moira smiley & VOCO plus Teslim, Half Moon Bay, CA

Bill Leikam By

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moira smiley & VOCO + Teslim
Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society at the Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay
November 8, 2009

Seldom does Pete Douglas book two groups to share a concert at the Douglas Beach House (aka Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society). So on Sunday November 8, no one knew exactly how the concert would unfold. People wondered aloud whether it would be folk group moira smiley & VOCO performing the first set and Teslim performing Greek, Turkish and Sephardic music for the second set. Or might they play together?

moira smiley & VOCO were the number one a cappela group in the US in 2007. The day of the show VOCO consisted of vocalists Jess Basta, Christine Enns-Tavares, vocalist and cellist April Guthrie, and lead vocalist, banjo and accordion player Moira. Teslim (tes-LEEM) consisted of Kaila Flexer on violin and multi-stringed instrumentalist Gari Hegedus, with percussionist Evan Fraser.

After Pete introduced the show, Teslim opened the concert with a piece that was at times reminiscent of Celtic music. With Gari on acoustic guitar and Kaila on violin these two superb musicians crossed ethnic boundaries with ease and indeed gave the audience a mini-preview of what was to come. The pair are fine- tuned with one another, lush and vibrant playing individual intricate passages, while at other times seemingly blended as one instrument.

With Teslim's introduction, moira smiley & VOCO took the stage. After a few words from Moira, the group moved into a song titled, "I'm a Long Time Traveling." Not only did they sing but they also integrated their famous body percussion—clapping and stomping in unison at various intervals as they sang. It immediately catches the spectator's attention both visually and evocatively. Such an accompaniment adds a dimension to their voices that works extremely well. They went on with Smiley's original song, "I Live in California" followed by Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter's "Bring Me Li'l Water Silvy." The former was phrased with intense expression, bringing back fond memories of old folk and jazz songs from long past.

After VOCO performed two additional songs, it was Teslim's turn to give the audience its best. The duo broke open with a rollicking Greek instrumental. Two numbers later, percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Evan Fraser joined them and masterfully played the mouth harp. Following, the two groups joined forces. Evan played a very large half of a gourd (African calabash) turned upside down on the stage. With Gari on Oud, Kaila on violin, April on cello and VOCO's voices, the intensity of the concert rose considerably—as though the climax of a story had been reached.

At first, with such diverse styles of music, it might not seem possible that these two groups could perform together as an integrated whole. By doing so, it demonstrated without a doubt just how sophisticated and how experienced these musicians truly are. The evening's performance ended with a Turkish / Sephardic song with the chorus "I Love You." The audience was encouraged to participate, which they did with as much fervor as the performers on stage. When it ended, the sophisticated Douglas Beach House audience gave them a standing ovation: both moira smiley & VOCO and Teslim certainly deserved it. Their encore added just the touch needed to conclude a surprising and satisfying afternoon-evening of great music.

Photo credit
Peter Buranzon

Visit moira smiley & VOCO and Teslim on the web.

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