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Miguel de Armas: Miguel de Armas and The Ottawa Latin Jazz Orchestra

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Jazz Pianist, Composer Miguel de Armas
Jazz Pianist, Composer Miguel de Armas - Photo: Jenny & Fer

As a young man in the late 1980s, Miguel de Armas made a name for himself as the co-founder of the Cuban ensemble NG La Banda Orchestra, playing some of the most alluring, brilliantly percussive piano and synthesizers that propelled the group’s roaring Afro-Cuban music. Since relocating to Ottawa, Canada, any – and all his three recordings with his Canadian complement playing raptly songful, beautifully proportioned music for smaller ensembles have been most eagerly awaited. But nothing has quite struck a proverbial chord quite like this large, orchestral repertoire performed on this [eponymously titled] Miguel de Armas and The Ottawa Latin Jazz Orchestra.

Mr de Armas and his performers – including some of the finest guest soloists – play this music with such high intensity that at times it feels as if these songs flow thick and fast burbling and thundering with scorching heat from molten lava-like arrangements. Horns, and percussion give off their all throughout with brilliantly executed passagework and accents, creating a distinctly dramatic impression. As always, Mr de Armas leads from the front – albeit gracefully withdrawing into the shadows to allow the spotlight to shine on his musicians – using his piano and keyboards to bring great tone and timbre to create the most individual turn of phrase – phrase after phrase, from one variation to the next.

Inspirational leadership enables him to create one of the most powerful, singular-sounding musical experiences you will hear on record, and that too, without vocal chants to fire up the senses. All the firing-up is done instrumentally, with rippling jazz-inflected timba grooves that tumble and thunder – most remarkably – with a unique melodic and percussive intensity. Among the most memorable works that provoke this [intense] reaction from even the most unsuspecting listeners include Welcome Back from Varadero, Rumba on Kent St. and, of course, the sizzling piece Güines qué le Pasa a Tata, a glorious tribute to the legendary melodic genius of the rumbling tumbadora, Federico Arístides Soto Alejo “Tata Güines”, one of the greatest ever percussionists, arrangers, and bandleaders to emerge from Cuba.

Not all this music reverberates with incessant percussion-heavy grooves. After all, Cubans like Mr de Armas also excel in the bolero and there are more than eloquent of this in compositions such as the bandleader’s elegiac Laura and Miguel, a stirring tribute to his parents. Elsewhere we are treated to more painterly works such as The Mistress and her Dog. No matter what the concept and character of the composition, the great lustre and ambient warmth in every judiciously balanced sound picture has its own allure in each of the works on this album.

The core of Mr de Armas’ rhythm section – bassist Marc Decho, and percussionists Michel Medrano Brindis, Lázaro Martínez and Diomer González are a powerful influence on the rest of the performers. Each in turn, provides deeply interiorised and idiomatic interpretations of the composer’s works. Guests – include horn players Delfin Marsal, Alexander Brown and Manuel Pelayo are magnificent both in ensemble and solo. Other rhythmists including bassist Mathieu Sénéchal, and percussion superstars light up each of the works on which they are featured, especially Raimundo Sosa and Amhed Mitchel. The tumbadora player Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” who was a child-star and was once touted by Tata Güines to be the future of the Cuban tumbadora tradition demands special mention for his performance on Güines qué le Pasa a Tata.

As with every well-produced large ensemble recording all the performers jostle for attention and this admirably lucid and painstaking production is no exception. There is plenty that excites and moves on the tracks of this album. The reserves of emotional candour, especially on the hugely powerful closing moments [the last two tracks, to be precise] make for a truly alluring album.

Deo gratis…

Playlist – Miguel de Armas & The Latin Jazz Orchestra

Music – 1: Welcome Back from Varadero; 2: Laura and Miguel; 3: Tango Anunción; 4: Rumba on Kent St.; 5: From Me to You; 6: The Mistress and her Dog; 7: Oda; 8: Almonte; 9: Güines qué le Pasa a Tata; 10: Gone too Soon.

Musicians – Miguel de Armas: piano and compositions; Marc Decho: bass; Michel Medrano Brindis: drums; Lázaro Martínez: congas; Diomer González: bongos; Tyler Harris: alto and soprano saxophones, and flute; Petr Cancura: tenor and soprano saxophones; David Renaud: baritone saxophone and flute; Ed Lister: 1st trumpet; Mark Ferguson: 1st trombone; Steve Berndt: 2nd trombone. Special Guests – Delfin Marsal: trumpet [1, 7] and 1st trumpet [3, 7]; Manuel Pelayo: baritone saxophone [1, 5, 6], tenor saxophone [4] and alto saxophone [2, 5, 6, 9]; Amhed Mitchel: drums [2]; Alexander Brown: 2nd trumpet [3, 5, 6, 7, 9]; Raimundo Sosa: batá and congas [4]; Mathieu Sénéchal: bass [4]; Arturo Segarra: cajón [5]; Emilio Cruz: 1st trumpet [5, 6, 9]; Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco”: timbales [6, 9], güiro [6], congas [6, 9] and bongos [9]; Eugenio ‘Kiko’ Osorio: congas [8, 10].

Released – 2023
Label – Independent
Runtime – 55:28

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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