Confabulation – Coming home beautiful


Woodhead – truly playing (top photo)

I first met David Woodhead almost a quarter of a century ago, under the most banal and yet revealing of circumstances. Writers of crime dramas like to say that danger reveals our true character – but most of us know that what really tells you who a person is inside, is standing on the opposite side of a cash register from them, or even more, a complaints counter.

A service department in a busy music store is a combination of both – but in that very context, my extraordinary manager Peter made it clear that “Woody is one of the good guys” – not just the sort of musician that every other musician understood and respected on first hearing – but also the sort of genuinely sweet and respectful human being who would never take advantage of the retail power imbalance to throw tantrums (as a shocking number of seemingly-respectables do).

It was only when I got home and checked my record collection that I confirmed – yeah, that’s THE David Woodhead, who played bass on some of our favourite Canadian albums of all time (early Stan Rogers).


Here is an optimal (no visual) soundtrack for this piece – posted by his record company (no poaching here).

It is also a truly wonderful heart-deep composition and performance (great recording, too).

Anyhow – I took Catherine out to see her first concert of live music in a few years today – and though it was very hard going for her, she braved it out, and we were both utterly delighted by the destination and the day.

David Woodhead’s Confabulation was set up on an excellent street-stage (with shockingly good sound-crew on monitors and main-mix both) just a short hop from the densest Yorkville (so fancy they’re casual about it) crowds, right at the corner of Scollard and Hazelton, as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

I love that the festival brings in international acts (Scofield at city-hall was divine – and free on the far side of the tent, for poor folks like me) but for a city with such deep musical history, the heart of the festival is always Toronto’s own incredible talent. The confabulation is a superb example.

The Confabulation line-up

The lineup across the stage was – Doug Wilde on Piano – Colleen Allen on Soprano/Baritone/Clarinet/Flute – Anne Lindsay on Violin – Rich Greenspoon on Drums – David Woodhead on Fretless/Bass/Mandolin/Ukulele and – Bob Cohen on Guitar/Bass – six players in all, which is a pretty good sized band, but hardly an orchestra.

But you wouldn’t know that if you closed your eyes, because of the incredible leverage they get out of their multi-instrumental timbres, and richly envisioned, quite brilliant arrangements. The violin and horns in particular, were so attuned to one another that they frequently became one impossibly big string or horn section, blending themselves as needed, and then separating dramatically again, for passages of more distinct and thrilling harmonic interplay.

The core of the band – and composer – is David Woodhead himself – watching him play the fretless, upon which he is comfortable and even playful to a very unusual degree – was a constant revelation. Unerring intonation, control of dynamics, and the musical sensitivity for rich jazz chording which really lets that instrument in particular, speak in full voice.

Rich Greenspoon’s drumming was spot on, bright and confident, without ever being overbearing – always ready to set-off a nice bit of syncopation from any player by opening some space for them and supporting the lilt (the sly intelligence running right through this ensemble was quite delicious).

Fretting together

Bob Cohen on guitar impressed us doubly – not just for doing a really nifty job in several very different styles, depending on the composition – but also having the nerve to play bass in a band run by a bass player! (and do it beautifully, too) – this, while David was playing mandolin, for a wildly fresh acoustic interpretation of Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain.”

Doug Wilde the pianist was delighted to find a grand on stage (not something one can always expect) and he did a grand job on it – again, showing an unusual ability to dissolve the voice of his instrument into the ensemble for a huge sum orchestral effect, or pull it out to clear and sharp to make pointed, witty, and sometimes very beautiful statements.

But I have to come back again to the ‘voice-voices’ which – for a group so much about instrumentals, do so much of the motif speaking directly to us.

The voice-voices

Catherine got an almost instant girl-crush on Anne Lindsay, the energetic and daring violinist, and I was similarly instantly charmed by Colleen Allen, the witty horn player – not only for their wonderful playing, tone and attunement, but also their very generous exuberance and joy!

You don’t have to be happy when you play music – there are plenty of acts that would look outright weird if they suddenly started smiling – but when you are playing music that is beautiful, exciting and profound, reacting to it as if you are feeling the power and enjoying your role is not only natural, but also helps bring those of us looking up, directly into the experience.

Beautiful work, witness, and results! (so much so that I got rather teary, more than once) ;o)  Also an ultra-humane way to make sure that this sophisticated music still hits the open heart first – for that proper initial burst of pleasure – just before it delivers satisfaction also to our sometimes distractingly fussy brains – perfect!

Confabulation smiles

Now a last note about the place Confabulation wants to sit in my head – a very beautiful spot, which is tricky to approach critically, without stepping on a cliche. Instead of staying ‘timeless’ or ‘feels like you always knew it, the first time you heard it’, I’m going to do something that works best for the locals of a certain age. Remember concerts at the Ontario Place forum?

Lying back on the grass, fresh warm summer lake breeze, sun sinking slowly, seagulls wheeling above – and down below on stage, a top notch modern jazz orchestra, cleverly using their brilliant tone colours and arrangements to take your mind right out of anyplace where it needs words or pictures – a plane governed only by harmony and open wonder.

I think of “the Winter Consort” but so much friendlier and more approachable – I think of “Penguin Cafe Orchestra” only no gimmicks – just that same special affinity for deeply powerful intervals and sublime movement. More contemporarily – Bela Fleck fans will be delighted – brilliantly witty and accessibly folksy really is a tough and rare synthesis!

Surreal, beautiful, passionate, funny, friendly enough to be familiar, and yet excitingly new and clever also. Very cool stuff. You want to see (and more importantly hear) them! Musical inspiration absolutely overflowing!


You can find updated news about upcoming gigs for David Woodhead Here

And he has a range of fine recordings, Confabulous and otherwise – available Here

You can even buy a CD and get a radiant smile direcly from the man himself, when you catch a show!

(and you really should)  ;o)

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