On September 20, Ottawa Latin jazz band Los Gringos reunited for the first time since 2001, to show that hot jazz can be hot stuff on a otherwise quiet suburban Sunday night. Their lively concert concluded with the enthusiastic audience calling for an encore and giving a standing ovation.
Los Gringos founder, co-leader, composer and trombonist Mark Ferguson told Ottawa Jazz Scene that he was "really knocked out by the reception".
Much of their music was original, with compositions by Ferguson and saxophonists Vince Rimbach and Mike Mullin, and an arrangement by Dave Hildinger. The band played a number of tunes from their 1996 CD, Vow Of Silence, as well as music that was written since its release. A rousing version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" wrapped up the evening.
"There are a lot of notes... it's difficult to play," observed Ferguson after the concert. He was very glad to hear the improvisation and performances of his complex compositions, which he said were a lot of effort to write.
Indeed, the band did play a lot of notes, performing for two and one-quarter hours. It was a generous quality and quantity of music for the $10 cover charge.
Returning Los Gringos members included Mike Mullin (alto sax and flute), Rene Lavoie (tenor sax and flute), co-leaders Mark Ferguson (trombone) and Peter Beaudoin (drums), and Ken Seeley (bass); Ken Fahie (keyboards) came in from Toronto. Experienced trumpeters Nick Dyson and Don Paterson joined the group at this performance.
At the end of one song, Ferguson noted in good humour that one musician had forgotten to play his solo, which brought smiles and laughter to all the musicians, and audience. Between the increasing heat from the performance and the 150 listeners, and the "many notes" that were played, this oversight could be easily dismissed. It likely wasn't even noticed except by those who knew the original arrangements well.
Complementing Ferguson's assertive growling on his trombone, his relaxed and often humorous commentary at the microphone informed the audience about Los Gringos' history (including a funny anecdote about the name), band members, and future hopes and plans.
Well-known Ottawa jazz fan and organizer Gaby Warren was one of the many audience members attracted to the Greenfield's Pub for the first time. A fan of Afro-Cuban jazz since his diplomatic posting to Cuba in 1963, he has followed Los Gringos since their beginning in 1990. Gaby was "delighted" with what he heard, giving special mention to Mark Ferguson's arrangements and compositions, and the tenor and flute work of René Lavoie.
Lavoie, an Ottawan who received his Masters in jazz at the University of Miami, repeatedly delivered strong solo performances on the flute and tenor sax, consistently strengthening the Latin feel of the performance.
Mike Bongard, host of the radio show "The Latin Train" (CHUO 89.1 FM, Saturdays 8-10 PM, myspace.com/LatinTrainRadio) had a front row seat for the show. "I was very impressed with the boys Sunday night. Very high energy and they played the numbers as well as they did when they were gigging every month, way back when. I guess it's like riding a bike – you can go away for a long time but the instincts are still there somehow. Many of their songs that night were original numbers and, to my ears, they've held up well over the years. For some gentlemen of non-Hispanic origin they've certainly done their best to absorb a Latin sensibility into their playing and they have a fine groove that does the music justice."
The show attracted numerous long-time live jazz listeners to the Greenfield's Pub for the first time. Several listeners commented on the pleasant and functional arrangement of the pub which allowed listeners to easily see the large stage, and get close to it. Despite its location in Barrhaven, Greenfield's is only 30 minutes from downtown, directly served by Route 95 Transitway buses.
Those who regret missing the show, and those who want to hear Los Gringos again, should mark their calendars now. The group will play live again on March 25, 2010 for a CBC taping in Studio 40. Tickets will be free but will undoubtedly run out fast. Keep watching Ottawa Jazz Scene for details closer to the date.