Foot tappin’ good time
The amazing musicians of La Bottine Souriante provide highlights at the Chico World Music Festival
I didn’t get to see much of the Chico World Music Festival this year, but the one show I did catch was a doozy.
Friday evening’s headlining concert at Laxson Auditorium featured La Bottine Souriante from Quebec, and the band more than lived up to its premier placement in the festival’s lineup.
The wide Laxson stage was spread from side to side with gleaming instruments under the glowing round festival banner. Keyboards, trombones, saxophones, assorted exotic drums, violins, guitars, accordions and microphones promised a rich mélange of sound was in store, and after a brief introduction by dapper Dan DeWayne and a smattering of hesitant applause from the unusually subdued audience, La Bottine Souriante began parading onto the stage following the rythmically clinking clave of cowboy-hatted bass trombonist Robert Ellis.
The rhythm section of pianist Pierre Bélisle, bassist Régent Archambault and guitarist Michel Bordeleau, augmented by horn players Andre Verreault (trombone), Jocelyn Lapointe (trumpet), and Jean Frechette (saxophone) and accented by the careening violin of Andre Brunet, soon built the initially quiet intro into a Dixieland carnival crescendo into which accordionist and lead singer Yves Lambert wove a flickering melody in duet with the fiddle. All in all, a very rousing start for a concert that would contain many high points and no low ones.
Having been willingly captivated, the audience roared its approval and the band unleashed an unexpected treat. Dancer extraordinaire Sandy Silva, who was not listed on the show’s program, slipped among the musicians and onto the open front of the stage during a tune that artfully combined the best elements of Cajun, Irish and New Orleans jazz and performed an interpretive dance that fit the music like a flame fits a candle wick. Just when you’d think that the performance was a dazzling improvisation, band and dancer would synchronize so tightly that it seemed months of rehearsal would be necessary to achieve such absolute cohesion of melody, rhythm and dance. You could tell from looks on the faces of the dancer and musicians that however they had achieved it, they were all very much joyfully in the moment of this night’s creation.
Lambert, an imposing figure with the physique and demeanor of a sardonically good-natured dancing bear, presented a slower song next, sparse in its instrumentation, featuring the resonant growl of Ellis’s bass trombone and a somber vocal. Perhaps to counterbalance its somberness the song metamorphosed into a sprightly jig before ending.
After a “politics song” that featured some great call-and-response vocals between Lambert and the rest of the band, Silva returned for a solo number that demonstrated her amazing technique and charm through tap dancing. But Silva’s tapping, be it ever so lovely, cannot be described without comparing it to the simply amazing footwork of Michel Bordeleau, whose billing in the program credits him with—besides guitar, fiddle, mandolin, drum, and vocals—foot tapping (a misleadingly humble term in his case). Bordeleau tapped with a Gene Krupa-like intensity and finesse throughout, while sitting down and playing his phalanx of instruments; his feet alone made the price of admission worth paying. And I’m not selling the band short: Each individual musician was genuinely amazing and each was given more than one moment to prove it.
Any band that in the course of a review inspires me to jot down things ranging as far and wide as Cajun gumbo, 007 soundtracks, the jazz fusion of Weather Report, belly dancing, and heart-rending five-part a cappella harmonies is a band that I consider worth seeing more than once. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes and ears open for La Bottine Souriante.