Violinist Omar Puente describes himself as “a classical musician whose heart beats with a Cuban rhythm, whose soul is African and whose home is Yorkshire”. Wherever it hails from, his humour, his deep love of music, broad smile and gentle pitter-patter to the tightly locked grooves are contagious. Having been in the public eye for other reasons, this was Puente doing what he does best. It took no time at all for the audience at the Jazz Cafe to start applauding him, to cheer him on, and to get up and dance.
Puente and his band of Robert Mitchell Piano, Jimmy Martinez Bass, Michel Castellano Drums and Oscar Martinez percussion make their way as a tight professional unit through both unison melodic lines and synchronised hits. Mitchell’s sensitive playing weaved between solid montunos, classical counterpoint and intermittent fills. His precision and thoughtful improvisation held the group together harmonically, while Michel Castellano pushed forward with impressive fills and solid rhythms.
Omar made full use of his control pedals by his feet (one that most metal guitarists would be jealous of). A quick tap in during a rendition of “Rumbiando” looped the violins repeating patterns, while another during “Just Like U” gave funky wha wha effects – possibly an unorthodox approach, but one that didn’t feel out of place.
One extended intro saw Omar Puente taking an indulgent cadenza awash with fleeting musical excerpts. As Omar skipped seamlessly through references to Bach’s Cello Suite, Brahms Hungarian Dance #5 and Gershwins’ Summertime (among others) the virtuoso paused a few times, either to stop himself giving too much of one piece away, to absorb the admiration and laughter of the audience or to simply to glance over to his amused band. However, don’t be misled by the jokery, Omar Puente is one serious musician and before the audience had a chance to catch up, he cued his band and delved into a fiery rendition of Mambo Influenciado. The quick-fingered skill is of Puente was something to be admired and he comfortably skimmed the violin’s full compass with ease, his classical technique serving its purpose in aiding the furious improvisation.
The band closed the set in true party atmosphere with joyous Latin rhythms, singing and dancing. As the applause and whoops died away I was disappointed to find myself stepping outside to realise that I hadn’t been transported to Cuba. It was still Camden. It was still raining.
Puente’s new debut solo album ‘From There To Here’ is out, on Courtney Pine’s Destin-E label.