Nov./Dec. 2004

XXI Festival Internacional Jazz Plaza ( Havana Jazz Festival )
Gala De Inauguración

Jueves 16 de deciembre 2004 Teatro Karl Marx La Habana

As we approach tonight's venue, we can hear the canopy of low hanging branches slapping and scraping the top of our bus. It is a rhythmic prelude to an evening of music. The Teatro Karl Marx used to be called the Teatro Charlie Chaplin before the revolution. This is no warm and cozy jazz venue — the place, with its two balconies, is huge, and judging from the ambient temperature, it must have a bank of enormous air-conditioner units all set to Glacial. An usher informs us that since we hold festival passes we can choose any seat in the front half of the orchestra. Front row center is perfect for me. The spacious and beautifully lit stage is all set: the piano, congas, microphones, etc. waiting for the musicians that will bring them to life.

Decidedly Jazz
First to take the stage was Decidedly Jazz, a music/dance combo group from Calgary. They started the evening playing/dancing to a beautiful rendition of Caravan, then flowing into some latin groove jazz. The regular dance members were joined by Cuban dancers who will take part in an across Canada tour the company is planning for this year. Go see them, they're wonderful.

Luis Salinas
Next up was Luis Salinas. Luis is an Argentinean guitarist/composer and he played for us unaccompanied. His incredible technique and sincere passion make Luis a genuine virtuoso.

Hugh Fraser
Hugh Fraser and his quintet followed next. Hugh is a pianist/trombone player based in Vancouver. He was originally invited alone, as a special guest, but because so many musicians were not able to attend (U.S. embargo) he was asked at the last minute to bring his quintet. Hugh, ever ebullient, led his group through a very spirited set. They were a hit with the mainly Cuban audience. Chucho Valdés joined the band for a couple of numbers.

Wagner Tiso
Next the duet of Wagner Tiso (piano) and Victor Biglione (guitar), both from Brazil, took the stage. A lot of fast dazzling unison playing. A beautiful rendition of "Autumn Leaves" stands out.

Leo Gandelman
Next up, also from Brazil was the Leo Gandelman Quartet. Leo plays a mean tenor saxophone and did beautiful work on the soprano as well. A real showman, Leo had a little fun with some of the media and he ended up walking around the audience while playing his sax. Great show.

José Luis Quintana Changuito
The last band to play for us that evening was the Habana Ensemble led by César Lopez. An excellent group of Cuban musicians, they played some sharp and edgy Jazz, steeped in traditional Cuban rhythms. The great percussionist José Luis Quintana (Changuito) and renowned conguero Federico Aristides Soto (Tata güines) joined in, lending their support to the ensemble. Everyone on the stage was where they wanted to be, doing what they love doing best — playing music. And so the set stretched into the night.
It was 1 a.m. when we exited the theatre. The show had started at 9 p.m. and we were tired (there had been no intermission). Back at the hotel, much too excited for sleep we headed for the lobby bar and found many of the musicians we had just heard already there.

So there I sat reflecting on the evening while sipping a mojito. Looking to my left through the wall to wall windows, I can see the waves of the ocean crashing over the retaining wall onto the Malecón, while from my right waves of sound come pouring through the open doors of the hotel's night club, filling my space with the pulse of salsa.

A good night.

We welcome your comments and feedback
• • • • • •
Report and Photographs by
• •
Roger Humbert
for The Live Music Report

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