Alain Perez/Ignacio Berroa: Lula Lounge

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Toronto [photo:Alain Perez]

The canny folk at Lula Lounge placed this heavyweight double bill on a weeknight, confident of a full house and the fans didn’t disappoint. Good for the watchers, not so much for the dancers, as the dance floor is sacrificed to table seating when the joint’s this packed.

This said something about the divide on the evening's bill of Perez and Berroa. It was split along generational lines, which also lined up with the danceable and the listenable, the contemporary and the classical.

Cuban-born multi-instrumentalist Perez, 29, now lives in Spain and is a major figure on the European Latin scene, known for his fearless explorations in forging a new direction.

On this occasion, his instrument was the melodic bass and abely assisted by fiery pianist Robi Botos and the percussive drive of Mario Allende, both T.Dot indie stars, Perez put on a bass clinic that was at once brain tickling and ass-shaking, if the booties at the bar aching to get on the floor were any indication. Working an evocative and rich tenor, the boy’s a fluid performer and a charismatic babe magnet. He’s also a crafter of complex, contrapuntal and catchy tunes like “Sabor de mi Rumba” which exemplified Perez’s emerging sound and brought his showmanship to the fore as he departed from the recorded version by turning the choruses into an audience singalong Perez left to a storm of applause and there wasn’t a one of us barbirds that didn’t want to hear more. Be nice if next time he came around there was a dance floor to get down to the sound.

Ignacio berroaIgnacio berroaIf Perez was Madrid 2012 Ignacio Berroa was Havana 1945, right down to the vintage drape cut suits. And what a quartet. Backing the master drummer and long-time member of Dizzy Gillespie’s band who’s played with a lengthy roster of A-List jazz names were saxman Luis Deniz, standup bassist Roberto Occhipinti and another Cuban legend who stands as tall as Berroa, pianist Hilario Duran.

From the first soft brush of drums and gentle piano arpeggio the trad fans sit up straight, rivetd in respect. The sheer technical brilliance on display seemed effortless, the passing back and forth of leads so seamless, it may have looked easy to the uninitiated. The set drew heavily on 2007’s “Codes” album, Berroa’s most commercial effort to date but the master reached way, way back into his deep back catalogue for vintage Latin jazz, heavy on the rumba beats and propulsive style of drumming.

Berroa kept the vibe warm with anecdotes from his storied past, including the one where he hears Duran play for the first time and owns up that the kid just might have something.

With standouts too numerous to mention, if there was one cut that showed off all the facets of the band it world be “Woody ’n ’You”, opening with Occhipinti’s galloping bass over a polyrhythmic pattern laying down the groundwork for Deniz’s sax to come strolling in and take it down the road to where Duran’s waiting to love up on the thing, turn it inside pout and hand it back again to each soloist in turn.

Now that’s sabor.

Lenny Stoute