May 2006

Afro Cuban Jazz and Dance Party
Presented by Art of Jazz
May 20, 2006Fermenting CellarToronto
Salsa Meets Jazz in The Fermenting Cellar (really)
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
In the program, the evening’s performance was billed as the Afro Cuban Jazz and Dance Party, printed on the ticket was “Salsa Meets Jazz”, which is also the title of a recording of Tito Puente and his Latin Ensemble with guest Phil Woods. This concert was in part, like that CD, a tribute to the days when jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton and Charlie Parker would hurry over to New York City’s Palladium to hear Tito Puente and the Latin bands after their own gigs and a sort of mutual admiration society was born. It was a celebration of salsa, jazz and the movement between and the marriage(s) of the two.
The Afro-Cuban Jazz and Dance Party had long sold out but there was a line of people at the door hoping to get in later as people left. Many were rewarded, after several hours. As we walked into the room, a 'pre-concert' band was playing “Corner Pocket”, the first tune on Tito Puente’s Salsa Meets Jazz CD. It was a pleasant surprise and a heralding of things to come.

The first half of the show was Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana with some of the special guests who played on her 2005 Juno-winning CD, Radio Guantanamo, Johnny Sansone, Kevin Breitt, Howard Johnson and Dennis Keldie, in all, a nine piece band, for starters. They opened the concert with "Elegua", a traditional Afro-Cuban chant to the Santeria deity who opens the doors to all endeavours and is the guardian of the crossroads. The homage started with some quiet piano, then bass. Drummer/percussionist Francisco Mela started the chant and the other musicians joined in. It was a nice introduction but the artful construction of the show was badly marred by sound problems. In the beginning, we could not hear the voices and Larry Cramer at one point tapped three dead microphones, trying to find one that worked. The dead microphones and some feedback problems that cropped up were eventually fixed but the sound quality remained poor.

Jane Bunnett
On the positive side, this was an assemblage of exceptional and experienced musicians and though they may have seemed a bit out of sync at times (due to sound system problems?) they carried on valiantly. “Gimme One Dollar” with Johnny Sansone on accordion was fun and Jane Bunnett played one of her trademark soprano solos. “New Orleans Under Water”, a jewel of dark musical beauty befitting its title, exhibited its many facets, including Johnny Sansone’s extended soul-ripping harmonica solo and Kevin Breitt’s haunting guitar. Throughout the evening, Jane Bunnett played with her usual fluency and Howard Johnson wowed everyone, playing melody, fast rhythms, percussive patterns and throaty bass sounds on the tuba.
A rap duo from Cuba, Obsesion, in town for a Monday night show with Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana came up for one tune. The male-female duo managed to get the audience to reply with say Cuba, say obsesion, say Jane Bunnett. After they left the stage, the sextet of Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana transitioned to jazz and latin jazz rhythms, with a round of solos. Watching from the sidelines during this piece, Howard Johnson, mightily impressed with pianist David Virelles, stepped forward for a high five as David laid down the concluding chord of the piece.
Howard Johnson
Jane Bunnett’s show ended with an expansive jam session, a “Ron con ron” that morphed into “Caravan” and back. Frank Duran replaced Franciso Mela on drums and percussion freeing Francisco to come forward to sing. Kellylee Evans was nabbed from the audience to sing with him. Cuban saxophonist Luis Denis joined the group and eventually, Dr. Barry Harris took the piano bench from David Virelles and entered into a most interesting musical exchange with Howard Johnson, a rather Monkish tuba and piano duo.

“Now is the time to turn this place into the Palladium”, Jane Bunnett said, just wait until you hear Ricky Franco and the P Crew Orchestra and his guests. A short while later, the 14-piece powerhouse salsa/timba band hit the stage like a tidal wave of energy sucking dancers onto the floor and listeners into the music. Later, guests like Latin jazz pianist Hilario Duran and trumpeter Ray Vega would join the band and I’m sure these guys played until the wee hours but this ladybug had to fly. Would that I could….

I love the name of the venue for this musical mingling, The Fermenting Cellar! What could be more appropriate? However, especially for large bands such as these the sound system must be improved.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report
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