By Nicole Fitzgerald
What: Real Canadian in Whistler Series
Who: Kaeshammer & Manx
When: Wednesday, Oct. 11, 8 p.m.
Where: MY Millennium Place
Mixing a boogie-woogie pianist with an Indian-inspired guitarist on one stage sounds like a pending musical disaster. But somewhere between the two seemingly incompatible styles pianist Michael Kaeshammer and Harry Manx find a neutral zone in the blues, putting their music into a category of one, where the sublime rises from the seemingly impossible.
This meeting of the blues is welcomed across Canada in the coming months with the 50-concert tour kicking off in Whistler Wednesday at 8 p.m. at MY Millennium Place as part of the Real Canadian in Whistler Series.
“Blues is the common ground where we feel comfortable to explore,” said Manx, who resides on Salt Spring Island.
“We both learn a lot being out on stage together and we stretch our musicality quite a bit,” Kaeshammer said from his Montreal home.
Stretch is a bit of an understatement.
Both provinces and musical styles apart, the two award-winning musicians come together not out of necessity, but choice: each boasts an impressive solo career that keeps them in recording studios and globe trotting. However, performing as a duo shakes things up for the Juno Award-winning recording artists.
This unique fusion was the result of a northern B.C. town wanting to hire the two musicians on the same day. Manx and Kaeshammer agreed to a double bill and the magic began.
The two enjoy how the partnership challenges the scope of their musicianship, delivering largely improvised shows. The first half of the performance is devoted to separate solo shows, the second half is a united music front.
“For me it is two things (I like about the show),” said Kaeshammer. “I get to do a solo piano which I don’t often get to do and the other part is that I am learning something every time I am on stage with Harry. There is a lot of space in Harry’s playing. It’s all about setting a mood. Even after 60 days (of touring), it doesn’t get stale. I can sometimes get thrown into cold water and get up where he doesn’t expect it. He does the same for me. The question always being, ‘How are you going to deal with this?’”
The dealing is what makes the partnership performance so powerful: the risk factor is high, but the results even loftier.
“A lot of our live shows are built around improvising,” Manx said. “It’s great for the audience. We paint ourselves into a corner musically and then try to figure a way out. The creative energy that is happening right in the front row can be really exciting for an audience.”
No collective album is in the works yet; the two are too busy with other projects.
Manx continues to add to his ever-growing album credits with CD number seven, In Good We Trust , Manx’s second collaboration with famed Canadian guitarist Kevin Breit of Norah Jones’s band. The blues album will be released on Stoney Plane Records in the New Year. The album showcases the eastern-fused guitar stylings Manx is famous for.
In studying under Rajathani Indian musician Vishaw Mohan Bhatt (a Grammy-Award winner for A Meeting by the River) for five years in India, Manx discovered a common ground between Indian raga and North American blues.
“Indian raga has the same notes as a blue scale,” Manx explained. “It is only different in how you approach your notes. I can weave them together.”
Kaeshammer is also in recording mode amidst preproduction for his fifth album on Alma Records and Universal Music Canada. The young musician dips into the history of ragtime, stride, boogie woogie and early jazz stylings and surfaces with a funk-inspired, contemporary vision on the ivories.
“That is what I still love playing — New Orleans piano music, ragtime, blues — but I am trying to stretch it more into current music, jazz,” Kaeshammer said.
The two host an unforgettable evening of music ranging from Indian ragas of tabla and dholak to funk-inspired bebop and modern jazz.
“I’ve never had so much fun at a jazz concert,” raved Joanne Paulson of The Star-Phoenix. “It was not just the amazingly varied music… It was also the humour, great stories, and the great generosity displayed.”
Tickets are $27.50 for adults, $25 for seniors and $15 for children. Drop by MY Millennium Place for tickets, or call 604-935-8410.