Tariq Amery and Miguel de Armas Jr.
The Art House Café
Saturday, November 24, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.
“It was great! Just instant chemistry,” says saxophonist/flutist Tariq Amery of the first time he played with Miguel de Armas Jr., at the Beeched Wailers' Tuesday night jam at Irene's Pub. The duo shared that chemistry with a small but highly satisfied group of listeners in the cozy confines of the Art House Cafe on Saturday.
For the past month, Ottawa has had a new Cuban import. Miguel de Armas Jr., the son of the well-known Ottawa-based Afro-Cuban pianist/composer Miguel de Armas, is visiting Canada for the next six months – and performing around Ottawa. De Armas Jr., who is also a pianist, recently graduated from Cuba's rigorous university music program.
“I love his phrasing and the way he forms his lines. It's just a very unique approach. His energy when he's playing – he just takes you with him,” Amery said of his brief experience playing with de Armas Jr. That connection was clearly evident in their musical collaboration and the extensive improvisation it allowed in this performance, their second formal show together.
Outside, it was dark and dauntingly cold, with freezing rain making the experience more unpleasant by the minute. But inside, one completely forgot about that as the two musicians drew everyone into their obvious joy of making music together, interspersed with laughter and dialogue. There was enthusiastic applause after each number. One couple had heard them at their previous coffeehouse gig and came out to hear them again.
The material was jazz standards, but “our version”, dynamic and percussive. Beginning with “All the Things You Are”, the duo wove together their playing into a highly engaging flow. Twirling flute lines rose above sparkling piano, and then became more mellow as both immersed themselves in the melody.
In songs like “There will never be another you” and “On Green Dolphin Street”, they opened with extended duo variations – one fast and sharp, the other hard and deep – other before letting their notes coalesce into the recognizable melody. There was a definite Afro-Cuban vibe in some pieces, and even a touch of calypso – and notably lots of room to stretch out with the tunes.
“St. Thomas” danced through brilliant showers of notes. In Paquito D'Rivera's “Chucho” (a tribute to Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés), Amery was swaying to the fast rhythm as he played, and de Armas Jr. was matching him in intensity.
I enjoyed their balladic moments as well. They gave “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” a full-bodied and dramatic interpretation, with flute swirling over emotion-laden piano, and substantial variations in tone and tempo that nevertheless all fit together. “Stella by Starlight” was romantic and wistful, with some bravura passages.
Chick Corea's “Spain” was a particular highlight, a vibrant combination of trilling and vibrating flute and pulsing piano. You could see the two continuously responding to each other in an energetic and happy musical conversation that sped up and up before ending with a final flourish.
Amery and de Armas Jr. have scheduled two more shows together. On Friday, November 30 at the Art House Café, they'll perform in a quartet with J.P. Lapensée (who has frequently played Afro-Cuban jazz with the senior de Armas) on bass, and Jamie Holmes on drums. On Sunday, December 9, they'll be at Bar Robo with Lapensée and Valeriy Nehovora on drums. At those shows, Amery said to expect a mixture of tunes: “some Michael Brecker tunes, some Paquito de Rivera, probably a couple of Miguel's original compositions, a couple fusion tunes, maybe some standards.”