May 2007

Havana Norte
May 19, 2007 Lula Lounge Toronto
The Quintessential Lula
by Sebastian Cook with photos by Roger Humbert
The last Saturday salsa fiesta of this year’s musically epochal Lula World 5 had "barnburner” written all over it. And so it was that a who’s-who of the very finest Toronto-based Cuban musicians — led by pianist Roberto Linares of Black Market — gathered on a misty Saturday night, to celebrate the place that over these five years has been such a driving force in Toronto earning the moniker of ‘La Habana del Norte’.

Befitting the occasion, the show was introduced by DJ and Cuban music promoter Billy Bryans, who in turn gave way to singer, radio host and Latin music community-builder (and LMR colleague) Amanda Martinez of Jazz.FM 91.1. The opening number was quite short, featuring a beautifully lyrical piano line from bandleader Linares and a powerful wall of horns from trumpeters Alexander Brown and Kervin Baretto and trombonists Yankar Gonsalez and Yannick Malboeuf.

From this more traditional son montuno foundation, the energy from the stage slowly built up into a roaring and infectious timba groove. It was the duality of Cuban music — the balance of spectacular intensity and delicate layering of sounds, creative camaraderie and musical machismo — in living Lula colour. Once it was apparent that the band was truly settled in and cooking with gas, I found myself wondering if there existed a club anywhere in the world with a better vibe than this one right now. The buzz from the crowd was like a coro unto itself, an intangible energy that blended into the music and gave it an air of utter electricity. The rhythmic pulse was torrid and seamlessly interlocked between Chendy Leon’s superb, rimshot-heavy timbale and Jorge “Papiosco” Torres’ exquisite playing that was almost tablas-like in its tonal nuance. Yani Borrell was the perfect vocal frontman, his highly improvisational cadence and rhythm following the beat and melody joyously out into the teeming dancefloor; he gave way to Alberto Alberto for one particularly smouldering mambo number that should have blown the roof off the club but for some reason drew only a tepid reaction as it drew to a close.

The highlight of the first set was a tres solo from Pablosky Rosales — a 3 or 4 minute explosion of strings that brought the idea of “Cuban Hendrix” to mind. Building from a slow son into a funky timba groove with an almost sitar-like tone, this stunning exhibition redefined my perception of the tres sound, which I had previously associated with more folkloric music.

The band took a well-deserved extended break between sets, during which Bryans threw down a phenomenal selection of Afro-Cuban bangers flavoured with Brazilian, hip hop, and dancehall reggae vibes. Lula has never been known as the most DJ-friendly joint in town, but on this night the bottom end from the decks was booming in grand style.

Roberto Linares Brown

Alberto Alberto & Telmary
The second set started with a jazzed-up son montuno. Borrell infectiously led a call-and-response with the crowd, accented by a hauntingly beautiful bass coro and some blazing high-register hornsmanship from Baretto and Brown. Then came the appearance of Telmary, the jazz poet who possesses some of the most incendiary creative energy I have ever heard from a vocalist or been around in person. Sure enough, it was as though someone put a depth charge on the stage when she came on, including one stretch of Spanish jungle flow that was positively astonishing. Making Telmary’s vocal stylings ever more powerful and impacting was her effortless changing of vocal and physical tempo, from frenetic streetwise flow to slow, sensual singing and movements; the band obliged her strengths with a brass-heavy and hiphop-friendly Afro-rumba rhythm. The reaction from the crowd at the conclusion of many of the songs was surprisingly muted, but the room just erupted at the end of her two-song salvo. “Claro”, indeed.

I was unfortunately pulled away and missed the last half-hour or so of the party. I am told that Luisito Orbegoso, whom I saw earlier making his way through the dancefloor at the beginning of the second set, was invited up for a solo. How this band finished such a memorable night I can only imagine, but it could only have been in grand style. Congratulations to Lula Lounge on a fifth-birthday celebration that was everything it deserved to be given all that this visionary establishment has brought to our city – a musical hothouse for so many remarkably talented Cuban musicians being at or near the top of that list. Viva Havana Norte, and viva Lula!

Yani Borrell
Havana Norte
Roberto Linares Brown – piano
Chendy Leon – timbales
Jorge Torres (Papiosco) – congas
Aris Montenegro – bongos
Junior Urbaez – small percussion
Kervin Baretto – trumpet
Alexander Brown - trumpet
Yankar Gonsalez – trombone
Yannick Malboeuf – trombone
Jorge Maza – flute
Pablosky Rosales – tres
Yoser Rodriguez – bass
Juan Pablo Dominguez – bass
Yani Borrell – vocals
Alberto Alberto – vocals
Telmary – vocals
Ernesto Brooks (a.k.a Netto) – vocals
Yerito — vocals
eriko – vocals
We welcome your comments and feedback
Sebastian Cook
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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