©Brett Delmage, 2017
Miguel de Armas, Marc Decho, Petr Cancura, Lucas Haneman, Michel Medrano, and Amado Dedéu Garcia received a standing ovation for their NAC Presents show December 6. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

The Miguel de Armas Trio, with special guests Amado Dedéu Garcia, Petr Cancura, and Lucas Haneman
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Wednesday, December 6, 2017 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It's been more than five years now since Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas moved to Ottawa. In that time he's changed Ottawa and Ottawa has changed him.

He has substantially increased the prominence of Afro-Cuban jazz here, with his own group, his regular special concerts, and his Fiesta Cubana dance band – and attracted a considerable steady fan base.

De Armas has used the opportunity to write – creating many new compositions – and worked to steadily improve his conversational English. He's made a point of stretching himself by collaborating with a wide variety of local jazz musicians. He hasn't stuck to his comfort zone in Latin jazz, but instead has played with many different vocalists, guitarists, saxophonists, bassists, drummers, and even a violinist in his Friday night shows in Kanata, and at other venues.

He's also collaborated with high-profile Latin jazz musicians in Toronto and Montreal, including Jane Bunnett, Hilario Durán, Julio Hong, and Amado Dedéu Garcia.

But the centerpiece of his music has remained his long-standing trio with bassist Marc Decho and drummer Michel Medrano, which plays monthly at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata and regularly in special concerts here, Montreal, and Toronto and the GTA. They've recorded an album together (What's to Come), which they officially released in Toronto last month with several of the Toronto musicians who performed on it; its Ottawa release show won't be until 2018.

You could see and hear all of those developments at de Armas' concert at the Fourth Stage on December 6. It was part of the NAC Presents series, which doesn't often showcase local jazz, and followed a series of high profile concerts at the NAC's Canada Scene, and the Ottawa and Merrickville Jazz Festivals. The concert was sold out – and packed with enthusiastic listeners who enthusiastically applauded throughout.

The trio was again at the centre of the show, but augmented by two Ottawa musicians – saxophonist Petr Cancura and guitarist Lucas Haneman, both of whom de Armas has played with (separately) on Fridays – along with Afro-Cuban percussionist Amado Dedéu Garcia from Montreal, with whom he's had previous happy collaborations.

They primarily performed pieces by de Armas and Decho, reinforced by several Cuban jazz standards. A Decho composition, “Song for Bebo”, was the opener: a joyful piece featuring scintillating piano and a melodic electric bass solo, and strongly propelled by Medrano on drums and Garcia on congas.

Haneman joined them for the next two numbers, his fluid guitar expressing the evocative melody in de Armas' “A Song for My Little Son”, and his hard-edged metallic lines a counterpoint to soft bass and percussive piano in “His Bass and Him”.

Cancura joined the trio for three numbers in the first set, playing soprano saxophone. His high, swirling lines soared over the sizzling rhythm from piano, drums, and congas, and a powerful bass solo on the Afro-Cuban classic “Greco's Shopping”. On “Yasmina” – a happy tribute to de Armas' wife and manager – his soprano was more inquisitive and a bit wistful over pointillist piano and bass, and the whole built a considerable head of steam before ending with a few last pounded piano notes. “Rumba on Kent Street” featured Gracia and Medrano playing against and pushing each other, faster and faster, with Cancura's soprano providing a more inquiring and quiet Latin melody on top.

The second set opened with “Illusion”, a ballad performed by just the trio, its reminiscent melody decorated by sprinkles of faster piano notes – and then developing into a higher-speed showpiece with repeated piano riffs increasing the energy. De Armas said it was inspired by Canada's winter, and based on Cuban rhythms. Haneman joined them for “From Me to You”, a waltz which featured him in duet with de Armas.

“What's to Come”, the title track of the new CD, featured both Haneman and Cancura and Garcia playing both congas and bátà drums – one with each hand. It was an extended and intense piece with echoing and bluesy guitar and trilling tenor saxophone over crisp piano and driving percussion. Cancura's powerful sax lines spread throughout the room, as the rhythm section steadily upped its intensity before ending with a hard piano flourish.

“Pam Pim Pam Pum” was a double-time exercise in classic Cuban rhythms, while, in contrast, “I Will Sing for You” was a unhurried and hopeful piece, opening with an expressive piano solo.

Garcia is best know as a bátà drummer, and he finally exclusively played those drums on the show's closing number, “Freddie’s Drink”. The rollicking number by Decho and de Armas opened with thunderous drumming, and contrasted Cancura's elongated and anthemic soprano sax lines with repeated bass riffs and jubilant piano. Throughout, the compelling percussion duo of Medrano and Garcia powered the piece. They slowed at one point to a more sensuous rhythm as de Armas left the piano to play with a large shaker – then the ensemble returned to playing all out, building to an intense climax before ending with strong chords on piano.

The audience greeted the end of the show with an extended standing ovation.

I particularly enjoyed how de Armas expanded his repertoire in this show, creating a well-paced line-up which included more ballads and slower numbers, as well as the breakneck-tempo pieces he plays so well. The show was an excellent showcase for how his music – performed as always tightly and with verve – continues to develop and excite audiences.

Set List

Set 1

  1. Song for Bebo (Marc Decho)
  2. A Song for My Little Son (Miguel de Armas)
  3. His Bass and Him
  4. La Dama y el Perro
  5. Greco's Shopping
  6. Yasmina (Miguel de Armas)
  7. Rumba on Kent Street (Miguel de Armas)

Set 2

  1. Illusion
  2. From Me to You
  3. What's To Come
  4. Pam Pim Pam Pum
  5. I Will Sing for You
  6. Gone Too Soon
  7. Freddie's Drink (Miguel de Armas and Marc Decho)

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