Steve Tosh & Friends

1904059_10152486950805948_5820443294951260707_nBy Susan Meister

Steve Tosh’s huge body of work and his seemingly limitless creative energy were described in these pages just prior to Saturday’s performance of a concert that I can only describe as the most fun I’ve had in a long time; to put that in context, I just returned from seeing La Traviata at the Vienna Opera. Steve Tosh has likely not tried his hand yet at serious opera, but if he ever does, I guarantee he’ll rock the house.

Apart from being a formidable keyboardist himself, he was surrounded on Carmel’s Golden Bough stage by first-rate musicians with whom he’s performed for years. Judging from their own level of commitment to this concert, I’d say they love the guy.

Beginning with his new Tin Pan Alley Rhapsody, it was clear that Tosh loves complex rhythms and combining whimsy, guile, and grace in a musical amalgam that produces strong narrative themes. He is at his best when he’s leading the musical pack, requiring musicianship that allows each performer a place in his sun. The music cannot possibly be easy to master.

The next section was a collection of well-known songs from Cole Porter to Leonard Bernstein, put together by Stephen McAndrew, and sung by him and the lovely Lydia Lyons. A couple of them were arranged by Tosh and bore his distinctive mark. This was an enchanting sequence. Following it was a series of Tosh-authored gospel songs featuring Daniel Simpson, who brought down the house. These were the prettiest gospel songs I’ve ever heard. (I can think of many adjectives for gospel but “pretty” is not ordinarily one.) Backed up by a group of singers that included the accomplished baritone Peter Tuff, it was hard to stay in your seat. Everyone onstage looked like they were having a ball and the audience was rattling the chairs.

After the intermission, the interesting En Caida Libre by Bill Wingfield was premiered, and the charming Tubby the Tuba sequence arranged by Tosh was given full value by Stephen McAndrew’s sonorous narration. The program concluded with Tosh’s jazz septet We Need This, which was slightly abstract and distinctly haunting, and through which one could detect a touch of ragtime, maybe even a little Debussy. It offered a demanding sax solo performed by Danny Pelfrey that gave the piece even more depth.

The many musicians who took part were all terrific, and the amusing projections on the back stage by Carey Crockett lent an enhancing ingredient. Unfortunately, the sound system was not up to the performances on the stage, and the audience was sparse. But for those who were there, it was a smash.

Steve Tosh said at the outset of the program that musicians choose their profession out of love, and that shone brightly from the stage. I hope he and his friends turn up far more often and enjoy the appreciation of a much bigger audience. If you weren’t there on Saturday night, you missed something important.