The Stewed Tomatoes
The Stewed Tomatoes is Oliver's larger Toronto band and vehicle for Wild World Music explorations. The core of the band's repertoire are the strong melodies and wild rhythms of Oliver's tunes, which draw from influences as diverse as French Canadian, Mongolian, Swedish, Balkan, jazz and blues. Add the brilliant ensemble and individual playing of the band, mix in a large dose of high energy, and fun, and you have the Stewed Tomato experience – big on groove, heart, and humour.
The band was formed in 1994 as a vehicle to present Oliver's compositions from Jigzup and Whirled to a larger audience. The band released an eponymous album in 1996. The second, much-anticipated album, Freedom Row, has finally been released (June 2010).
The Stewed Tomatoes include David Woodhead on bass, Rich Greenspoon on drums, Ben Grossman on saz and percussion, Rich Pell on electric guitar, and David Travers Smith on trumpet. It is a band of strong musical personalities: lots of interaction, lots of great ensemble playing and lots of inspired improvisation.
In January 2007, Oliver did a show in Glasgow at the Celtic Connections Festival with a talented traditional flute player called Nuala Kennedy. Each year, Celtic Connections sponsors three up and coming artistes to create an hour's worth of new music and present it at the festival. Nuala's show Astar (Journeys) was a part of this programme.
After much talk of a collaboration, Nuala came back to Canada to record with Oliver. The idea was to do a CD of tunes composed by each artist, using backup musicians from both sides of the Atlantic. With such talents as Bill Brennan and Joe Macerollo on board, the duo created an album that brings new surprises to a traditional theme.
For more information, visit Nuala's website (www.nualakennedy.com).
The Twisted String
Two of the original Twisted Stringers, Chelsea Sleep and Emilyn Stam, who are both teaching in the Vancouver/Victoria area, decided to reactivate The Twisted String. This was my learning and performance group of talented young fiddlers that was active from 2003 'til 2006, playing and performing throughout BC. Although I am now in Toronto, and they are out West, we will work closely together – I am creating new repertoire for this group, and Chelsea and Emilyn will oversee the creative anarchy! I'm particularly pleased about the resurgence of this project.
Truffles is a unique teaching/composition pilot project developed by Oliver in conjunction with young folks from the Smithers area in the fall of 2004. It started with short (20 minute) one-on-one composition sessions. In those twenty minutes, the expectation was to write a fiddle tune. The first week's session yielded about 18 new tunes composed by the kids. The second week a few months later another 20 or so. The youngest composer was maybe 7, the oldest about 17. A lot of these tunes were built around stories. They would find a story that was meaningful for the kids and take it from there. Spinning yarns, weaving melodies – it's all cut from the same cloth. "My main task was to get the kids to relax and start the ball rolling," explains Oliver, "then their wonderful imagination cut loose and sometimes I was barely fast enough to write down the results!"
"When I came away from the first week, I realized I had more than a few tunes on my hands. I had the beginning of a whole new home-grown repertoire. These were catchy melodies. They had everything I look for in a repertoire – a lot of variety, emotional range, humour, hooks. There were tunes that sounded like they came from within a tradition, and there was pure imagination music – a real cross section, everything from lyrical or whimsical songs to Newfie Jigs, French Canadian, Irish, Breton, cartoon music, hymns, pure fancy… a lot of personality. But I wouldn't expect less from a town that has such a lot of musical personality. And the titles were wonderful in themselves. Tunes like 'The Dishcloth Rag', 'Parents, and their Coffee', 'Pepsi and Imp' (about two hamsters), 'Dust Bunnies', 'The Guide and the Broom' (about a bewitched wedding), 'Monsters Under the Bed', 'The Brain of the Darkness'. The full range of childrens' imagination was expressed in this music.
"I called the whole thing 'Truffles' because these tunes were little nuggets of goodness; besides that, we had a tradition in Smithers of handing out chocolate truffles. In any case, it is very exciting to see the kids digging in and composing freely, just as they would fingerpaint, or draw, or do any fun thing that young humans do."
Some members of the Truffles gang appeared at the Vancouver Folk Festival, where they composed on stage in front of an audience of about 400. It was like Theatresports. The audience was polled for a suggestion of a title, and away we went. "It was a chance for other young folks to see that composition does not need to be academic or abstract; it can be an expressive activity that is just a natural part of life."