World at the Garden: From Cuba to Denmark Trio
Sunday, 14 August 2011 at 7pm • VanDusen Botanical Garden

Performers Ernán López-Nussa Steinway piano, Enrique Plá drums, and Gastón Joya bass plus Touché Vocal Jazz

Reviewer Melanie Ewan

Despite gathering clouds and a cool breeze, the closing concert of MusicFest brought crowds rolling in to VanDusen Garden on Sunday evening. The featured guests included Cuban pianist Ernán López-Nussa and his Havana trio, followed by Denmark based Touché Vocal Jazz.

López-Nussa opened the concert without ceremony; simply sitting down at his piano and letting it sing solo. After this musical introduction, he was accompanied by Enrique Plá (drums), and Gastón Joya (bass) for the remainder of the set.

Their music provided an ideal backdrop for lounging in a garden, and I found myself swiftly carried away as it flowed over the audience; the hustle and bustle of the day slowly fading to nothing. Oddly enough, I simultaneously felt as if I were transported in to a jazz piano bar in some remote word-of-mouth corner of the world. The musicians did not announce any of their song titles or address the audience, effectively letting the music speak for itself.

López-Nussa, who began his journey with classical piano, is considered to be one of the best pianists in the world today. Since his beginnings he has gathered influence from the Cuban and Afro-Cuban tradition, as well as contemporary and European classical music. The result is a unique jazz style all his own.

Touché Vocal Jazz, the second group of the evening, is a Danish a cappella jazz ensemble, comprising fourteen talented singers. Their selection of pieces exemplified their range and use of various and difficult vocal techniques.

One piece that stood out for it’s technical difficulty was the jazz arrangement of Fool on the Hill, originally sung by the Beatles. Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of the arrangement itself as it felt unpolished at times and did not do the group justice.

Their rendition of Billie Holiday’s I’m just Fooling Myself, however, was delightful. It was a perfect example of my favourite type of jazz composition; mixing a walking bass line with an overlying soprano melody. For me, sometimes less is more.

Another crowd pleaser was the Bebop arrangement, Yardbird Suite, which is a fast pased, tongue twisting tune detailing the life of Charlie Parker, featuring scat singing at its best.

The two groups that performed at this closing concert were vastly different from each other. While this did demonstrate a nice array of experiences that jazz music can provide, it also felt slightly disjointed as it transitioned from soothing instrumental jazz to energetic vocal jazz. That aside, the evening was enjoyable and the groups were very talented with a clear and endearing love of jazz.

© 2011 Melanie Ewan