LJF 2018: Jazz Cubano

A triple-bill of Cuban musicians at the Barbican appeals to Gareth Thomas despite mixed responses from some audience members

As part of the EFG Excellence Series, the Barbican welcomed a triple-bill of Cuban jazz performances on Friday night - Omar Sosa with Yilian Cañizares; Alfredo Rodriguez; and Arturo O’Farrill. As the overarching description suggests, they are all big names in Latin jazz.

Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares (pictured right by Ilgin Erarslan Yanmaz), having released their collaborative album – Aguas – last month, were first up. This opening performance was the highlight of the concert for me. Cañizares’s impassioned and fiery vocals met – often simultaneously – with a virtuosic ability on the violin. The set carried an air of mystery and spirituality about it, with samples of throat singing, and a song about a Yoruba goddess accompanied by the sounds of a small trickling water feature to the side of the stage. Often one of the best things about Latin jazz is its use of percussion, and this was no exception: a whole variety of instruments were used here, including a board struck with what seemed like a series of hollow wooden tubes varying in size, and other instruments I could not even name.

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez was mentored by and collaborated with Quincy Jones, which was given note as he was introduced next. Perhaps more immediately noticeable though was Munir Hossn on six-string bass and electric guitar, who was a significant stage presence as he soloed and danced around on stage in shades and a gold-embroidered jacket. Here the music took on a mix of traditional Latin jazz and contemporary fusion, but the band made sure they finished on Ay, Mama Ines - a traditional Cuban song that was prominent in Rodriguez’s own childhood – with singing and dancing encouraged from the audience.

Pianist and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill – son of the Cuban giant Chico O’Farrill – closed the concert alongside his own two sons, drummer Zack O’Farrill and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill. This was more freeform and improvisational, and the audience was perhaps more divided on this point. Some people even left, but it is probably fair to say that this was down to the style rather than quality of playing – or perhaps even fatigue at the end of a triple-bill showcase. O’Farrill was in good humour regardless, expressing his excitement and joking about politics between pieces.

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