Sultans of String: Koerner Hall

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Toronto, ON.
Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Watching people stream out of the St. George Station and roll directly towards Koerner Hall as if on tracks was an indicator of just how far Sultans of String have come from their beginnings in the small clubs on the Danforth, to the magnificence of Koerner Hall.  Once the show started, they looked totally at home on a stage spacious enough to accommodate seventy-something people and leave lots of space.

Like many in the audience, I’d never seen the Sultans do their symphony thing, so the anticipation barre was way high. Doubly so for those who’d heard the songs from Symphony!, the band’s current release and centrepiece of the show.

The full house was to be treated to the songs on the album, as recorded, with full symphony Ork in attendance. With the orchestra in place and warmed up, the Sultans of String took the stage to a wave of applause and promptly launched into the sparkling, flamenco flavoured ‘Alhambra”, followed by "Rainflower Kitchen Party, a six minute romp through all sounds Celtic, then into “Josie, a virtuoso set piece for McKhool’s showcase of the many styles of ‘roots’ violin playing and onwards to the gypsy jazzy, guitar-powered “Emerald Swing”.

At times it’s like watching a relay race as designed by the Fast and Furious folk; Kevin Laliberte and Eddie Paton take off on a furious and scintillating guitar flight into the dizzying heights, where they smoothly hand off to McKhool’s versatile six-string violin arpeggios and glissandos, taking the pace even faster, reaching notes ever higher and you wonder how it will ever come back to earth again and then the foundation bass playing of Drew Birston comes in and lays down a safe landing space for Roger Travassos’ fluttery percussive passes to guide it gently down.

The Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra, under the conduction of Maestro Norman Reintamm, come on with a lively, vivid style and while you’d think much of that was on account of the nature of SoS compositions, when the C-Bluffs crew got their solo number, “Saturday Night at Fort Chambly, an historically generated piece by Canuck composer Alex Eddington, they showed no lack of colour or flair.

SoS ended the first half with the jazzy and densely nuanced “Luna” and left the stage to wild applause from an audience clearly primed for much more. The second set opened with the solo piece from the orchestra, then guitarist extraordinaire Kevin Laliberte came on to perfrom the virtuoso piece “A Place to Call Home”, backed by the string section. Such is the quality of the musicianship on display in Sultans of String it’s easy to overlook the emotional content. The more intimate pieces such as “A Place…” work well in redressing that.

Then it was into the flamenco fireworks of “Al Vuelo” and onto “Sable Island’ and by now they own this audience, so into it that they’re now applauding individual solos, clapping along and body-bopping in their seats.

But the truest sign o’ the times was the Devil Horns, the traditional heavy metal salute, likely never seen in these hallowed surroundings before. Seated in front of me was a young dude not much better than 10 years old and by his attitude, a seasoned concert goer. Participation was his thing and he was never less than forthcoming, leading every clap along sequence, and as Sultans of String fans’ll tell ya, there will be those.

When it got to the closing number, “Auyuittuq Sunrise”, the boy could no longer contain himself, jumping to his feet and raising up the double Devil Horns on high.

Memo to Sultans of String: When the kids are busting out the Devil Horns on your behalf in Koerner Hall, the future looks very bright indeed.