The Carlos Alberto Santana Jazz Trio (l-r: Santana, Angel Araos, Daniel Chavolla) presented a concert whose sound was carefully modulated to work well in the reverberant St. Ann Catholic Church in Merrickville. ©Brett Delmage, 2015
The Carlos Alberto Santana Jazz Trio (l-r: Santana, Angel Araos, Daniel Chavolla) presented a concert whose sound was carefully modulated to work well in the reverberant St. Ann Catholic Church in Merrickville. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Carlos Alberto Santana Jazz Trio
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
St. Ann Catholic Church
Friday, October 16, 2015 – 3 p.m.

View photos of this performance

I first heard Ottawa pianist Carlos Alberto Santana a few years ago in local Latin and world music groups. But, as his trio concert at Merrickville's Jazz Fest showed, his musical range is much greater than that.

His hour-long concert on Friday afternoon was an appealing group of almost all originals, whose sound owed as much to Dave Brubeck as any Cuban or Brazilian composer.

By profession an electrical engineer, Santana also studied jazz with Juan Jose Calatayud in Mexico and Jan Jarczyk in Montreal. He moved to Canada from Mexico in 1998. His bassist, Daniel Chavolla, is also from Mexico, while drummer Angel Araos is from Chile. They've been playing together for well over a year, at locations around the region including a GigSpace show last summer.

Santana opened the concert with solo piano, beginning his composition “Oye Latino” as a reflective piano piece with almost a Bill Evans feel. Partway through, Chavolla and Araos joined in, and the mood became brighter and faster, with more of a Latin feel. With piano glissandos, assertive bass lines, and rumbling drums, the tune ended with a strong flourish – and evoked strong applause from the audience.

He followed that with another bright piece, “Las Chiquis”, dedicated to his daughters. Its dancing rhythms evolved throughout the piece, but remained consistently fast and fun.

“Back to I-95” was a tribute to Dave Brubeck, one of Santana's favourite jazz musicians. It had the forward momentum of traffic on that east-coast highway, but played with nuance – brushes on the drums and a sparkling melody on piano.

Other highlights included “Manicen”, a sweet, danceable evocation of Cuban jazz; and the sunny sounds of “Going South”, inspired by a recent work trip Santana took to the Caribbean, which reminded me of steel bands and salsa.

The one non-original the trio performed was “El Vago” by Mexican jazz pianist Héctor Infanzon. Santana noted that jazz had recently become more popular in his native country, after many years of local music predominating. He said the song was about a homeless person, one who is wandering around a city; it was a dramatic piece with an emphatic beat and percussive piano, evoking the uncertainty and terror of that life. It became more melodic and then ended with a flourish.

Mid-afternoon on a Friday is not a prime time for jazz shows. However, pews were still filled more than half-way back, and the audience appeared involved and interested in the music, loudly clapping after many of the songs. The church's priest, Father Julius Nwagbara, was in attendance and was all smiles at the end of the concert.

This was the first concert the festival had presented in St. Ann Catholic Church. The band realized during sound check that the sanctuary was very reverberant and sensitively responded by carefully modulating their sound. Araos, for example, was often playing with bamboo rods rather than sticks. Because the trio embraced the new venue's acoustic character, their music sounded good there.

The trio ended with “De Vuelta”, whose contrasting and often hard-edged rhythms and full-bodied piano chords provided a high-energy conclusion to warm the crowd up before they exited into the brisk fall weather. After it ended abruptly, the audience responded with a standing ovation.

Santana will present a larger version of this show next month at the National Arts Centre, with a guest saxophone player. Given the tightness and vitality – and subtlety – of the trio at Merrickville's Jazz Fest, Ottawa jazz fans should consider checking out that show.

   – Alayne McGregor

Set List

  1. Oye Latino
  2. Las Chiquis
  3. Back to I-95
  4. Early in the Morning
  5. Manicen
  6. 40 Ahead
  7. El Vago by Héctor Infanzon
  8. Heading South
  9. De Vuelta

Read OttawaJazzScene.ca's reviews of concerts at the 2015 Merrickville's Jazz Fest, and interviews with musicians appearing at the festival, linked to from our main festival article:

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015