June 2006

Paquito D'Rivera Quintet
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 30, 2006Main StageToronto
Classic Pan-Latin Magic
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
As a little boy in Cuba (child prodigy, actually), Paquito D’Rivera dreamed of moving to New York City to be a jazz musician. An American now, many world tours and a few decades later, he stands on the Toronto jazz festival stage to play before a packed tent of fans and admirers.

Paquito D’Rivera is a perfect example of the musician with his own voice. A master of the saxophone with a clear, clean sound, he tends to stay within the higher register of the tenor with only brief forays into the lower. His clarinet tone is ultra-warm and woody with never the slightest hint of a squeak.

Paquito D’Rivera is also a warm and welcoming figure on the stage. He talks to the audience, setting up a rapport, making humourous remarks with a twinkle in his eye. He is spending the evening with us, sharing the music. He also makes a point of acknowledging the quality of the musicians he is playing with and shares the spotlight with them. Paquito D’Rivera may be the master here but he knows he has excellent musicians with him and he wants us to hear that.

Paquito D’Rivera is an exceptional composer, but he starts the night with a piece from Astor Piazolla. It is exquisite and multi-faceted tango-jazz — dark, brooding, full of longing and desire, with quickening heartbeats and sudden suspension, solos of searing intensity, mysterious piano harmonies, throbbing bass and dangerous undercurrents. Already, Paquito D’Rivera has impressed us all but so has the rest of his band, especially Diego Urcola with his long, muted trumpet solo.

Paquito D’Rivera
The second piece Paquito D’Rivera introduces was written by the drummer, Mark Walker “from the Central American city of Chicago, Illinois. What about that? A drummer who can compose music! We will be recording this on our next CD.” This piece starts out with a Brazilian rhythm, taking some interesting twists along the way.

“Tango Azul”, written by Diego Urcola from Buenos Aires is beautiful and mysterious. Alon Yavnaj is wonderful on piano playing sweetly, dropping dark chords underneath and playing rich Bill Evans harmonies to complement Paquito D’Rivera’s sensitive clarinet. Diego takes an amazing trumpet solo drawing out notes one by one and bending them, then exploding the tension with an abundance of rapidly exiting notes. The bass is left to carry out the piece alone with Paquito adding the finishing touch, just a breath through the clarinet.

There is a piece dedicated to Moe Kaufman whom Paquito D’Rivera first heard on a recording that had been smuggled into Havana. It’s a waltz tribute, because “Moe loved waltzes” but it swings and the pianist plays a very Cuban-style solo with elements of danzon and tango. Other pieces evidenced Paquito D’Rivera’s classical background with baroque and Bach-influenced solos played unbelievably fast, each note always clear and distinct.
Paquito D’Rivera & Diego Urcola
Certainly one of the most unexpected delights for me was a piece composed by Paquito D’Rivera named “Fiddle Dreams”. “It’s a pain in the neck”, he said. “I wrote it for piano and violin. The problem is finding a jazz violinist who wants to play all those written notes”. While Paquito is talking, pianist Alon Yavnaj is trying to organize a pile of sheet music, unfolding concertina-like on the floor.

Paquito D’Rivera plays the violin part on clarinet. He is a true master of the instrument. The piece is beautiful, complex and magical. Everything is there in the various movements, abstract hard bop, sweet and light sections, samba, Debussy, the bright and the dark.

The other big surprise of the night? Paquito D’Rivera called “his friend” Toronto bassist Roberto Occhipinti onto the stage. Roberto had opened the show, playing a very successful first set with The Roberto Occhipinti Quintet. “I wrote this piece against the bass,” Paquito said, “lets have them play it”, “them” referring to “Italy” (Roberto Occhipinti) and “Peru” (Oscar Stagnaro). The piece, “Basstronaut”. Paquito D’Rivera sat back on a stool and watched them with a blissful expression.

For the finale, a Latin jazz number, Paquito D’Rivera gets us to sing and ends his playing for the night on the notes of Dizzy Gillespie — Salt Peanuts, Salt peanuts. I believe it was the third time I heard him play that little line of six notes that evening.

The band
Paquito D’Rivera – saxophone, clarinet
Diego Urcola – trumpet
Alon Yavnaj – piano
Mark Walker – drums
Oscar Stagnaro – bass
We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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