violins on stage. They went from Rock Music to Irish Gigs (Celtic Music) in short phrases and they returned to the same themes often with interludes from other tunes.  I really liked the fact that there were not any announcements - it was music, music and more music.

There was a tune for everyone to like.  If I did not like one presentation one new theme would come up which I really liked.  But to my surprise, the biggest applause came when Stephanie Cadman came out and did a stepdancer performance that just was electrifying for the audience. She really became the main attraction for that part of the show. Also, Jon Pilatzke dancing was great and almost comic with his Crazy Legs presentation.

The other performer who took over the show was ClassicalViolinist,Yi-Jia Susanne Hou. Her tone was simply on the highest level and phrasing was perfect from what I could hear.  Also, she was having fun with the folk music and enjoyed small acting parts during the performance. Reading her resume was an education for me.For those who love the violin Susanne Hou has CDS of her solo performances there.She is a very beautiful woman.

George Gao playing the Erhu, What a performer and tone he had.  I was really surprised to think that the Erhu had an equal tone to the violin or even better which was a surprise to me.  I would hope they would cut out some of the Celtic Music and give George a chance to perform solos more. Having lived in China I know the importance of this instrument there.  Chinese music has so many wonderful sounds that we could use over here, but of course rock music has taken over and even in China too. George keep it up bringing Chinese culture here to the west. 

The rhythm section, which of course, is the foundation of the group! Bill Bridges on guitars:  I kept watching him switching instruments, was he ever going to make the switch?  (Having doubled myself on many shows I know how difficult it is to switch instruments.) What I really noticed was his knowledge of voicing and harmony which added so much to the arrangements to make sure that the foundation of the sound was there.  Also, he had a few solo opportunities which he excelled in. 

Bernie Senensky, a great jazz pianist and organist from Toronto who also knows the importance of placing the right chords and positions when backing up a show.  The relationship between all the instruments of course is the pivot point between the piano and all other instruments.  The years of study that go into this level of performance and styles takes many years. Bernie also played a few short solos.

Ben Riley - Drums and percussion:  well, the drummer sets the rhythmic tone of the group.  Was Ben ever working hard has far as what I saw, but it could be due to the sound system. I think the sound men should work on the sound of the drums and the female singer.  From where I was sitting their presence did not seem what it should be.

The string bass, what an instrument, back n the 60ís the jazz bass players were performing the lead parts and it was almost an epidemic.  Well, I have always thought that bass should stay in its proper place and not be a violin or Erhu.  However, Lew Mele covered the bass and all the other basses we now have, electric bass, (Fender) Upright Electric Bass, Full Wood Bass, and Jazz Fretless Bass.  I think Lew had them all.  It was nice that they featured him on a number and showed off his skill.Canada has produced so many wonderful jazz bass performers.

Shane Cook, Bogdan Djukic, Ray Legere, Wendy Solomon and Kelli Trottier all did an excellent job too.  This image of the concert is getting so long that you can find out more at their website. Or better yet when they are in your town go to a concert.

One cannot put everything or every kind of music in an hour and half show or more, but it seemed Bowfire was trying for that!  Maybe, a little too much for me.

But Bowfire at times was really on fire.  And for me they had an original presentation that always stayed above the level of rock music, although it was almost pure entertainment at times. 

Sincerely Greg Henry Waters