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Saturday December 17, 2011

Ladies Rockin' Christmas: Amazing Ladies Make the Music of Christmas Their Own
Orchestra London with Jeans 'n Classics: Red Hot Weekends December 2011

by Brian Hay

The show opened with Conductor Jeff Christmas and Jeans 'n Classics Founder Peter Brennan leading the two ensembles through the opening bars of a striking arrangement of 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'. The three ladies, Andrea Koziol and Kathryn Rose with Rique Franks taking the lead vocal stepped on and began a powerful three way vocal display that left no doubt as to the calibre of the singers involved in this show. What was still to be discovered was the nuances of their different voices.

The rhythm section of Bassist Mitch Tyler and Drummer Paul DeLong led a charge that fed both groups an energy level that would permeate the entire show. DeLong was on top of each beat the group would play a micro second before it happened. Saxophone player Aaron MacDonald slipped on to the stage inconspicuously enough but became instantly visible when he began to play. Everything he played had the wit, humour and pizazz that separates the arresting playing from that which fits innocuously into backgrounds. John Regan ornamented and augmented everything beautifully from the keyboard and kept the audience in stitches as the host. Peter Brennan, as always, filled the air with tasty bits on both the electric and acoustic guitars. The restraint he applies is part of the success to everything is one of the central ingredients to the success of this. His arrangements spotlight the capabilities of both groups extensively but do so without applying something simply for it's own sake.

What really shone though was the voices of the ladies. Their voices are stellar and any of them can belt out a song or caress a ballad but that's where the similarities end. Rique Franks has a voice that's rich with an underlying sultriness about it. Her range is impressive and her sheer power is stunning. She also has an actresses' ability for injecting personalities to songs. Andrea Koziol probably has the voice most suited to straight ahead delivery of hard rock. The thing is that just when it seems she might be predictable she'll caress a ballad with a sense of tenderness that cause eyes to mist over. Kathryn Rose has a consummate mastery of shadings. She steps inside a song, paints its story with an array of colours, steps outside when needed, and steps back in again with flawless control. She also has an extra octave that she applies with impressive power.

They created memorable and very fresh interpretations of many standards. Andrea Koziol delivered a powerful reading 'Lean On Me'. Rique Franks sang an incredibly lovely version of 'Grownup Christmas List'. She showed a playful side with a nicely affected rendition of 'Santa Baby'. Kathryn Rose gave a fabulous performance of 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'. Her array of shadings and the full amount of her power in her voice were shown in all their glory. Their solo work was only part of the package though. They use the individual nuances of their voices to compliment one another beautifully. When 'Lean On Me' reached its climax Rique Franks and Kathryn Rose cloaked Andrea Koziol's lead while keeping it in the forefront. The three-way work they did on an encore of 'Give a Little Bit' was excellent. Their singing wasn't the only vocal work that was impressive though. Peter Brennan stepped out and joined them in a rare moment that saw him share the vocal work. He was excellent. Who knew?

The three singers weren't the only ladies whose stars shone brightly though. Irish Dance specialist Nora Corrigan stepped out for a finale from 'Riverdance' at the end of the first half and was so light on her feet it was tempting to search for wires. It was the first of three (I think) fabulous appearances on the stage. Her control and agility is phenomenal. Associate Concert Master Mary Elizabeth Brown underpinned Andrea Koziol's emotionally charged performance of 'Get Me Through December' with finesse and passion that lit up the house. She really needs to be brought to the fore more often. That young woman is a magnificent player.

Under the baton of Jeff Christmas the work of the orchestra was impeccable. They played off the musicians of Jeans 'n Classics, and especially the rhythm section of Mitch Tyler and Paul DeLong fabulously. The string playing they augmented John Regan's keyboard playing with on 'Get Me Through December' was ravishing. The brass and percussion on 'Give a Little Bit' gave the song intensity that made the work sear. Jeff Christmas' arrangement of the 'Riverdance' music had dynamics that placed the emphasis squarely on the dancing of Nora Corrigan. This show had one other important, and impressive, difference as well. The interpretations and arrangements maintained the respect and reverence for the original material they always have but they were far less faithful to the tried and true renditions that are known so well. It fits them well. On this night, perhaps more than on any that I've seen they displayed their ability to do something new with music and truly, make it their own.

It was a great night for everyone on the stage.

This performance took place at Centennial Hall in London Ontario on Friday December 16, 2011. It's being repeated on Saturday December 17, 2011, undoubtedly with as much flair as was seen on the Friday evening.

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Singer Rique Franks
Photo Courtesy of Jeans 'n Classics

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