(via TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival)
Ottawa concertgoers well know the pain of being passed by major artists on the well-traveled route between Montreal and Toronto. Bringing in the likes of New York-based pianist David Virelles (TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival: 9pm Feb. 6, National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, $22), a “genius” according to the legendary Chucho Valdes and confirmed by raves from The New York Times and The Guardian, for an exclusive Canadian date is the sort of artistic coup the city’s festival industry strives to achieve.
The 32-year old Virelles’ most recent album Mbòkó, featuring Román Díaz on percussion, dominated year-end “best of” lists, including those of The New York Times, The Village Voice and NPR. Inspired by the mystic Abakuá ritual music of his native Cuba through the lens of his years of tutelage with the Canadian and US avant-garde, Virelles’ transfixing vision of Afro-Cuban jazz has established him as one of this generation’s leading artists.
Abakuá is a secret society established by African emigres to Havana nearly 200 years ago, whose initiates by legend gain supernatural abilities such as transforming into leopards to menace their foes. Active, though hidden, to this day, the Abakuá developed a distinctive rhythmic and chanted music that has exerted great influence on “nearly every genre of Cuban popular music” (African Studies).
Díaz, a practitioner of Abakuá, plays biankoméko, a unique assembly of drums, bells and shakers used in initiations, a form of musical exchange that crosses generations and styles with Virelles’ great skill as a pianist and composer. The result is an unforgettable live performance The Guardian’s John Fordham calls an “engrossing mix of rhythmic ambiguity, impassioned themes, jazz improv and the palpable sense of a contemporary music with a long past.” Either singly, or as part of a dynamite three-show package with John Geggie’s Journey Bandand Carol Welsman, Virelles and Díaz will be one of the best shows this year for serious music fans.