Art of Time Ensemble: Songbook with Brent Carver on Tour 2/24/2017
It seems like a formality at this point, but the Art of Time Ensemble is one of the absolute best at what they do. Their concert from last night was no exception and serves as a continuing affirmation. The first stop of their tour “Songbook: Brent Carver on Tour” was Toronto’s very own Koerner Hall, a short subway ride north from their normal venue at the Harbourfront.
The set, consisting of sixteen songs (seventeen if you count a reprise), displayed Carver’s vocal and stylistic range as well as his theatrical flair. Leading into songs with Shakespeare quotes, he balanced his performance between a soft tenderness to extreme flamboyance. In this flamboyance, he seemed particularly comfortable, especially when singing standards by songwriting duo Kander and Ebb, and Jacques Brel’s “Madeline.” Often mobile (literally pacing and weaving about on stage), Carver blurred the line at times between a featured vocalist or an MC, even leading the audience in a sing-along during the final reprise of the song “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” originally by John Kellette.
Alongside Carver, the arrangements of the songs were of particular note — especially for their excellence. This is perhaps a bit harder and nebulous to appreciate. An easy solution to arranging songs is to simply set them plainly and allow the already standardized harmony, melody, and lyrics do all the work. Here that is very much not the case. The arrangements bring a level depth and artistry to song arranging that is often overlooked. The settings of Janis Ian’s “In the Winter,” Joe Jackson’s “The Man Who Wrote Danny Boy,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz” were particularly noteworthy.
This for me is all the more fascinating since these are pop settings without any percussion (a surprising consideration to someone new to the ensemble such as myself) adding to the quality and difficulty of these arrangements.
The ensemble themselves are top-class musicians. Peter Lutek deserves particular praise for his improvisations which performance wise, and aside from Carver himself, was a major highlight of the evening.
Assuming you wanted to see the ensemble in Toronto you probably couldn’t have — the venue was sold out. Again, for good reason. To those in Vancouver and Stratford: if you have even a passing interest in this show make sure to get tickets.
I only wish there were more to say or elaborate on. Sometimes, a concert is just, simply, good.