Phil Dwyer: A Canadian Songbook Featuring Laila Biali Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto ON June 27

Phil Dwyer: A Canadian Songbook Featuring Laila Biali Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto ON June 27
Saxophonist/composer Phil Dwyer won a Juno this year for his adventurous Changing Seasons album. His current cross-Canada festival tour, however, finds Dwyer and five ace accompanists re-imagining an intriguing range of Canadian compositions. A suitably atmospheric tale on Robbie Robertson's "Somewhere Down the Crazy River" opened up the show, followed by Randy Bachman's "Undun," but this was not to be just a night of Canrock classics. Perhaps inevitably, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell were covered (and effectively), but more contemporary material worked equally well. Special guest Laila Biali shone with her subtly melodic vocals on Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart" and Feist's "Mushaboom," two tunes that stayed closest to the originals. Biali was equally fluent in French on Karkwa's "Moi-Leger," the most left-field choice here. As Dwyer jokingly warned, a medley of "Four Strong Winds" and Gordon Lightfoot's "Beautiful," along with a Dave Holland composition, was unrecognizable, but it featured some of the most daring and compelling playing of the night. The fluent guitar, trumpet and piano work of, respectively, Rob Piltch, Vince Mai and Biali intersected empathetically with Dwyer's subtle yet authoritative sax, resulting in a performance that neatly balanced the familiar and the fresh. It was gratifying to see maple leaf-stamped tunes increasingly explored by our artists too.