Witnessing great music, expertly delivered with humour and humility is always a pleasure, regardless of the genre. To be present at the Kootenay Gallery for one of only two performances by the Bessie Wapp Quartet was a privilege, and an exciting one at that.
This was a winner from the get-go, a four-piece outfit featuring a total of five outstanding representatives of the West Kootenay music community. Joining the group made up of Bessie Wapp (vocals, accordion); Clinton Swanson (sax, flute); Holly Hyatt (bass, vocals) and Craig Korth, (5-string banjo, mandolin, dobro) was the well-known and appreciated clarinetist Nicola Everton sitting in for several numbers.
Very few of the 70 or so in the gallery would have had any idea what they were in for. Honestly described in the opening moment by Wapp as “eclectic,” the two sets featured a great variety of tunes.
Pictured below: Craig Korth and Holly Hyatt
From a “UK-Afro-Caribbean” ice-breaker called “Woyaya,” the group made it’s way to a dramatic piece titled “Gankino Oro,” what Bessie called a learning exercise with the unusual time signature of 11/8 – a dramatic and exotic effort that sounded like an North African breeze might feel.
This was an afternoon full of excitement, with the relatively unorthodox combination of instruments providing a refreshing mix. Topping off the appeal was the pleasing, at times alarming vocal prowess of Wapp and Hyatt.
The pair pulled off a sensational a cappella duet – a Macedonian wedding lament designed to send off a bride from her home town. Not many in the room had likely ever heard anything like it.
Each member had ample opportunities to shine… Swanson and Korth furnishing choice solos throughout.
Following the aptly-titled Tornado Polka, a Swanson composition, Hyatt had the vocal spotlight on a blues beauty called “Lord, Just Help Me to Steer”… a masterful bit of pacing.
All of these players keep as busy as they can, with all kinds of combinations and projects. Their ability and open-mindedness was a continuing joy for about 90 minutes. The pairing of mandolin and saxophone on Korth’s catchy, trad-sounding fiddle tune “Steele Heights,” was superb. Swanson taking a lead break like he does it all the time. Through it all, solid and tasteful back up from accordion and bass.
The Bessie Wapp Quartet – all-in-all, totally out of the ordinary… totally worthy of a reunion at the first possible opportunity.