Following the Downtown Jazz and JVC Jazz Festival blowouts, the three-night Cuban Jazz Festival (July 9-11) being staged at Hugh's Room seems more like an extended house party.But don't let the size of the modest locale fool you. The exciting event that Toronto bandleader Jane Bunnett has built around her fabulous Alma de Santiago ensemble promises more dazzling musical interplay in any one evening than you could get from a pathetic two-week parade of trad jazz relics.
With each night boasting individual and collaborative performances by Santiago de Cuba's sensational roots son combo Quinteto de la Trova, heavyweight Havana sonero José Aguiles and piano maestro Hilario Duran -- along with Bunnett and the percussively powerful Alma de Santiago band -- the creative potential is awesome.
Just seeing Quinteto de la Trova outside of Oriente province is a rare treat, but the chance to catch the group's tres titan, "El Pinto," tearing it up descarga-style with two Los Hoyos drum demons while Bunnett trades furious flute flash with a piano-pounding Duran is a once-in-a-lifetime showdown.
"The point of the festival is to introduce people over here to some of Cuba's incredible talent," explains Bunnett. "Quinteto de la Trova aren't as well known as, say, Eliades Ochoa's Cuarteto Patria, but we've played with them in Santiago and they're an amazing, high-energy son group. "El Pinto' really is Santiago's up-and-coming tres star.
"José Aguiles is a great nueva trova singer with a rhythmic way of phrasing that's almost Brazilian -- he's sort of Cuba's Milton Nascimento. He just won the Guzman Award at Cuba's annual song competition for his song Mira, which was arranged by our piano player, David Virelles -- his son.
"Because we've got people playing together in unusual groupings, it'll make for some interesting stylistic contrasts."
Even with all the veteran talent on hand, it may be jazz piano upstart Virelles who steals the show. Then 16-year-old Virelles first turned heads with his remarkably accomplished runs on Bunnett's Alma De Santiago (Blue Note) last year, and evidently he's gotten a lot better.
"David's really been playing up a storm lately. He's absorbed so much in the year that he's been living with me and Larry (trumpeter Larry Cramer) while taking part in the jazz program at the University of Toronto.
"I mean, he was obviously very talented when we recorded Alma de Santiago, but he's been listening to a lot of Bill Evans and Horace Silver and really developing his jazz technique. At just 18, he's definitely a force to be reckoned with. We'll be hearing a lot from David in the future."
CUBAN JAZZ FESTIVAL featuring JANE Bunnett's ALMA DE SANTIAGO, Quinteto de la trova, jose aguiles and hilario duran at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Tuesday through Thursday (July 9 to 11). $12 advance, $15 door. 416-531-6604.