It seems trumpet-man Alexis Baró has the technique and the elasticity of spirit to play anything. A recent arrival in Toronto from Cuba (2001), it is not surprising that he plays hot, hard core Latin Jazz. But, he is best-known in Canada as a member of Archie Alleynes award-winning band Kollage, doing mostly hard bop material. Alexis own CD, Havana Banana, is listed in the top Canadian jazz releases of 2004. Like all certified Cuban musicians, he has successfully completed rigorous classical training, and is a graduate of the Amadeo Roldán Music Institute in Havana. He has experimented with other genres such as soul, calypso, funk and R&B. He has even played with the Temptations.
Alexis band this evening was a very funky bunch including Tony Rabala on drums, Mike Sereny on keyboard (Yamaha Motif ES7), Jim Heineman on flute, tenor and soprano saxes, Dave Sereny on electric guitar and Calvin Beale on electric bass.
The group started warming up and jamming on Born Again with a seriously funky bass solo and everyone trading eights for a bit before going back to the top. Wish You Were Here, the third piece in, is an Alexis Baró composition, a ballad that starts off sounding rather like Medeski, Martin and Wood and continues in a cool hip groove with trumpet sailing over top. The next tune we hear, Oliver Nelson's Stolen Moments, is coloured with R&B and soul. It gets some interesting treatment here, including a picked, spooky kind of run down the bass and a solo from the keyboardist using a flute setting. "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" closes the set at breakneck speed with a searing solo from Alexis and the whole band deep frying. I find myself thinking of Miles plugged in, although the two trumpet styles are different.
Carnival Can Happen Anytime by keyboardist Mike Sereny opens the second set. Wade O. Brown joins in singing on the next tune, You Dont Know What Love Is. While Heineman blew a tenor solo, Wade gestured with the flute, please play this for me. Heineman obliged and played a fitting, clear solo. The last three pieces are Alexis own compositions. 107 Armstrong makes me glance over at a nice section of empty hardwood floor close to the bar, mhmmm, this really makes you want to move. My Little Groove is an intense high-velocity piece, the type of jazz that always makes me think of driving but is not recommended in-car musicyou might spin out of control. Drive, drive, drive, blow that horn, dart left, dart right, trumpet blast straight through, all move aside for the drum solo, keyboardist is off his stool. Repeated trumpet notes bringing all to a close, short long, short long and final volley. How do they follow this? Well be Together Forever. It starts as a slow ballad with a heavy groove. It morphs through rhythm and tempo changes and at times reminds me of Stevie Wonders Songs in the Key of Life. And the musics over, its been a good night.
Given the variety of music I have heard him play, I am curious about what musical direction Alexis wants to take. Like all artists, what he would like is to go where his creative impulse takes him. He tells me he would like to do some big band work although he also enjoys smaller configurations like sextets and quartets. He loves to play with singers too. And he glows with enthusiasm describing the idea of a big band with a gospel choir on stage. He also mentions the difficulties of big bands; the expense of rehearsal halls, making enough to pay everyone and finding appropriate venues. For it to be worthwhile, you need to fill a big place.
With his funky latin jazz sound hes been well received at the younger venues such as the Drake and Trane Studio, but so far, traditional jazz venues dont seem to be as interested. We have so much talent in this city but the audience is not really that big. Alexis and I talk about the fact that when you live here, people say, I can go see him next week or whenever. Maybe they get around to it, maybe they dont. Maybe they go see the guy from New York or Vancouver. If you do a show in Ottawa people will come out because youre from Toronto. Same thing with Montreal. I start thinking about how people dont appreciate you fully at home until youre recognized elsewhere. If they liked it in Europe or the States, it must be good? What is that, a lingering colonial attitude?
Come on people, get off the couch and live your own reality. Look for Alexis Baró, and go for a listen, youll be glad you did.