Tuesday, May 23, 2017
   
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The Mash Potato Mashers: a very big sound

It's Monday. Mike Essoudry finished his ambitious Octet show at the NAC Fourth Stage on Saturday night, and has now come down with a cold. It's likely one outcome of the stress, and certainly the lack of sleep, associated with bringing a big show together.

But on the phone, the Ottawa drummer, composer, and band-leader enthusiastically describes his next project. "Mash Potato Mashers" will debut one week after his previous show, with an even larger group – nine pieces – and a different sound.

"You first describe it to people and they say 'It's kind of big and it's kind of weird. What's this going to be ?' "

What it's going to be has been developing in his mind for ten years. "Cooking for a long, long time", Mike says.

It started when he first heard and saw a New Orleans Marching band parading through the streets at the Montreal Jazzfest ten years ago. He liked the portability of the music and describes it as "really cool, really funky".

"With two drummers you get a very, very big sound, the groove is that much fatter.

I started to hear the tuba as a bass instrument. That's a beautiful bass instrument – and it's portable and loud enough. Otherwise, it's acoustic bass, which isn't portable, or electric bass and you use an amp."

He started to see more bands. A couple of years ago, he saw a drum line. The whole tradition in the United States of marching bands in universities, like football bands, appealed to him.

He listened to Balkan music – from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia.

"The music is so mixed in many ways. And there's a trumpet festival in Serbia with a parade of all these trumpet bands: trumpets, euphoniums, and drummers. One after another."

When he was in Paris last fall, he woke up one day and there were four marching bands in the street. Mike raved about the experience. "This is great! Four marching bands in the street in one day."

"A couple of years ago, I saw this band in New York, Slavic Soul Party, which is the closest thing to what I do. They were playing this crazy, fantastic dance music in a tiny little club: all different parade traditions. That's what I'm after.

Mike Essoudry (snare drum) and marching band at the 2009 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Photo ©2009 Brett Delmage"There's a Balkan parade, a klezmer kind of parade, there's Brazilian parade music, and second-line – the New Orleans stuff. They are all great parade traditions, all danceable music. It's music from cultures that are old and deep. Jazz can be a bit cerebral... right?... and there's a bit of a disconnect. It's a great way to play dance music. You can be right in with everybody."

I asked Mike if a marching band was held back by playing in a club.

"A parade style [band] is not constrained in a pub as long as you can dance and move around.  The end goal of this band is to not read, to not have any charts, because that way we are free to roam anywhere.

"The other beauty of this band is that I don't need power. I can be anywhere."

He is hoping to present the band at festivals this summer, where the group can march up and down streets and around parks to engage audiences. He definitely wants to get up and move around the bar this Saturday. But the band will face an unusual challenge that most bands that play in bars don't have to worry about.

Brian Sanderson (tuba) and Mike Essoudry (bass drum) and marching band at the 2009 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Photo ©2009 Brett Delmage"Brian [Sanderson] is pretty tall when he stands up with his tuba... it's over seven feet I think. I could never play at the [now-closed New] Bayou. Certain venues have low ceilings. I have to be careful about that."

Before the interview about this week's show ends, Mike is already talking about extending the idea, doing Canadian folk tunes in a parade style. He names The Log Driver's Waltz, The Black Fly Song, or "maybe some Stompin' Tom tunes".

"Make one sound like a klezmer song, or Balkan. So you have this cross of culture that way: Canadian, but part of a different thing.

"For me it's going to be artistically really rewarding, and it's a lot of fun."

Mike Essoudry's Mash Potato Mashers play at Le Petit Chicago on Saturday, February 13. They will also play at Irene's on Friday, March 19, and at the Elmdale Tavern on Saturday, May 1.

– Brett Delmage

Photos ©2009 Brett Delmage