Friday, June 25, 2010

Oliver Schroer -- Freedom Row

Freedom Row

The late Oliver Schroer (1956-2008) was a great Canadian violinist/fiddler, composer, record producer, accompanist, and music teacher whose music – rooted in classical, folk, jazz and many strains of world music – seemed to know no boundaries. He remained vital and creative even through the final year and days of his life as he battled and finally succumbed, with great dignity, to a particularly virulent form of leukemia.

Oli recorded some of the basic tracks for Freedom Row about 10 years before he died and, for whatever reasons, set the album aside working on it sporadically over the years and then intensively, even from his hospital bed, in his final months as he battled leukemia. While Hymns and Hers, another album that Oli worked on during the battle was quiet and spiritual, Freedom Row is an album of joyous, lively tunes that reflect his positive, optimistic outlook on life.

There is a wonderful blending of musical genres, styles and feelings in some of these tunes. “Paddy in Timbuktu” mixes Irish and West African influences, “Jora Dance” reflects the joy found in many of the world’s folk dancing traditions, while “Don Victor’s Parade,” reminds me of New Orleans Mardi Gras music (despite being inspired by a musician Oli met on a Mexican island).

Other favourites here include “All the Little Children in the World,” a fiddle tune with a sing-along chorus, “Dancing on the Waves,” which has the feel of a Cajun waltz, and the funky, percussive “Barking Spiders.”

The core musicians of the Stewed Tomatoes who appear on most tracks include bassist David Woodhead, drummer Rich Greenspoon, percussionist Ben Grossman and guitarist Rich Pell. All kinds of other great players (and singers) make cameo appearances on various tunes.

In his liner notes to the tune, “Fiddle with a Broken Wing,” Oli said “this tune had a limping quality that reminded me of a bird with a broken wing, still trying to take flight somehow.” Although the tune may have been composed many years before his illness, to me, it’s a metaphor for the determination he showed to always remain a vital and creative force. Oliver Schroer lives on in the music he left for us.

--Mike Regenstreif

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