Review: NOCCA season opens with gusto

The North Okanagan Community Concert Association kicks off its 61st season with talented guitarist Servantes and his just as talented band.

Jim Leonard

Special to The Morning Star

Before I begin the review of Thursday’s concert with Servantes, I would like mention the display in the foyer of the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, which lists the performers that have come to town, thanks to our volunteer North Okanagan Community Concert Association.

The list spans the time from the 1950s to almost the present. It is impressive and we are so fortunate to have a first class concert series here in Vernon.

My wife and I were expecting a solo flamenco/classical guitarist at this, the first community concert of the 2014-15 season. Then we saw the extra percussion instruments: a flute and alto/tenor saxophones, and a novel instrument made up of a harp, a bass guitar and a sitar, all joined together into what Naki, its maker and player, calls a “stick harp.”

In addition to the instruments, which were all amplified through the theatre’s system, there were numerous pedal effects, among which were a loop pedal, a wah-wah pedal, and digital delay (echo).

Servantes ( the nickname for French Canadian classical/flamenco guitarist Patrice Servant) has had a passion for the guitar since the tender age of four. He played the guitar (which was bigger than him at the time) with two fingers on the fingerboard, gradually increasing to four. During his early years he received a solid grounding in classical guitar. He then took lessons at the Quebec Conservatory in Hull, learning percussion, composing, harmony, counterpoint, and solfege (sight singing).

The concert offered flamenco, Cuban, Quebecois, and Latin-rock styles. Unfortunately no titles were offered in the program for reference. They were announced on stage and not always audible. As the quartet played, it was apparent that they were all virtuosi on their instruments, no matter what the style.

Servantes began the program using the body of his guitar as a percussion instrument.

This was fed into his loop pedal as a basic track. The pedal repeats in layers whatever it records, enabling the player to improvise overtop. Faint strains of Duke Ellington’s Caravan were played to tease the audience during the piece.

The other three players (Francois Taillefer, percussion; Naki, stick harp; and Yves Lacoursiere, saxes and flute) joined Servantes for a flamenco piece. I couldn’t hear the stick harp very well. I was told afterwards that it must be played lightly because it is so complex with its 37 strings.

Just before intermission, we were treated to a solo on this instrument and were able to hear its vast capabilities, thundering low tones, heavenly harp, and sitar.

The rest of the program was a delight, with a Quebecois banjo-style piece and a great revamp of Carlos Santana’s Oye Como Va, complete with vocals. After a standing ovation, we were offered two encores, which completed a very satisfying concert.

Congratulations also to the sound and lighting crew at the VPAC, who made the stage visually stunning and the sound at perfect listening levels.

The 2014-15 North Okanagan Community Concert season continues Nov. 18 with the Kaleidoscope gala, featuring Les Violons Du Roy. Tickets are now available at the Ticket Seller in the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.