December 2006

Tales of La Juana
Bernardo Padron Group | CD Release – Tales of La Juana
December 5, 2006 Hugh's room Toronto
by Sebastian Cook — Photos by Mike Colyer
Tales of La Juana is Venezuelan-born, Toronto-based saxophonist Bernardo Padron’s second CD, and the first he has crafted here in Canada. His music brilliantly straddles the jazz and Venezuelan folk idioms; and so it was that the comfort, sightlines and energy of Hugh’s Room represented the ideal environment in which to celebrate Tales’ release in front of a healthy and boisterous Tuesday night crowd.

The show opened with “Quirpa”, with Padron on flute, segueing into a juropo which he describes as “Venezuelan cowboy music” that has 35 of its own distinct styles. After a hint of nervousness at the beginning, Padron found his comfort zone in ethnomusicological discourse, and from there on in the crowd was all his.

“Seadance”, the title track from his first release (2001), moved more in a traditional Latin-jazz direction with a well-executed touch of smooth. It featured a gorgeous triplet-based melody; exquisitely balanced percussion from drummer Alan Hetherington, some marvellously subtle, acid-jazz-flavoured guitar work from Ted Quinlan, and a funkified crescendoing tenor sax solo from Padron to close the song that brought the crowd fully into the occasion.

“Lullaby for Oscar”, also from Seadance, was next — included at that point “because there’s a better chance you won’t fall asleep in the first set.” There was no word at press time as to whether the young lad in the front section for whom Padron wrote the song was soothed to sleep; as Padron offered up a lullaby of impressively authoritative mid- and low-range tones. Here, the abilities of bassist Andrew Downing and keyboardist Marilyn Lerner to change pace and pitch also shone. Clad in shades with spiked hair, Lerner has a stylishly quirky vibe that is a joy to watch in the context of her textured playing that could seemingly go in just about any direction genre-wise.

We were then introduced to La Juana. She was the caregiver for Padron’s family who had come to Canada with them and then moved back. Padron described the album as a celebration of the Canadian experience through the lens of an inspirational visit with her. The song was a microcosm of Padron himself, cosmopolitan yet folksy. Mark Duggan’s four-mallet marimba solo was entrancing, his work and place in the band as its rhythmic foundation becoming more apparent from that point forward. As a composer, Padron is adept at revealing his musicians’ individual strengths and personalities, fostering relationships between players, and the band’s sound as a whole — giving the audience the opportunity to enjoy all of these dynamics.

Duggan’s marimba introduced “Waiku”, with Downing next to join the fray followed by a short sax blast, before a coda to the intro marimba beat. Hetherington entered with some feathery drums, and then Padron took over for with a blistering sax solo that again revealed out his formidable mid- and low-range tones. Appropriately, given its name, which means “people of the moon”, the song returned to a tropical trance, almost dub-like groove, with Lerner’s keyboard subtly climbing the ladder.

“El Araguenay” was a tribute to Venezuela’s national tree, famous for its explosion into yellow bloom during the end of dry season. Sure enough, the song exploded into bloom from a relaxed intro, with some show-stealing marimba from Duggan at its apex.

“Still Unheard” is Padron’s sonic homage to the disenfranchised indigenous people of his homeland. Starting with the rhythmic one-two of the marimba, a haunting accordion melody, and a beautifully-articulated soprano sax line, one could hear the plight of these people symbolized in song — seemingly ready to break out from the sadness yet never quite realizing their true freedom.

Padron revealed yet another side to his rich musical palette in the form of “El Jabillo”, a captivating, odd-metered Afro-Cuban composition. This was for the free-jazz lovers in the house, the lines reminiscent of Miles Davis’ electric years with acid jazz/rock guitar, gypsy-esque accordion and Padron’s vibrato sax walking a melodic tightrope. The rhythmic synergy of bass, drums and congas was equally impressive.

Bernardo Padron

Marilyn Lerner

Ted Quinlan

Then came a sonic 180 to a tune indigenous to Margarita Island entitled “Polo” that showcased Lerner’s classical piano sensibilities and Padron’s saxophone line construction strengths. An incredible maracas solo from Hetherington that would not have seemed out of place in a hopping Latin nightclub led into “Orinoco”, the stunning lead track of the album. Like the river from which the song gets its name, this song has a breathtakingly majestic feel. From its headwaters on the marimba with delicate guitar accents, it twisted and turned with Padron’s sax leading the journey downstream — floating on its gentle current, churning through fierce rapids and back again. The piano work of Lerner followed the sax lines, like two river dolphins riding the current. Waiting at the end was a lengthy and well-deserved standing ovation. After a short jaunt stage left, Padron beckoned the band back for an encore, a reprise of “Waiku” whose highlight was another display of guitar wizardry from Quinlan.

In a city teeming with talent and vision from all over the Latin music spectrum, Padron stood out on this night as a unique and passionate voice — ready to step into bigger spotlights as a performer, composer and bandleader. Tales of La Juana should do its inspiration proud, and make us all eagerly await Padron’s next musical chapter.

The musicians
Bernardo Padron – tenor & soprano saxes, flute
Marilyn Lerner – keys, accordion
Mark Duggan – marimba, percussion
Ted Quinlan – electric guitar
Andrew Downing – acoustic bass
Alan Hetherington – drums, maracas

We welcome your comments and feedback
Sebastian Cook
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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