Linsey Wellman's New Deal
Jamari Espresso House
Sunday, May 19, 2019 – 2 p.m.
The sun came out, the temperatures inched up to almost warm, and music spilled out into the street through open doorways as Linsey Wellman and Keith Hartshorn-Walton brought evocative Balkan-style jazz melodies and rhythms to the Jamari Espresso House on Sunday.
The snug Hintonburg café has been offering Sunday afternoon shows – mostly jazz with occasional folk or classical performers – since last November, but this afternoon was the most-springlike yet, encouraging them to open the place up. It was the second time that Wellman and Hartshorn-Walton had played there; they usually play this repertoire as the New Deal Trio with drummer Mike Essoudry, but there was simply no room for a drumset in the café's confined space.
The two perched in a cushioned alcove at one end of the shop, and played to a small but attentive audience with coffees in hand. Hartshorn-Walton was on tuba and Wellman on baritone sax and clarinet, instruments often used in Balkan music and whose wide range, rhythmic capabilities, and clear sound added punch to the music.
The group's name was originally the Wedding and Funeral Trio, but Wellman recently changed it to the New Deal Trio – a Great-Depression-influenced name which reflects the titles of many of the tunes he's written for the trio, including “Modern-Day Serfs” and “Hand to Mouth”. Those titles are actually more dour than the music itself, which was generally active and dancing and interlaced.
One of the influences Wellman cites for the music is avant-garde jazz composer John Zorn. The duo opened the show with a song from Zorn's Masada Quartet, whose compositions examine Jewish culture. “Bith Aneth” was a stately number, with baritone and tuba alternating playing the melody and anchoring the piece with deep rhythmic puffs of sound.
Three other tunes were from the Kočani Orkestar, a Romani brass band from North Macedonia, which Wellman had heard live in Holland (“Boy, those guys can play!”). It's a large-scale band whose lineup includes clarinet and at least three tubas, and whose sound mixes brass band with Turkish and Bulgarian rhythms.
The duo's stripped-down version of Kočani's “Ibraim Odja” had both ornamenting a quiet and sustained melody, while “Burkan Cocek” was an attention-grabbing number featuring a deep insistent riff on tuba and baritone alternating with reminiscent melodies. Wellman said that “Doise” sounds a lot more full with a brass band, “but we do our best”; it was a dramatic number with many fast variations on the initial theme.
Wellman's own compositions combined driving and dancing rhythms with rounded tuba and arching baritone lines (or, alternatively, trembling or joyful clarinet). Often one musician would provide the basic beat, while the other created a stirring melody. Some tunes, like “The Poor Get Poorer” were sombre with occasional harsh overtones; others, like “Below the Poverty Line” were poignant and expressive; and “It All Trickles Up” built on a Balkan-style dance tune in joyful variations.
The café is in a quieter area of Hintonburg, in an enclave bounded by but not beside the main arterials of Wellington and Parkdale and Holland. Although some motorists and cyclists went by, there were even more pedestrians and dog-walkers, many of whom looked in, attracted by the music.
I find that Wellman's New Deal music, whether performed by duo or trio, touches a deep emotional point within me with its evocative melodies. At this show, you could hear how well Wellman and Hartshorn-Walton were attuned to each other in the closeness of their playing. They created music that sticks in your memory afterwards.
PS: a warning, if you go to Jamari: don't try to sit in the hanging basket chair while holding a coffee cup. Unless you can carefully push the chair right up against the wall and balance exactly correctly, it will dump you on the floor.
- Bith Aneth [John Zorn]
- Modern-Day Serfs [Linsey Wellman]
- The Rich Get Richer [Linsey Wellman]
- The Poor Get Poorer [Linsey Wellman]
- Ibraim Odja [Kočani Orkestar]
- It All Trickles Up [Linsey Wellman]
- Income Gap [Linsey Wellman]
- Below the Poverty Line [Linsey Wellman]
- Doise [Kočani Orkestar]
- Burkan Cocek [Kočani Orkestar]
- Hand to Mouth [Linsey Wellman]
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