Old college friends form six-piece soul band
by Kevin Rushworth
For the members of Calgary six-piece soul band Joanna and the Acrobatiks, a live show is a chance for the band to give and receive the vibes of jazz on stage in a veritable potluck of music. If the audience sees the band vibing off each other, then they feed off the energy, said professional musicians and band members, Joanna Borromeo and MRU jazz professor, Carsten Rubeling.
During a fall show at Local 522, jazz was not only heard from the wailing trombone, killer drum solos and soulful keyboard, but also felt through dance — even a girl on crutches got up to move to the beat. “I’m pretty present in the moment,” Borromeo said. “I don’t think about anything else. When it comes to performing, you’re just focused on one thing. You’ve rehearsed, you know your material; it’s now just about playing it and sharing.”
For Borromeo and Rubeling, an afternoon coffee in July and the chance to talk about music with old college friends was all the inspiration needed to form Joanna and the Acrobatiks. Borromeo said their musicality draws on decades of jazz tradition and was inspired by a variety of genres that make up contemporary gospel music, such as old-school rhythm and blues, early jazz, soul as well as a recognizable funk groove.
Rubeling, who plays and teaches trombone, explained how the distinctly different genres of music within gospel influenced Joanna and the Acrobatiks. “Everything just sort of fell into place,” he said. “Everything was stirred into the pot.”
Rubeling and Borromeo met at Toronto’s Humber College when their semesters studying jazz music overlapped from 2002-05.
Borromeo, who plays key- board and sings lead vocals, explained that the band members communicate through the language of music theory. The acrobatics portion of their name refers to their ability to perform different kinds of instruments and in various styles. Rubim De Toledo— MRU jazz professor and band bass player—was once known as a chameleon of the electric bass because of his ability to play rock, jazz and ’90s-era hip-hop. Borromeo said that he switches between electric bass and upright bass with ease.
Rubeling, who began teaching at Mount Royal in September 2009 said even the professor is always learning. “It’s never all figured out; there’s always something to check out,” he said. “Especially if you love a bunch of differ- ent styles, there’s always more homework to do.” He said an important understanding for students comes when they transition from believing studying music is nothing but a dream, to appreciating that it could become a career.
Through the Dark — Joanna Borromeo’s solo album — recently placed 5th on the hip- hop/soul charts on Edmonton’s CJSR as well as 3rd on CJSW’s charts in October. The other members of Joanna and the Acrobatiks include Raul Tabera on drums, Andre Wickenheiser on trumpet and Carl Janzen on guitar. Both Wickenheiser and Janzen are graduates of the jazz studies diploma program. “From minute one, from that first coffee, two things were the most important,” Rubeling said. “What turns us on and what is going to turn the crowd on and I mean that in a very clean, platonic way.”