Ivana Santilli CD launch at the Mod Club Theatre (722 College), tonight (Thursday, August 26). $19.50. 416-588-4663. Rating: NNNNN
I can tell that Ivana Santilli is excited by the way she's talking on the other end of the line. I've just asked her if she still performs the cover of Rock The Casbah.
"I love that song," she enthuses, her voice taking off. " I love the Clash. But I haven't played that for an audience in years.
"I didn't want it to become a cliché," she admits. "That's always a danger. You start out by doing something you love and it becomes this gimmick you're associated with. I've never liked the idea of being predictable."
Predictable? Who's thinking anything like that? Her trajectory through the world of pop soul has been anything but.
When the upstart Toronto-based nu soul outfit Bass is Base was looking to add some brass to their groove, they were hardly expecting to find a knockout hottie who could blow like Dizzy.
But Ivana Santilli played the role like she was born to it. She laughs when I suggest that bombshell looks and trumpets aren't a natural pairing.
"Thanks for that," she says, still chuckling. "Trumpet was just what made sense to me when I was learning in school. Actually I wanted to play French horn, but my dad said, 'How are you ever going to get a job playing French horn?' So it had to be trumpet, but I've expanded since then."
As Bass is Base soon learned. One day in rehearsal, Santilli sat down at the piano and started playing absently. When she looked up, her band mates were looking at her differently. She could play. Shortly after that she added singing to her repertoire.
Bass is Base couldn't contain her. Soon she would go it alone. The result was the album Brown, a collection of songs that showcase Santilli's natural flexibility and mark her place in the canon of Canadian soul.
"To go it alone was scary, but it meant I could make music the way I wanted to," she says. "Not having to compromise your sound is worth the trade-off."
Santilli speaks of the new album, Corduroy Boogie, with a childlike fervour. She is evidently overjoyed to be bringing something new to her listeners.
"I've been ready to put this album out for a year," she explains. "We kept getting offers from labels to release it, but it was just delay after delay. You get to a point where the music just has to get out. You do what you have to do, you put it out yourself."
Like Brown before it, Corduroy Boogie is a tight, groove-obsessed album of Stevie Wonder-influenced nu-soul. The heavily digi-manipulated tracks stick to a middle-school era of dancehall soul that will seem familiar to Jamiroquai fans. Santilli has a knack for it, blending the sensibilities of her soul forebears with hip-waggling beats of hiphop.
Santilli's been busy. As part of an effort by musical wunderkind Chris Rouse and the Contessa Group (Rasool Verjee and Andrew Kennedy), Santilli and a cast of other Canadian soul and hiphop celebs (Moka Only, Saukrates, Ajile from Brassmunk) cut wax on a track, Claim The World, meant to promote funding for amateur athletes going to the Athens Olympic games.
Good intentions don't always pay off. Somewhere along the line, wires got crossed. The organization See You in Athens (a group that helps fund athletes) both reneged on their commitment to underwrite part of the production costs and took credit for the Claim The World idea on CBC's The National. Litigation seems imminent. When I ask Santilli about the project and the subsequent intrigue, she's unfazed.
"I honestly don't know much about the difficulties," she says. "It was just this great idea that I became a part of to help out athletes. I mean, it's poetic really. Under-supported musicians putting together a project to help out under-supported athletes - it's like it was meant to be."