IT’S JAZZ UNUSUAL!

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On its third edition, the Orpheus Steinway Piano Concert series takes an unusual turn towards the “easy listening” popular genres, away from the more solemn classical compositions. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Great voice. With a voice like that, this young lady should be on a steady ascent to stardom. Olla, the concert programme calls her. But further enquiries reveal her full names as Olanrewaju Omowa. Then, a further citation eulogises her as “a highly experienced and talented musician, with the ability of casting a musical spell over the audience”.

A musical spell… Her rendition of Bill Withers’ 1971 song “Ain’t No Sunshine” does indeed qualify as one. But to a weepy nostalgic sentimentalist, it is also a sure lachrymal. And that, of course, is partly because the song, taken from Withers’ album Just As I Am, propagated itself to further versions – one of which is Michael Jackson’s.
Also, Olla exudes so much confidence with her good stage business. Thus, she corroborates what the citation further reveals about her: “Passionate about music with the natural ability to adjust own style to suit different [musical genres]…having good coordination with other musicians.”

Talking about adaptability to genres, she earns her stripes with the follow-up song “Bridge over Troubled Water”. This song, which easily stirs up nostalgic memories, is an offering by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. It followed closely on the heels of the American duo’s previous highly successful single, “The Boxer”, in 1970.

This, by the way, is already far into the programme of the Orpheus Steinway Piano Concert Series. The third in the series, actually, because the one held by the Swiss and French embassies at this same venue do not count. Nonetheless, the previous editions held here at the Steinway Showroom in Victoria Island, Lagos, were exclusively classical music concerts.

Now, this is what makes this third edition unusual. It is a smooth mishmash of “easy listening” genres like jazz,, afro-beat and, of course, some classical choral music. A little tweak in the original concept of the concert series, one may choose to call it. Even so, that doesn’t hurt the fact that the entire endeavour pivots on the Steinway brand.

Still on voices. Joseph Oparamanuike, remains in a distinct class of his own. Sometimes, it looks as though the veteran tenor, who over a decade ago wormed his way into the industry consciousness, ups the ante with each of his performances.

There is no doubting his vocal artistry as he sings “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” earlier in the concert. But the Lord Alfred Tennyson’s sonnet poem set to music by the English composer Roger Quilter seems somewhat to constrict his potentials even when he earns a resounding applause for his efforts.

But moving on to the traditional Neapolitan song, “Santa Lucia” (translated into Italian by Teodoro Cottrau), he progresses to a five-star performance. This also whets the audience’s appetite for his later appearance in the programme for “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (a pop ballad originally recorded by the legendary American musician Elvis Presley but written by George David Weiss, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore) and “My Way” (a song popularised by Frank Sinatra but written and set to the music of the French song “Comme d’Habitude” by Paul Anka).

Besides the vocals, Tunde Sosan’s virtuosic performance on the piano is nothing less than first-rate. From the opening pieces, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (a jazz standard with music by Duke Ellington and lyrics by Bob Russell) and Billy Taylor’s “Cool and Caressing”, he displays great skills as an accompanist to the tenor Joseph Oparamuike and eventually climaxes his performance with a medley of popular classics, arranged by him.

The former MUSON School of Music’s acting director – arguably one of the industry’s frontliners – flaunts an impressive musical credentials. Currently the international music consultant for his company DE Studios Lyrical Keys, he is also the incumbent MUSON Centre’s resident pianist. Even as a great-grandson of the legendary T. K. E. Phillips, his musical first steps were guided by his grandmother Arinola Sosan and an organist at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Mrs Tolu Obajimi. After his graduation as a physiotherapist from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital’s College of Medicine, he had enrolled for a five-year course at the renowned Trinity College of Music in Greenwich, England, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree (with honours) in piano and organ performance.

Besides featuring in different other prestigious platforms, he also bagged several awards, which included the Performance Merit Award from the Cathedral Church of Christ (presented to him by the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu). He was also a finalist at the English and Song Vocal Competition at the Trinity College of Music, London.

Now, moving on to the entertaining five-man band. First, there is the saxophonist simply called Perpie (full names: Perpetual Nwaefido). Next is Timothy Ogunbiyi on the keyboard. Philip Uzo plays the lead guitar. The bass guitarist is Samson Ita. And Michael Oloyede is the guy that makes the racket with the percussion.

For a concert that has gleefully lurched towards the “easy listening” genres, the choice of Gabriel Fauré’s haunting “Après Un Rêve” is rather confounding. Even curiouser is the fact that it is the quintet’s entrée. Fauré, often considered a boring salon composer, was known to be a strict adherent of classical purity and for that reason seen as conservative and less daring than Wagner, Debussy and Stravinsky. There is also the fact that this composition – arguably one of his best known melodies – unfurls a first-person narrative swirling around his break-up with his fiancée, Marianne Viardot.

The mood perks up with Gerald Albright’s arrangement of the 1987 smooth jazz composition, “So Amazing”, which is actually a love song. Then, it exults into the light-heartedness of Anita Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” before lapsing into the sobriety of “Meditation”, arranged by Perpie.

Talking about Perpie. Her facility with wind instruments makes her one of the most outstanding stars of this concert. She pairs up beautifully with Joseph Oparamanuike for “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “My Way”. Then, treats the audience to her soul-stirring reprises of oldies like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s “Palaver” and the Peacock International Band’s “Eddie Kwansa” (arranged by Philip Uzo).

All in all, the concert’s experimental lurch to the popular side seems to have paid off. Kudos to the organisers and to the qualitative – rather than quantitative – attendees.

––This concert held on Saturday, July 15