Thursday nights at the BJC have morphed into special occasions, when you may often find something a little different from our regular jazz groups – perhaps an international or interstate artiste who happens to be in Brisbane for a few days, tango dancers from Argentina, a youth jazz group from somewhere in Europe, maybe a new young jazz vocalist – fresh from the Conservatorium and eager to show their talents to the world or, as witnessed by over 100 patrons last night – an orchestral concert !
Before you get the idea that the BJC has ‘gone classical’ let me say that the orchestral concert was provided by the EMO (Enthusiastic Musicians Orchestra) – notice that they don’t use the word ‘jazz’ in their title, even though they are all accomplished jazz musicians. Under the direction of Andrew Garton, the EMO specialises in playing many original pieces with a penchant for Latin American themes and styles. Last night was not just a ‘sit down and play’ concert – it was an entertainment event both in content and format.
Cuban music was the theme for this show and, after my welcome announcement, the spotlights on the stage were dimmed and the focus of everything swung over to the section of dance-floor in front of the bar, where a group of three conga drummers with special guest percussionist Fabian Hevia, began the performance with some traditional Cuban Orisha music. This is the liturgical music used in the Afro-Cuban religion known as Santería, developed in Cuba from the traditional beliefs of the Yoruba people of West Africa. Using batá drums, bead-covered gourds (shekeré), conga drums, and vocals, the percussionists shared with the audience some of the beautiful rhythms and chants that make up this repertoire.
In this setting it was no surprise to hear a few gasps from some of the ladies in the audience as a handsome, well muscled and scantily clad young man made his way through the packed club to dance barefoot to the music. This young man was Cuban dance exponent Israel Ortiz who performed the authentic dances that were used in these ceremonies with great style and ease. After this startling opening to the show the EMO were assembled on the main stage and launched into their program with the first set consisting of Caliente Cabesa by Evan Lohning, Argument by Andrew Garton and Mache Mambo by Mace Francis. From the few titles mentioned it is easy to see that each number runs for around 15 minutes – an orchestral concert indeed ! Hearing the might and power of over 20 musicians in a big band is one thing. Hearing everything played with such precision, doing justice to the well-written pieces is quite another, the bigger the band the harder it is to get some a degree of unity in ensemble playing, so it was great to hear the result of Andrew’s hard work on the dynamics of the band. To hear the light and shade in such melodious arrangements, which also allowed individual musicians to explore the possibilities in their solos, was impressive.
The second set was devoted entirely to special guest Gai Bryant’s works – Pollo Para Peces, Palacio de la Rumba, Talking in Cuban, Luminoso, The Girl with the Moon in Her Eyes, and Rumba Columbia – all introduced by Gai herself, who also did some great solo work on soprano sax on the final number. Congratulations to all concerned and special thanks to Kent Windress for organising and producing this great show. The bar should have sold plenty of ‘Cuba Libre’ last night !