From broken guitars to Brazilian greats

When Paul Lucas takes the stage with his guitar at the Old Fire Hall tomorrow, "it'll be like coming home," he says. The England-born, Vancouver-raised jazz musician may reside in Phoenix, Ariz.

When Paul Lucas takes the stage with his guitar at the Old Fire Hall tomorrow, “it’ll be like coming home,” he says.

The England-born, Vancouver-raised jazz musician may reside in Phoenix, Ariz. for much of the year, teaching guitar and performing, but his northern roots go deep. He built a cabin in Atlin, B.C. in 1979, and spends much time in the town that, as far as he’s concerned, is part of the Yukon.

But regardless, his performance in downtown Whitehorse will be a rarity.

Lucas will be playing songs from his newest instrumental album, Melting Pot. In over 30 years in the profession, it’s only the third project he’s released.

“I keep popping one out every 10 years whether I need to or not,” he says, laughing. It takes him a moment to recall the title of his last work, Human Hands, a jazz project he released about a decade ago.

“I guess I really feel I need to have something to say before I start recording, you know?”

It took a long time to cook up Melting Pot. Lucas is joined on the album by Daniel Janke on bass and Lonnie Powell on percussion. Together, the three form the Paul Lucas Trio. They recorded the 12 tracks in Janke’s Mary Lake studio. The Victorian-style building has great acoustics. “What you hear is what you got,” said Lucas.

But the recording happened slowly. Some tracks were recorded eight years ago, others in the last couple of months. Lucas first met Janke in the early ‘80s when they both were playing a music festival in Atlin, B.C. Janke introduced him to Powell. The three scheduled their recording sessions around their respective gigs.

This slow pace doesn’t bother Lucas. Nowadays, it seems like everybody has a home studio, he says. “If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.”

People are making CDs all the time now, he said. They’re “literally like grains of sand on the beach. When I first starting recording, you really needed to have something to say. Either you were playing remarkably well, or you were writing remarkably well, or both. Otherwise, you didn’t get recorded. People wouldn’t bother spending the time putting you in the studio.”

Lucas is out to show music can be both challenging for musicians and fun for audiences.

He’s doing it by exposing listeners to a style of music many audiences are probably unfamiliar with: Afro-samba music from Brazil. The music is largely influenced by drumming used in African religious rituals, giving it a driving rhythm. Complex chord changes fill the 12 songs – nine Lucas originals and three composed by the late Baden Powell, a prominent Brazilian guitarist. The tracks alternate between solo guitar pieces and group recordings.

“Everything you play, you have to be at the top of your game,” Lucas says of the challenges of playing songs in this genre. And the musicians he worked with on this project gave it the best, he said. The first song the trio recorded together was “Consolocao,” a nearly seven-minute composition full of complex chord changes and driving percussion. Powell “kicked ass at it,” Lucas says of the percussionist’s performance on the Baden Powell song.

Ultimately, good performances were the deciding factor in selecting the final track list. “If you can’t perform it live, if you can’t pick up the instrument and play it for somebody, then it’s not ready for prime time,” he said, noting how much can be edited in the studio.

It may be demanding, but it’s still fun – when he plays these songs live, he feels like he’s playing rock ‘n’ roll tunes. And while this album is technically classified as world music, some of the songs are inspired by home. Lucas wrote “Big Land” in the 1980s to provide background music to information cassettes about the Umbrella Final Agreement. His former wife, Ilene Hart, inspired “Corazon” – the Spanish translation for the word “heart.”

For Lucas, music has always come close to home. He suspects he listened to music in the womb, he said – his father, “a newspaper man” was also an avid piano player, and his son would sit on his lap while his father tickled the ivories. Newspapers led Lucas into music – literally. As a boy, he had a paper route in North Vancouver. One day, he found a guitar in a garbage can. The neck had snapped off of it. The owner gave Lucas permission to take the broken instrument, and the boy took it home and glued it back together. “It didn’t glue very well,” he remembers, laughing. About six months later, the neck flew off and hit him in the head while he was playing. “I realized I was going to have to get a new one or become a better repairman.”

By then, he was hooked on the instrument. He later went to Simon Fraser University with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. But the teaching and playing gigs kept piling up, so he stuck with music.

And despite the time between his albums, he keeps at it because he loves to write and play. He’s recently been exposed to Eastern European music – he calls it “mind blowing.” And his students lead him to new discoveries, like when they ask to learn Jack Johnson songs.

But when people listen to Lucas’s latest release, he hopes they hear the fun they had while playing the songs. “Hopefully it will have a bunch of different moods in there as well,” he said. “It’ll be a melting pot.”

The Paul Lucas Trio plays at the Old Fire Hall tomorrow night. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.; doors open at 7. Tickets are $20 and available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office, Arts Underground, or online at They won’t be available at the door, but Arts Underground will be open until 5 p.m.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

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