Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2016: Kamasi Washington (Festival Edition)

Steve Kirby’s Oceanic Jazz Orchestra: The Longitude Project

Written by:

If you sit across the table from Steve Kirby in a café, you’ll notice pretty quickly that he’s always aware of the music—not only what’s playing, but also the music of people’s voices. Steve leads with both his ear and his curiosity, which is one of the reasons he’s accomplished so much as a musician and mentor.

For the last three years, Steve has focused his compositional energies toward The Longitude Project, an ambitious musical tour of the Americas, from Argentina to Nunavut. To me, it’s a perfect conjunction of Steve-the-musician and Steve-the-ethnomusicologist, because he offers his particular take on these wildly divergent musical landscapes. A sensual tango, a brash rock epic, a soul-inflected ballad, an evocative Inuit monster myth, a baroque-blues mashup, and fiery bebop—these compositions are like beads on a thread of innovative composing and orchestration. A handful of them (“Health Sciences Hypertension Clinic,” “Assiniboine,” “Boissevain”) reflect Steve’s new home here in Manitoba.

The Oceanic Jazz Orchestra is the sophisticated and powerful delivery system for these compositions, and it is as eclectic as the music it performs. Depending on the tune, OJO features everything from classical violin to oboe and bassoon to pedal steel guitar, alongside more familiar jazz instruments like flute, trumpet, saxophone, and trumpet; several tunes have vocals, including one powered by spoken word. The constant is a killer rhythm section, with Steve holding down the band on upright and electric bass.

Three headliners are flying in for the Oceanic Jazz Orchestra’s performance at this year’s TD International Jazz Festival: Mike Eckert, a young pedal steel player from Toronto; Paul Hanson, a bassoon wizard from San Francisco; and Joel Ross, a rising star on vibes based in New York. Closer to home, Derrick Gardner, Jon Gordon, Will Bonness, and Anna-Lisa Kirby are all integral parts of the orchestra. WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig is on violin, with Bronwen Garand-Sheridan on oboe and Shannon Kristjanson on flute. Kevin Waters, Artur Kivilaht, and Judy Kehler Siebert round out the rhythm section, with Joanna Majoko and Kyle Cobb adding their voices to the mix.

The Longitude Project is musical travel at its most inventive and inspiring—don’t miss this show at the West End Cultural Centre on June 24!

Copyright! © 2023 dig! magazine.