QUINTETO DE LA TROVA at Nathan Phillips Square, August 25. Tickets: free. Attendance: 200. Rating: NNN
there are probably dozens of groups in Santiago de Cuba called Quinteto de la Trova. The city's famed Casa de la Trova is the epicentre of the eastern Cuban son explosion, and everyone there seems to be a musician.It's doubtful that there are a lot of Quinteto de la Trovas in Belleville.
For the summer, the Santiago quintet has been inexplicably holed up in the eastern Ontario town, playing around the country and keeping a shockingly low profile for an ensemble of their calibre. On Saturday afternoon, though, it must have seemed like they'd never left the island.
Nathan Phillips Square was about as hot as Havana, plus it was Canada-Cuba Friendship Day, which meant dozens of Che posters, leaflets and T-shirts around the Square. With most of the crowd stunned by the heat and plastered to their chairs, it was hardly the ideal setting for a set of searing son, but the Quinteto did their best.
Balancing brittle tres strumming with three-part harmonies, subtle bongo beats and a percussionist who occasionally barked like a dog, they unwound long, lazy versions of son standards like Chan Chan before guest and promoter Jane Bunnett checked in.
Bolstered by saxophone and trumpet, the group took their laid-back playing up a notch, launching almost immediately into a lengthy descarga tribute to late piano giant Frank Emilio Flynn. The mix of the Quinteto's airtight acoustic orchestration and Bunnett's unobtrusive soloing cut through the heat and got heads nodding.
In a club, it would have been devastating. Outside in the sun, with the revolutionaries handing out their leaflets, it was Cuba to the core.