One of my favourite things about receiving an invitation to an intimate gathering for a friend’s birthday – besides the celebration and being with friends – is the opportunity of going to a place I’ve never been. And the adventure of a new space and how anything can happen.
My pal Kira Callahan organized such an outing for her fête this past Friday, starting with an afternoon visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario (which I couldn’t attend as it was a work day), dinner over jazz at Quotes and a CD launch at the Alliance Française Toronto: Amélie et Les Singes Bleus (Amélie and the blue monkeys) À l’étage des funambules (The tightrope walker lives upstairs).
Before I get into the CD launch, I want to give a shout out to Quote’s amazing jazz combo, The Canadian Jazz Quartet: Gary Benson (guitar), Frank Wright (vibes), Duncan Hopkins (bass) and Don Vickery (drums), with Friday’s featured guest Russ Little on trombone. We managed to catch their first set and a couple of tunes into the second, and I gotta say, Little’s playing is as smooth as silk and he’s one of the most joyful, positive guys I’ve ever met. An excellent way to spend an early Friday evening – and Quotes’ burgers are very tasty. Pay them a visit sometime – Quotes is downstairs from Barootes at 220 King St. West, Toronto: http://www.barootes.com/
From there, Kira and I took the subway up to the Annex (Spadina/Bloor area) to meet the rest of the gang at the Alliance Française space (http://www.alliance-francaise.ca/en/) – this time for some French standards – and what a treat!
Opening for Amélie and her band was the lovely and dynamic duo of female musicians: Willow Rutherford on vocals and accordion, and Virpi Kettu on violin. Charming, talented and so much fun! And Amélie’s daughter Eloïse enchanted the audience by dancing along. (Merçi to Rizaldo Padilla for the info on the names of these delightful performers.)
I suppose at this point I should mention – not so much by way of disclaimer as an FYI in the spirit of full disclosure – I am not fluent in French. While I do remember a remarkable amount of high school French, it’s still high school French – very rusty at that, and I’ve found that I understand it much better than I speak or write it. Hence, I tend to fall into Franglais – or Frenglish, as one of my French Twitter pals likes to call it. And, anyway, I like to think that music transcends language and cultural differences.
As I write this post, I’m listening to the À l’étage des funambules CD – and the audience’s introduction to Amélie et Les Singes Bleus was bang on: what you hear onstage is exactly what you hear in this recording. This band is tight and Amélie Lefebvre’s vocals are strong, sultry and playful. The band, Les Singes Bleus, features stand-out musicians Beth Washburn (trumpet, alto tuba), Rizaldo Padilla (guitar), Brad Hart (drums, percussion, guitar) and Rick Walters (bass, clarinet) – and they all provide incredible back-up vocals.
From sexy, swingin’ original tunes like “Avec toi” (written by Lefebvre and Padilla) and “Big city” (Lefebvre) to beautiful, haunting melancholy ballads like “Gottingen” (by Barbara, the stage name of famous French singer Monique Andrée Serf), and the sheer fun of “Les singes” (when Lefebvre sings sections through a bull horn – super fun!) and “Elaeudanlatéitéia” (which had us up out of our front row seats and dancing in front of the stage) – this was a big fun, magical evening of music and friends. Coincidentally, when I looked Barbara up online, I learned that we share a birthday – yet another amazing birthday twin to celebrate!
Beyond the incredibly polished vocals and musicianship, I was struck by how much fun these guys were having – with each other and with the audience. There was even a blue monkey or two – inflatable toys, one of which Lefebvre had up onstage and tossed into the audience. Such a warm, friendly and fun atmosphere – everyone laid back and enjoying the music.
Seriously, check these guys out. Here’s the English version of Amélie et Les Singes Bleus website: http://www.lessingesbleus.com/en/home.aspx