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From left to right: Jayme Stone, Moira Smiley, Joe Phillips, and Sumaia Jackson, perform at NAC's Fourth Stage. All photos by Terry Steeves.

Jayme Stone brings music of the world to the NAC

By Terry Steeves on March 21, 2016

Wednesday night at NAC’s Fourth Stage was a treat for the ears to those that attended Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project show. Canadian Juno-award winning, Jayme Stone, known for his innovative and creative interpretations on the banjo, along with three accompanying musicians, took the crowd on a trip through traditional musical cultures of the world.

Stone spent a number of years researching the documented field recordings of American researcher and musicologist, Alan Lomax, from which he re-imagined, reworked and recorded 20 pieces on his latest album, Jayme Stone’s – The Lomax Project. Stone worked with 15 musicians on this album, some of which join him on tour on what has now become an on-going project. Wednesday’s show included freshly chosen pieces from the vast Lomax library, which will find their way onto an upcoming record.

Gathered around a vintage microphone were artists Jayme Stone (banjo, vocals), Moira Smiley (accordion, banjo, lead vocals), Sumaia Jackson (fiddle, vocals), and Joe Phillips (double-bass, vocals). They shared the pure sounds of early string combinations, accordion, and voice, and brought us an audio/visual glimpse of what such traditional musical gatherings might have been like. Organic touches of hand-clapping, thigh-slapping, foot-stomping, and even their own instruments as percussive tools all helped to paint the picture of an era of music and culture encapsulated throughout the 20th century.

Stone spoke of the legacy of material collected by Alan Lomax over a 60 year period, which began in 1933, and captured some of the early pioneers of American music, such as Lead Belly, Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton, Molly Jackson, and Woody Guthrie. He would later take it a step further by documenting the music from many cultures around the world, including the UK, France, Italy, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Spain, West Africa, and the Caribbean.

Singer, accordionist, banjoist, Moira Smiley.

Singer, accordionist, banjoist, Moira Smiley.

“Goodbye Old Paint”, a song written by a 7-year old cowhand, was delivered with a fiddle-plucked melody, and the melancholy drone of the accordion. Smiley’s sweet vocals tenderly wove through the lyrics of this piece about life on the farm in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“Shenandoah”, exhibited another amazing display of texture, which began with the raw beauty of a sung Celtic melody over a single note sustain on the fiddle and double-bass. It was a clear example of how minimal instrumentation can often convey the most emotion. The song later grew in strength as it flowed into a bright-tempoed rush, highlighted with Stone’s quick-plucking banjo solo that brought a flourish to the rhythm.

I also loved the expressive “Nous Pas Danser”, which entwined through a mish-mash of Creole and rhythms. Smiley once again stole the stage as she sung the song’s playfully humorous lyrics and scatted freely, while Stone kept up a scratching beat with his fingers on the head of the banjo.

More of Smiley’s truly impressive and flexible vocals were shown off on a slowed down hootenanny piece, “Hey Lally Lally Lo”, written by Lomax himself. Originally written as a lively, cowboy dance number, this interpretation bore an early 30’s jazz/blues torch-like sultriness. Stone’s banjo chording, Jackson’s bow-hitting squeaks off the fiddle, and some foot-stomping/thigh-slapping, further lent to the song’s organic flavour.

The crowd swayed to the beat of the 1941 Virginia reel square dance tune, “The Big-Footed Man”, which featured some fine fiddle playing by Jackson, and superb layering instrumentation. This piece, as well as others like “The Boatsman”, and “Lazy John”, all brought to life the gathering of musicians and instruments of the day.

Occasionally, the musicians would draw in close to each other, each lost in their own counterpoint rhythms and melodies, in a marvellous melange of full sound that was a delight to hear as well as see.

There were Bahamian sea chanties, ancient Appalachian ballads, and some great African-American a cappella pieces, complete with a hand-clapping game accompaniment of percussion. The audience was encouraged to sing in a few numbers near the end of the show, which included “Sheep Sheep Dont’cha Know The Ro”, and “I Wanna Hear Somebody Pray”, which turned the whole room into a gospel choir setting.

The crowd jumped to their feet at the end of the show and the band returned to play out a few more numbers. By the end of the performance, one was left feeling they had just taken a historical and musical journey across the world…brought back to a simpler time of people gathered in the sharing of spirit, stories, and song.

Learn more about Jayme Stone and the The Lomax Project here.