Dazzling Virtuosity: Sultans of String

By Peter Jabs

For the start of the Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society’s 13th season, host Gerald Graham introduced the Sultans of String to the capacity crowd by saying, “You’ll be sitting in your seats but you’ll be travelling around the world.”  That turned out to be ever so true. It was the first time in Thunder Bay for the Sultans, winners of the Canadian Folk Music Award’s 2009 Instrumental Group of the Year and, by the sounds of it,  they are sure to come back.

The disappointment of seeing only three of their five members on stage dissipated with the opening semi-tones of a middle-eastern inspired tune. The next swirl took us to eastern Canada as violinist Chris McKhool scrunched up his face and blazed through “Kitchen Reel.” Flamenco, arabic, samba, rhumba, blues, classical,  80s rock:  guitarist Kevin Laliberté swept us away with his dazzling virtuosity.  However, the trap of relying on technical wizardry to impress was avoided by frontman McKhool introducing the context of each song, and infusing meaning into the tunes as in the west coast B.C. inspired song “Luna” about a mystical whale.  It was here that Drew Birston demonstrated his mastery of the electric bass to evoke orca calls.  Engaging the audience into the performance as the percussion section or singing along to Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” were other methods used to spice up the show. The standing ovation was followed by the band’s version of “Pinball Wizard” complete but for the instrument-smashing ending. That was not necessary. We were already swept away by the whirlwind of excitement the Sultans of String generated.

The Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society’s season continues with John Mann at the Finlandia Hall on October 18. Tickets are available at Hoito, Fireweed, and Chaltrek, or at the door.