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Chris Dowbiggin

An evening of blues with Chaotically Zen

A key component to building a successful music career is the virtue of patience. Such is the central quality of a young, up-and-coming band from Prince Edward Island. For the members of Chaotically Zen, it has been a year-long process of writing enough quality material to fill a double album, followed by a fruitful recording session at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. These efforts culminated in a live performance before a packed house at Charlottetown’s The Guild on June 30th. The band had set aside this evening to release their debut LP Liquid Diet, performing a number of tracks from their new record for fans of a local music scene already rich in talent. Chaotically Zen are purveyors of the traditional procession-style blues-rock jam. A type of sound usually suited to larger environments with plenty of sprawling space, the band’s live sound was neither compromised nor confined within the intimate setting of The Guild. The set began with the saccharine “I’ll Be There,” perfectly accented with the alluring violin fills of Kurt MacLeod. The band then took a 180-degree-turn by delving into an intriguing experiment, involving relative music keys, with a Lux Aeterna/Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” mash-up. The gravelly wail of lead singer Cory Ellis during the chorus punctuated the buildup of intensity in the only set-list addition that did not fall under the category of blues or jam rock. From there, the set careened off in different directions, from the playful political-correctness of “Government Speed” to the seductive blues ballad entitled “Wild Wild Woman.” The best performance was saved for “Union Moon,” a tender six-minute folk-rock ballad draped in piercing keyboards. In this song, the band channels the traditional southern rock spirit of Neil Young, Lynrd Skynrd and the Allman Brothers Band. This feeling is especially… Read More

The spirited rise of Ultimate Frisbee in Canada

For an activity that is widely viewed as a new-age sport by the general public, Ultimate (Frisbee) has firmly established itself in North America as a sport rich in culture, spirit and talent. The sport that is commonly referred to as a hybrid of Soccer and American Football, Ultimate has grown to represent itself as less of a backyard game and more of a fast-paced and exciting competitive sport at many levels, with potential to market towards the niche of North American sports fans. Actually, that latter part has already been achieved. In 2012, for the first time ever, two professional Ultimate leagues were formed in the United States: The American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) and Major League Ultimate (MLU) governed franchises with rosters of salaried players throughout the U.S. and Canada. Although both leagues still have plenty of room for growth to evolve into premiere mainstream sport organizations, what once seemed like a pipe dream for ultimate fanatics has finally become reality. Based on the merits of performance, the first two seasons of both leagues have given plenty of reason for Canadian fans to be excited about Ultimate. The AUDL’s Toronto Rush won the inaugural season championship in 2013, and found themselves in the championship match again this past July, albeit losing to the San Jose Spiders. Meanwhile, the MLU’s Vancouver Nighthawks went on a spirited post season run to the final this summer, where they eventually lost to the D.C. Current. Considering the Pacific coast and Central Canadian provinces are the unofficial hotbeds in the nation for Ultimate popularity (as well as the most densely populated in general) it’s no secret that these areas already rich in interest and development are considered ground zero for ultimate enthusiasm stemming its way across the country. That is not to say… Read More

Same as it ever was: 30th Anniversary of ‘Stop Making Sense’

From the camera slowly pulling away from David Byrne’s white shoes as he walks onstage, to the final wide shot of the empty stage after ‘Cross eyed and Painless”, the live performance film Stop Making Sense captures a band at the pinnacle of their success – both commercially and artistically – through a cinematic gem. Thirty years ago, American experimental rock revolutionists Talking Heads released their stunning concert film to the masses. It was unanimously acclaimed by critics everywhere and immediately established its legacy as one of the finest concert films ever made. Director Jonathan Demme, known for his future works Silence Of The Lambs and Philadelphia, combined his exceptional technical skills as a director with the visionary performance aesthetics of Byrne to produce a concert film unlike any other at the time. But what makes the film an artistic tour-de-force? Why is it entitled to stand amongst the most spectacular concert films such as Martin Scorcese’s The Last Waltz ? What legacy did it leave behind? For Byrne, many aspects of the performance were inspired by traditional Japanese theatre, namely Kabuki, which incorporates onstage participation from assistants to help with the transformation of the show. This directly influenced the concept of having stagehands ‘build the show’ as it progressed, rolling equipment on huge, rectangular risers while Byrne and his band mates played through the first batch of songs on the set list. When boiled down, the concept is extremely simple: start with an empty stage (Byrne opening with ‘Psycho Killer’ all alone) and keep adding elements as the show progresses until everything and everyone makes it on stage. “The audience would see each piece of stage gear being put into place and then see, as soon as possible afterward, what that instrument or type of lighting did,” Byrne wrote… Read More

After Hours: How a film captured the life of Van “Piano Man” Walls

In 1995, Steve Morris had the opportunity to interview a legend of popular music at the historical National Film Board Studio 2 in Montreal. The subject, a weathered-looking, elderly African-American man clad in a suit with a Star of David chain draped around his neck, was seated in front of a grand piano under the glow of carefully-placed studio lights. When questioned where his musical inspiration comes from, the man answered in a graveled voice: “It always comes from the heart. If it don’t come from there, you’re wasting your time.” This mantra has been echoed by countless musicians throughout the years, but it didn’t take away from Morris’s sweet satisfaction in knowing that after five years of being brushed off, he finally had his first on-camera interview with rhythm and blues pioneer Vann “Piano Man” Walls. Before leaving the studio that day, Vann glanced at the studio control room, and in a solemn admission, told Morris that he had one more album left in him. This turned out to be a defining moment in the development of the film Morris hoped to create. Vann “Piano Man” Walls: The Spirit of R&B was released in late 2013 after much delay, and is the directorial debut of Morris, who has long been involved with the National Film Board of Canada. It debuted at the Montreal Film Festival last year, and has since played at the 2014 Sherbrooke and Memphis International Film Festivals. It tells the decades-spanning story of American-born rhythm and blues pianist Vann Walls, who was regarded by peers and music fans as a dynamic innovator in popular music, rising to fame as a session musician for R&B kingpin Atlantic Records during the 1940s and 50s. It was during this time that Vann was credited as an essential musician on… Read More