Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Concert Review: Jay Douglas, Mighty Pope and Others; From Jamaica To Toronto- Second Reunion- Friday March 2/07, Lee's Palace, Toronto

Various Artists; From Jamaica to Toronto Reunion, Friday March 2, Lee’s Palace

Last summer saw the release of a delightful compilation of domestic soul and reggae recorded in Toronto by Jamaican ex-patriots. “From Jamaica To Toronto”, compiled by Vancouver’s D.J. Sipreano was an ambitious labour of love uncovering an all-but-forgotten segment of the early Canadian music scene. The c.d. release was followed by a grand reunion performance of many of the artists featured on the disc backed by many of the original musicians augmented by talented locals such as Jason Wilson and the Ali brothers. The concert was broadcast live on CIUT 89.5 fm and well received by people on and off the air.

The success of this project has inspired an ongoing follow-up, including such hopeful projects as a tour later this year and a documentary about the people involved with the music featured on “From Jamaica To Toronto”.

Tonight’s event was covered widely this week, but the weather seemed like a more powerful force than the local media, and the turn-out wasn’t as large as it surely would have been on a decent night. Regardless, there were many serious fans in the house who weren’t deterred by the snow storm, and the CBC also showed up to document the evening for some unspecified future use.

The backing band was smaller than last summer’s extravaganza, and there were fewer singers as well. Noel Ellis wasn’t around tonight even though Sipreano and the people at the Light In The Attic label reissued his 1983 album on c.d. at the end of last summer.

Bob and Wisdom pulled out just before the event (they were on the bill as of Thursday) and certain musicians were conspicuously absent, including Lloyd Delpratt. The keyboard player’s sublime instrumental “Together” was a highlight on the c.d. and at last summer’s Harbourfront reunion. Bernie Pitters handled the keyboards instead, along with a second keyboard which was shared by other musicians. The first singer ran through a couple of soulful reggae staples including Dennis Brown’s classic “If I Had The World”. Jason Wilson played guitar for a change (he usually plays keyboards), Everton Paul was on drums, and the bass player kept a rather low profile, remaining near the back of the stage near Bernie Pitters.

Glen Ricketts was the next singer up. He wasn’t on the bill originally, but presumably he was brought in to round out the set since Bob and Wisdom would not be in this evening. He ran through a few reggae and soul covers including “If Loving You Is Wrong”. Glen sounded good, but his repertoire was standard opening fare at local roots reggae revue shows. The actual songs on the c.d. being celebrated tonight were all but ignored during this first set. Closing this reggae-heavy first set with Johnnie Osbourne’s instrumental “African Wake” would have worked particularly well.

The second set kick started the soul celebration. Mighty Pope, who was one of the highlights of last summer’s Harbourfront reunion, put on an excellent show. He sang the obscure RAM gem “Love Is The Answer” which he presumably used to sing regularly when he front Wayne McGhie’s RAM project at Wasaga Beach during their 1972 summer residency there. Sadly, Wayne continues to refuse to play in public despite his support for the “Jamaica to Toronto” project.

Jay Douglas, whose new c.d. was for sale at the club tonight, was the final performer of the evening. Jay kicked off leading the band through a wonderful rendition of the Jackie Mittoo single “Soul Bird”. Many in the audience immediately recognized this infectious nugget, which had Jay sustaining the energetic vibe built by Mighty Pope. He then ran through a few James Brown covers, but the highlight of his set was the Temptations cover “I Wish It Would Rain”, featured as a Bob and Wisdom single on the c.d. but performed by Jay Douglas tonight as a duet with one of the Mullings sisters who provided backing vocal through the evening. They are daughters of the late Karl Mullings, and Carrie Mullings was instrumental in connecting c.d. compiler Sipreano with many of the singers and players involved with the performances on the c.d.

Jay Douglas’ energetic set ended the night on a high note, but an encore or two would have been better. Nonetheless, the show was long enough, if perhaps padded with some overplayed covers that are not particularly relevant to the legacy of these artists. Adding “Soul Bird” was an excellent choice, but one James Brown cover is enough.

The performers involved in this reunion should probably tighten up the set list and add a few more vintage soul tracks to their repertoire, especially if they want to take this revue on a non-reggae tour based on the popularity of the c.d. itself, with its emphasis on soul more than reggae. A couple of Wayne McGhie cuts and the riveting Jackie Mittoo track “Grand Funk” from the c.d. would be a great start. Reggae performed by Jamaican ex-pats in Toronto is no secret among reggae fans, but the funk and soul side of these performers’ musical output is what makes the whole “From Jamaica To Toronto” reunions all the more intriguing. The performers involved are all in great form either as singers or players, and they are in a position to present a rare and possibly final glimpse of a long gone exciting local soul and funk music scene. A reunion revue tour is a great idea whose time has come. The clock is ticking.

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