Calgary Herald Article, July 7, 2016
Ontario roots duo packing trunk of exotic sounds for Calgary stop
Jennis – Dennis Gaumond and Jen Gillmor MICHAEL BARKER
Folk and roots music is an ever-evolving genre of music, including flecks of blues, gospel, as well as Americana/Canadiana among the traditional singer songwriter style of performance.
In a natural evolution, many artists have been stretching those boundaries far beyond traditional sounds, no surprise if you’re a folk festival attendee. You will still find many stalwarts, but you’re just as likely to be dazzled by the infectious world sounds of a Cat Empire, or The Doors-era experience of a Father John Misty.
Over the past few months I’ve chatted with artists like Jayme Stone (Lomax Project), Kurt Loewen (Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra’s Love), and Oliver Swain (Big Machine) for features here — just a few folk/roots acts that take conventional approaches to the genre and blend sounds from the entire world — even different time periods into their work. Add to those the duo of Dennis Gaumond and Jen Gillmor, performing together as Jennis. They are here in Calgary for a show tonight (July 8) at Wine-Ohs.
2015 Toronto Blues Society talent search finalists, there are often frequent traces of blues on their 2014 release The Current. But you’re just as likely to be taken away with African infusions, and Middle Eastern instrumentation. Those are simply a few examples of the world sounds that poke into songs as their album unfolds.
“I have always had broad musical tastes. This may be partly a result of being the daughter of a musicologist.” Gillmor explained in a recent email interview. “I am particularly fond of music from the African diaspora and travelled to West Africa on a sort of self-styled musical safari, exploring drumming and dance styles of various tribal cultures. I was particularly inspired by music of Mali such as the guitar stylings of Ali Farka Touré and various kora players. It was in Burkina Faso that I discovered the kamel n’goni — effectively the bass kora. I acquired one of these and used it on my solo album. It has yet to appear on stage with Jennis but you never know! I have also studied Latin percussion and Irish traditional music using both the bodhran (frame drum) and cello.”
Similarly, Gaumond has taken a shine to a wider world of sound: “I have always been interested in musical fusions — even blues and jazz qualifies as blends of various cultural influences. Since the digital revolution, it has become easy for different ethnic groups to share their musical styles, resulting in some delicious new sounds. Also, I have been leading chant groups for over 15 years. The chants that I have learned come from exotic sources, which have prompted me to learn some of the different scales and rhythms used in other parts of the world.”
Album tracks on a pre-interview listen to The Current showcase that diversity. I’m Not Here reminded me of early The Band, and even a bit of the wide-open sounds of a live Rare Earth workout. On Closer To Me, I loved the juxtaposition of slide guitar with the cello. Perfect Thing gets remarkably funky, while the moody Take Me Some Time dives deep into the traditional songwriter fare with insightful lyrics.
“Every time we approach a new song, we see it as an opportunity to explore our wide range of musical influences.” Gillmor said.
“The fact that the festival world has become very open-minded and accepting of diverse styles is something that excites us, especially since our sound is rather difficult to pigeonhole. It speaks positively of festival programmers that they are acknowledging that evolving folk traditions are a sign of our times.”
“I’ve always been influenced by songwriters, and even fiction writers, who tend to have a quirky and sometimes satirical style,” Gaumond added. “There are a variety of ways that song inspiration comes to me. I’m not much interested in adding to the huge repertoire of romantic love songs as I am in exploring spiritual and political themes.”
Given the wealth of sounds and wide variety of instruments required to reproduce that live, I wondered if they needed to pack steamer trucks when touring, and just how hard it was to translate intricately recorded efforts into a live duo format. After all, they have a standard selection of instruments that they perform with which includes guitar, dobro, banjitar, harmonica, plus wazinator for Dennis alone, and cello, bass guitar, didgeridoo, jaw harp, and flute for Jen.
“While audiences continually comment on the big sound we achieve as a duo, we do not feel compelled to replicate our recorded versions in the live context. We have live audiences in mind when arranging songs for performance. With a whole van full of different instruments, part of our challenge is in smoothly transitioning between them throughout the show.”
Gillmor added: “As one who has performed mostly as a bassist in larger bands, I am delighted to find that I can still help inspire dance floor action even just as a duo! We are deeply grateful that we have the opportunity to share the joy that music brings us with audiences across the country, and I’m excited to share this with my beloved aunt and uncle in Calgary!