|Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares
(Barbican Hall, 24 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by John L. Walters)
Last Friday’s triple-bill at the Barbican threatened to self-combust with its abundance of talent and egos. The generous menu included four hugely talented Cuban stars: Alfredo Rodriguez, Arturo O’Farrill, Yilian Cañizares and Omar Sosa and their accompanying sidemen, each reminding us of the enormous musical and stylistic contribution that Cuba has made to the world of music.
If you can talk about a Cuban signature or audio signifier I guess it has to be the montuño, a deliciously syncopated, arpeggiated form of piano riff that when written down looks like a mountain range (hence, according to some sources, its poetic name). Each pianist played such a figure several times in each set, a touchstone that was both comforting in its familiarity and totally exhilarating.
The band with the most serious jazz credentials was that of O’Farrill, whose use of detailed arrangement, space, timbre, light, shade and expressive improvisation might put you in mind of a contemporary George Russell. His sextet, with bass, congas, tenor sax and O’Farrill’s sons Zack and Adam on drums and trumpet, generates a big, complex sound. They could have easily done a whole evening concert; O’Farrill’s is the kind of uncompromising yet engaging music that the EFG London Jazz Festival does so well.
Young pianist Alfredo Rodriguez is prodigiously talented and technically gifted, but his short set was all over the place. And it was too long, not helped by accompanying bass and drums that sometimes veered towards taste-free, jazz-fusion bombast. I would have preferred to hear Rodriguez play solo, and I’m sure we’ll hear much more of him. He also sings into a digital keyboard gadget that produces close vocal harmonies. A highlight of his set was an almost corny, yet moving and tender version of Besame Mucho.
The highlight of Friday’s gig was the dynamic duo of Yilian Cañizares and Omar Sosa (not to be mistaken for the art director of Apartamento magazine), whose recent album Aguas I was thrilled to discover via Jazz FM. Violinist and singer Cañizares has a mesmerising stage presence and a warm rapport with Sosa, who plays grand piano and a collection of keyboards with perfection and grace. The overall sound, skilfully underpinned by percussionist Gustavo Ovalles, is intimate and acoustic, using amplification and electronics to add orchestral space and depth to their repertoire, which spans tone poems and torch songs while maintaining the rhythmic heart of Cuban music. Their opening set brought the house down.
Jazz Cubano! was a treat, but it might have worked better re-structured to start with Rodriguez solo, followed by O’Farrill, ending with the soulful fireworks of Cañizares and Sosa.