Caleb Taylor @ Bistro a Jojo – 25 January 2020

Caleb Taylor

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Caleb Taylor in Montreal

There is something magical that is sometimes established between performers and public, something that is able to modify also a venue’s perception. In my opinion, this is the true index of a live performance’s success: it is not connected to its technical execution but it is read in the vibe it produces, in the faces and the voices of the listeners. 

January 25, 2020 was a snowy day in Montréal; while this was the outside weather condition, inside, at the Bistro à Jojo, for the joy of a select few (at least at the beginning), it was warm as the sweetest mélange of funk, blues with a few jazzy excursions can be, thanks to Caleb Taylor and two other talented musicians that accompanied him, Chris Gibbs (sax/flute) and Derek W (drums). Both involved also in different projects, Chris with the rock/funk band “Fierce Tomkins” and Derek as lead singer for the “East of Sunday”, they started quite recently to wed Caleb’s sound and to perform with him. 

Originally from Reading, England, Caleb’s first experience on stage is quite peculiar as it was in front of the inmates of the local prison, something that influenced his music path and that led to the release of his debut album “Battle of Life” (2012), as he recalled to me. His latest enterprise, “Streets of Montreal”, is dated 2018 and it is the one that “coloured” the gig which mixed well-known covers and originals. 

From the very beginning, what I truly liked was the attitude of the trio … I adore seeing musicians having fun on stage! It is something capable of passing beyond the initial demureness of the public and to catalyze its attention: a skill somehow. 

The first set was intriguing, even though the other two definitely brought new lifeblood on the stage. The performance started with a medley (one of the many that followed) Ain’t No Sunshine / Summertime / If I Ever that set the musical key for this late afternoon: a soul/blues-infused funky seasoned with a sax that sensually made sweet love to Caleb’s vibrant voice. Gospel Blues, a beautiful intense piece from Taylor’s last EP, preceded a nice cover of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a classic.  However, it was during No Woman No Cry merged with Let It Be that a new rhythm was brought to my attention as well as Derek’s sound and ability on the drums. 

A little bit of Bill Withers (where the attendees and myself discovered Derek’s singing skill: a crystal clear yet deep backing voice), a dollop of Otis Redding, then the spell was done as we were all ready to sing Smile (original) together with Caleb, Chris and Derek during the second set. 

From a short Bob Marley tribute with One Love / Buffalo Soldier / I Shoot the Sheriff to the cover of Steal My Kisses a little ‘jump’ from reggae to country was done, soon followed by a little jazzier version of Streets of Montreal, another Caleb original, which ended this second part. 

Talking with the trio, often a very pleasant benefit when attending gigs in small local venues, I was impressed by their capability of improvising on stage, changing the setlist at the last minute and basically going with the mood, with the public’s feedback as perceived from the stage.

Battle of Life, Caleb’s first single, was literally a gift and set the stage for a hot ending. From a very interesting adaptation of Waterfall, sliding into Raindrops, my favourite song of the latest Caleb EP, and then passing through Grandma’s Hands/Black Horse and A Cherry Tree/ Signed Sealed Delivered, this thread was interspersed by “lustful” interpretations. Kiss (with a very nice falsetto) aroused the crowd, kept on the game by a funky What’s Going On, followed by Valerie that faded into a pretty distinct and unusual mix of Gettin’ Jiggy With It with Lenny Kravitz’s Fly Away, to demonstrate that sometimes there’s no limit to what inspiration and being bold can bring. 

Yes, it was fun. The public was satisfied and indeed I believe that the overall outcome was in the experience of those who were present. In the way, they were involved in participating in this small yet passionate gig. In the way they were smiling and clapping … after all, it doesn’t take much to bring a little bit of happiness on a gloomy, cold day: just some good, well-performed music. 

Review –  Francesca Sacerdoti 

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