Whew! Let’s take a second to catch our breaths from a frantic few weeks. It began 3 weeks ago when I attended two concerts on back-to-back days and wrapped up with the grand opening of the new TDS studio. On Friday June 27th I attended a concert at Massey Hall. The performer was an entertaining act from Brazil, Gilberto Gil and the Broadband Band. This was a highly enjoyable show with traditional and modern brazilian sounds ranging from calypso, samba, forro and reggae to name a few. As is the nature of the music, all songs were upbeat and had your toes tapping in no time. One of my favourite pieces was the reggae interpretation of the Beatles classic “Don’t want to leave her now.” Audience participation was encouraged and by the end of the night everyone was having a good time, up on their feet dancing the night away. Composed of various guitars, basses, percussion and keyboards, the harmony was complex yet simple in its enjoyment. Every song had a joyous feel and was sung with such dedication that you couldn’t help but experience the music (a sentiment echoed of the performance given the following night by Omara Portuondo, but more on that later). I only wish I knew Portuguese, my spanish allowed me to understand some but not all of what was said. Still, musically, the show was well put together and did not disappoint.

The following night brought a performance by the legendary Cuban songstress, Omara Portuondo. This act was closer to what is known as salsa but to call it a salsa act would be an injustice to the range of music performed. Perhaps most famous for being a part of the Buena Vista Social Club, Omara’s music consists or stories from her native Cuba expressed with tenderness, love and power. The group was the topic of a PBS documentary which I recommend to anyone interested in the afro-cuban rhythm and its influence to modern day musica tropical. I must say that Roy Thomson Hall is a great place for a musical experience and the nuances of her voice carried well in the venue. Consider one piece where she sings about spurned love with the passion and scorn expected of such a song. Each note carried the emotion precisely and with equal conviction. Now, imagine following that up with a song intended as a lullaby for a little baby. The power in the voice was replaced by playful, hushed tones, making you feel as if you are in the room, looking down at the baby in its crib. For a woman well into her 70’s, Ms. Portuondo’s voice carries a quality seen in performers more than half her age, a truly great voice.

Still, I must admit, even with two amazing acts the highlight for me was the opening act for Ms. Portuondo. The group charged with this task was the Roberto Fonseca group. The best way I could describe this group would be as a latin jazz ensemble. Consisting of drums, percussion, guitar, bass, various other instruments (flute and sax to name a couple) and Mr. Fonseca on the piano, this group delivered one great song after another. For an interview click here, with the second part here. As a former jazz musician, I have always had an affinity for the many permutations of jazz; add to that my love for latin rhythms and this group was a delicacy to my ears. As I listened to the music I could feel the layers being built on each other until the final product which was just mind blowing, a collective melody of simple complexity. The groups ability to incorporate different sounds was especially evident in the piece titled “Congo Arabe.” As you can probably guess from the title, the idea is an afro-cuban rhythm with a distinctly arabian feel. I just have to say in closing that I’ve never quite heard the piano played that way…what a treat.

Hasta la proxima.

Sigan bailando!