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CBC Radio 2: Canada Live

Live-on-stage works are riches to encounter and explore

By Steven Peacock

Daily 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

We may not hear classical performances on Canada Live, but the evening show does provide a wide sampling of what’s happening in practically every other musical genre. Canada Live broadcasts from a different Canadian city every night, with different performers and venues in each hour.

On Jan. 1, for example, the feel-good funk of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings was followed by a cabaret tribute to the Duke Ellington songbook with pianist Andrew Craig and prominent Toronto musicians Jackie Richardson and Don Franks — an effective transition from a polished, commercial texture to something more complex and fully realized.

I listened to three episodes in each of the first two weeks of 2009, and several patterns emerged beyond the sheer variety of musical styles represented. The more seasoned performers, often featured in the second (usually strongest) hour, were generally excellent, notably Edmonton’s “go-to” tenor saxophonist Dave Babcock and, during the Jan. 7 Winnipeg broadcast, Florent Vollant and Lucie Idlout, both well-established singer-songwriters whose “music as medicine” evocation showed them in full command of their creative powers.

Many of the programs followed a “celebration” theme, notably of the songs of Jimi Hendrix (original treatments of such tunes as Waterfall and Little Wing, live from Vancouver’s Hendrix House) and of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul (insightful arrangements by Edmonton guitarist and singer-songwriter Robert Walsh). These community-based celebrations provide an important access for many local players to a national audience.

Several broadcasts featured new or relatively new artists (such as Vancouver’s Ndidi Onukwulu) and established artists with a mostly regional profile, such as Township singer Lorraine Klaasen and Brazil-influenced pop singer Carol Welsman, both Montreal-based. In some cases, their otherwise strong performances failed to sustain my interest for a full hour, but I’m reassured that the regional and national producers were willing to take some risks.

More generally, the broadcasts I sampled were of uneven quality: although the production values were very good, the vocal performances (most of the music is song-oriented) were sometimes weak. And the commentary, always unobtrusive, was generally short on analysis; even the artists’ own insights were usually autobiographical rather than musical.

I’ll continue to listen to Canada Live for those moments when live-on-stage works live-on-radio; almost anything can happen, and there are many riches to encounter and explore. As a Maritimer, I’ll even look for broadcasts originating east of Montreal, though it may take time for Canada Live to embrace the Atlantic region more broadly.

Steven Peacock is music director at Wilmot United in Fredericton.
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