Claudia Salguero – ORIGENES
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, April 23, 2015

In one of the rare pauses in the first of her two high-energy concerts at the NAC, Ottawa vocalist Claudia Salguero explained why she chose the songs in the show. All of them meant something special to her, she said; they spoke to her of loss and letting go and of true love.

Sylvio Modolo, Regina Teixeira, and Claudia Salguero celebrate a Brazilian melody. ©2015 Brett Delmage
Sylvio Modolo, Regina Teixeira, and Claudia Salguero celebrate a Brazilian melody. ©2015 Brett Delmage

She described one as “the music that is in my heart” and another as her mother's bolero, and said she had sung one song from Venezuela all her life.

For two one-hour sets, Salguero and her band of excellent local Latin musicians swept her listeners along with upbeat and emotionally-resonant music. Even the sad songs were invigorated with complex percussion and tastefully-deployed horns.

It was music designed to touch the heart – and it certainly grabbed the Fourth Stage audience. The applause at the end of many of the songs was notably strong. Salguero introduced each piece, carefully explaining its message and its origin – and different sections of the crowd exploded into applause when she said a song came from Mexico, or Brazil, or Venezuela.

The songs came from across Latin America, plus three from North America. Salguero sang primarily in Spanish, with occasional forays into English and Portuguese. While I think one's appreciation of the songs would have been heightened by being able to understand the lyrics, her clear, expressive voice and gestures transmitted the emotion in the songs very well – whether suffering and yearning, or happy romance.

They included her favourite slow-tempo and emotional boleros – from Mexico, Cuba, and even Chile – as well as an Argentinean pop song, cumbia mixed with other rhythms from her native Colombia, and a fast-moving piece from Peru featuring evocative Andean panpipes.

This setlist was far more varied and unusual than standard Latin fare. Salguero had reached back as far as the 1930s and 40s to choose pieces to show the origins of the music she loves. The show's musical director, Sylvio Modolo, then rearranged all the songs to give them a modern and consistent feel – a major endeavour which he told me afterwards started last December and included first transcribing all the music from recordings.

The stage was stuffed with musicians and instruments: Modolo's keyboards sat atop his piano, with his accordion beside him; Izzy Martinez was surrounded by three guitars and large selection of pedals. And the two percussionists – Alvaro de Minaya and Juan-Luis Vasquez – were working around heaps of drums and percussion, frequently and gracefully exchanging places.

Vasquez and de Minaya had a cornucopia of Latin percussion: every time you'd think they couldn't extract a different instrument, there it was in their hands: shakers ranging from a couple inches in diameter to several feet in length, wooden flutes of every variety, tiny hand drums to large congas and drumsets. On two songs, de Minaya slung a bomba drum across his chest to add a deep, solemn beat.

Claudia Salguero and her band played with considerable energy and ease together. ©2015 Brett Delmage
Claudia Salguero and her band played with considerable energy and ease together. ©2015 Brett Delmage

The horn section – Jasmin Lalande on tenor, alto, and soprano sax and flute, Mathieu Mikando on trombone, and Paul Doyle on trumpet and flugelhorn – both added considerable jazz accents and underlined Salguero's vocals. Martinez, playing Quebec-made solid-body acoustic and solid-body electric guitars and an Ibanez guitar, consistently contributed texture and interest: his inflected solo in Pat Metheny's “Dream of the Return” upped the intensity and complemented Salguero's reading of the passionate lyrics.

As Salguero noted in the show, almost all the musicians on stage had performed with her for years – and it showed in their ease and comfort performing together. The one exception has been the bass player, who has changed each year. Ken Seeley, who is also in the Latin big band Los Gringos, joined the group for this show and smoothly fit into place, adding accents and keeping up the energy – with a big smile – throughout.

The first set closed with a song from Brazil, and Salguero called out local vocalist and percussionist Regina Teixeira (of Florquestra) from the audience, who ended up on stage for an impromptu and sparkling duet which finished with half the band dancing up front playing percussion.

The set list was particularly well-organized, changing dynamics and styles frequently to keep the music interesting and diverse. It could slow down for a sinuous bolero, or a quiet duet between Modolo's romantic piano and Salguero's heartfelt vocals in a 1930s love song. But the musicians could also go full out in an anthemic Ecuadorian song about how wonderful it was to be from Latin America, which got the audience up and clapping to the beat even before the song ended.

That song ended the show, and was immediately greeted by an extended standing ovation. Salguero returned with just her rhythm section, for a fast-paced piece that began with a long syncopated intro from Seeley on electric bass and Modolo on keyboards (and the audience clapping in time). Salguero joined in with intimate, flowing vocals in Spanish, like a woman singing to her lover. The bright, happy song was greeted with another standing ovation.

This was the fifth year that Salguero has presented shows at the NAC Fourth Stage, each year expanding the variety of the music and the number of musicians on stage. This year's show was particularly ambitious; I think it might have made it easier to follow the music if she had distributed a printed programme giving the names of the songs and their composers and their country of origin, to assist those those in the audience who didn't speak Spanish.

She certainly has succeeded in attracting an enthusiastic audience who sounded delighted as they left. She plays a second show tonight (Friday): as in previous years, both Thursday's and tonight's shows were sold out.

    – Alayne McGregor

2015 April 28: added photos from the performance

All photos © copyright Brett Delmage, 2015
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