To Yoel Diaz, like most Cuban musicians, who were born and grew up after 1964, Jazz was probably forbidden fruit because not much of anything American was available after the blockade and the trade embargo. For those of whom Jazz and a new life proved too attractive a proposition the good relations between Cuba and Canada proved to be a way to follow their calling.
Yoel Diaz landed in Montréal, Canada in 1997. Almost immediately he occupied a niche in the expatriate thriving Cuban music scene in Québec. There is a more level playing field across Canada today, but Mr Diaz has not done too badly for himself in Québec, which remains culturally more willing to engage in things artistic especially benefitting musicians like Mr Diaz.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Occasion
Although he did not start out being a pianist Mr Diaz wasted no time in mastering the instrument and with every recording he gives evidence that he is closer to reaching that rarefied realm where other pianists like Hilario Durán, for example, hold sway. With his 2017 album Occasion he might just be there already. Mr Diaz reminds us, right off the bat, that he is blessed with a mercurial touch with the quick-figured “Jazzeando a lo cubano”, a piece on which he pays homage to his predilection for Jazz and the wide world of Afro-Cuban forms in an explosive song that brings it all together in a rocking mambo. His genius for letting the sparkling rhythms of son cubano, and danzón is further exemplified in “Son para piano no. 2” and “Bar jazzons”.
Yoel Diaz is a pianist who also wears his emotions on his shoulder and is not afraid to let it all hang out. His song “Flor hacia el viento” shows off his exquisite touch which is couched in a refined sound – sweet, lustrous and glowing. It is one which here and on “Occasion” highlights a brightness of expression that makes the piano sound carry exceptionally well. Throughout these and other works the joyous energy of Mr Diaz emerges with gorgeous springiness and clarity. He is joined everywhere by musicians – Simon Pagé, Michel Medrano and Diomer González – who are fully in tune with his artistry and vision.
The best showcase of Mr Diaz’s musicianship comes naturally in his solo work “Ancla” that forms the dénouement of this sojourn. Here his glorious piano playing is front and centre. His tone is vivid, driven and lamenting. It is a sound so naked and pure that it seems to literally pour out of him, showing a side to the pianist that you do not hear amid all of the fireworks and pyrotechnics elsewhere on the disc – not even on the bolero “Flor hacia el viento”. The end to this song is a sudden reminder that after all the wonderful things that just went by, this is an album all too short on time.
Track list – 1: Jazzeando a lo cubano; 2: Flor hacia el viento; 3: Son para piano no.2; 4: Bar jazzons; 5: Occasion; 6: Chachacha 74; 7: Ancla
Personnel – Yoel Diaz: piano; Luis Izquierdo: electric bass; Michel Medrano: drums; Roberto “Kiko” Osorio: congas
Released – 2017
Label – Disques Artic Records (Montréal)
Runtime – 36:14