August 2008

Eliana Cuevas Quintet
August 1, 2008 Trane Studio Toronto
Report by by Zoë Guigueno
I first heard Eliana Cuevas in May with the Darren Sigesmund Septet, and took an immediate liking to her pure, precise voice. Tall, slim and beautiful, Cuevas is a captivating performer who moved here from Venezuela to study at the University of Toronto. Her music is intriguing and heartbreaking, even though I don't speak Spanish, for it is her delivery that carries the emotion.

Her own group consists of bassist George Koller, pianist Jeremy Ledbetter, and percussionists/back-up vocalists Daniel Stone and Luis Orbegoso. With a rhythm section like that it is impossible to go wrong.

Koller plays all around the world and I think can do anything on the bass. He has a delightful Myspace page that will give you a good idea of his personality — look him up. One of the most memorable parts of the show was his intro to “Alfonsina Y El Mar". A truncated version of what he played live is captured on Cuevas' new CD, Vidas, but hopefully he performs the uninhibited version again when you see them live. As the song is about the ocean, Koller used a bow and a delay pedal on his baby bass to sound like a recording of seagulls screaming over a grumbly sea.

Eliana Cuevas
Ledbetter is a master of polyrhythms and knows how to build a solo to a climax. His many solos that night at the Trane provided tension that brought the music alive. If only he had a real piano to manipulate! I'm not sure why a venue like Trane Studio doesn't have one. This Toronto musician, who I would go see again at any opportunity, can be found elsewhere with his "high-energy Caribbean music experience", Cane Fire.

Also born in Venezuela, Daniel Stone is a percussionist who moved to Toronto in '95. His face is calm and neutral as he looks around the room, hands blurring over the congas. The Peruvian-born Luis Orbegoso played a killing cajon solo that made one woman sitting right in front of the stage yell "Yes!" The two percussionists shared congas, shakers, cajon, cymbals, and back-up vocals.

As far as Trane Studio goes — nice acoustics, forgetful servers, incredible desserts (I restrained from licking my plate), trippy artwork (check out Sherman Jones). A classy place.

The music was tightly arranged — it sounded like even the solos had set lengths — dynamic, dreamy, conversational, invisible barlines, unexpected, pleasing, driving (percussionists!), usually short tunes, fast, slow and always engaging. When I first arrived I was quite sleepy, but once the music started I had the urge to dance. Instead I daydreamed of this band performing at an outdoor festival. The show was very exciting despite the undeniable sound of these tunes being played countless times — polishing them until they reflect light. This is accessible music, and I mean that in the best way — it is beautiful music that would bring joy to anyone who heard it.

And anyone can hear it — their new album, Vidas (2007), is available online at www.elianacuevas.com. And thanks to the translations in the liner notes, I now know that Cuevas' lyrics too are intriguing and heartbreaking. She sings of the sorrows of love, loneliness, poverty, and death, and the beauty of love, innocence, honesty, and lagoons. She writes and sings from her heart and that is what matters most.

The Musicians
Eliana Cuevas – vocals
Jeremy Ledbetter – piano
George Koller – bass
Daniel Stone – percussion/vocals
Luis Orbegoso – percussion/vocals
We welcome your comments and feedback
Zoë Guigueno
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