The Rex Hotel in Toronto, ON
January 14, 2012
Review by: Lee Fraser
Photos by: Allison Janzen
Donna Grantis Electric Band unleash their debut album, Suites, at The Rex Hotel.
Donna Grantis Electric Band
A CD release for Donna Grantis is an interesting paradox. The full impact of Grantis is her live performance: the interaction with other musicians on stage, the improvisational wizardry, and the sheer passion that can be felt. A recording, on the other hand, is a snapshot in time of a musician's abilities and creativity.
In the case of the phenom that is Donna Grantis, this paradox translates into a gift for all who witnessed the CD release show. Not only were we witness to more than two hours of electric guitar mastery, but we were also able to bring home a meticulously crafted album that has captured the current stage of Grantis' evolving artistry.
The Rex Hotel saw the early days of Grantis sharing her talent with the public back in 2009, playing to a mid-week, after-work crowd. Since then, she has collaborated with two of this city's most powerful singers, Shakura S’Aida and Saidah Baba Talibah (SBT). In 2010, Grantis started trying out her material at The Rex and the Cameron House, with her two trusty side-kicks, Roger Travassos (drums) and Steve Zsirai (bass). Grantis specifically sought out the best guitarists in Toronto to join her as guests to push her own boundaries and challenge her abilities.
The CD release party, appropriately hosted by The Rex Hotel, was the result of countless hours of playing her beloved Paul Reed Smith guitars and perfecting various effects. The standing room only crowd hooted and wolf-whistled, showering Grantis with admiration and support as the first set opened with the sauntering tempo of Zsirai's bass line for "Isabella the Great".
The Electric Band and guests played every track from their debut album. Grantis welcomed to the stage several of her friends, including keyboardist Robbie Grunwald, Brent Bodrug (co-producer of the album), resonator guitar-playing Joel Schwartz, Hill Kourkoutis and SBT. Shoulder-to shoulder in the crammed audience were afore-mentioned Shakura S’Aida, as well as Emile D'Eon, one of the guitarists she played with in the development of this material.
You've got to be a really strong rhythm section to play with the likes of Grantis, and Travassos and Zsirai (who was also celebrating his 40th birthday) have the chops. This strength was supported by Bodrug who joined them on keys for "My Purple Heart". When Grantis turned to him after a stellar guitar solo, he replied with "Oh ya, you expect me to follow that?" to chuckles and warm applause from the audience. At the end of the first set, Grantis asked the audience if they would sing while she played "Happy Birthday" for Zsirai. During the break, plenty of people were making the comparison to Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" – the similarity to the guitar icon is downright spooky.
The band played a couple of covers: Billy Cobham's jazz/rock fusion tune "Spectrum" and Greg Allman's "Dreams", accented with an SBT-prompted sing-along. In keeping with Grantis' resolution to devote time to developing more of her own material and focusing on the evolution of her playing, there were two brand new tunes.
Not surprisingly, the crowd did not dwindle for the entire duration of the two sets and an encore. The natural high on-stage spread to the audience, with folks alternating between being completely spellbound and shaking their heads in amazement. To see the prowess of someone like Donna Grantis in such a small venue is a rare treat indeed. Pick up the CD, look out for her next live show and enjoy the paradox.