Ben Sures – Poema Poematis

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

In 2016 Ben Sures received a grant from The Canada Council, the counties most significant granting body for Arts and Culture. The grant was to have his songs arranged for horns and strings for concert. Arrangements were by Edmonton trombonist Audrey Ochoa, who also assembled a horn section alongside Canadian Folk Music award winners The Bombadils, Luke Fraser mandolin and Sarah Frank violin. Ben felt that as this was a once in a lifetime event, that it should be recorded. The concert and subsequent album were titled Poema Poematis, meaning version in Latin. Through the performances Ben Sures offers impeccably tight 50s styled Jazz and observational song writing, as dry as Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner or a louche, nerdy Nick Cave. New versions of Sure’s most popular songs. Imagine the idiosyncratic lyrics of a less cynical Loudon Wainwright fronting a big band with the wry slight smile of a beat poet Jake Thackeray, casually dropping in a reference to the last time he did mushrooms. The jazz references are spot on, with a double bass that is pure Mingus, a growling raw burst of St James Infirmary and some cafe violin and Reinhardt guitar flourishes. The Brass players are superb, flying together or delivering intelligent solo passages. The whole band swings, Ben Sures’ songs and delivery swing and bubbles. If Noel Coward was alive today in urban Canada, cocktail or cigarette holder in one hand he would be delivering gloriously left field dry songs like “Holes” or “Postcards”, universal enough to speak to the listener but with enough personal poetry to be interesting. The slightly otherworldly or retro feel is carried through onto the sleeve where hand drawn musicians lifted from a Verve, Vogue or Riverside 50s Jazz album sleeve have swarmed up the TV show gantry from the Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock video. “In Burma” mixes it up with a skittish hand clap rhythm, some woozy brass and lyrics that lurch between tragic comic and profound. Chunks of Ben’s chat between songs, his great stories, like smart stand up, illustrate the origins of some of the songs. “Used to Have a Raygun” is a surreal flight of fancy song, inspired by a fan’s comment, but even in Ben’s fantasies there is a lesson to be learnt and a deeper dimension as he condenses the sense of Walter Tevis’ “The Man Who Fell to Earth” into a crazy song about a disco ball. “In a Perfect World” marries what sounds like Charlie Parker-esque vamp on the Batman theme or a 60s Tom and Jerry soundtrack with crazy lyrics and Klezmer music. Like the rest of the album what sounds like a crazy bolting together, as disparate as the characters in “Everybody Matters”, on paper, just flies in performance. As beautifully surreal as the love child of Woody Allen’s stand up and the eccentric realities of Vivian Stanshall is Sures the singer songwriter swinging along on some fine ensemble jazz. But like on “Any Precious Girl” beneath the smiles there is the serious message that we are all different and being different and fragile is alright.