In Concert

Cuban Jazz was the flavor at McAninch Arts Center (The MAC) this past weekend, but the band’s labeled genre might just be a bit misleading. In fact, I would describe the Cubanismo’s sound of as that more akin to Big Band first and foremost. Though high energy dance music with infectious grooves, it is heavily sprinkled with a touch of Havana and Latin Beats. Lively and catchy from beginning to end, let’s just say if audience members aren’t clapping or tapping their toes, someone in the medical profession needs to check them for a pulse.

Cubanismo founder and trumpeter, Jesus Alemany, led the ensemble through two sets of some very spicy music. Let me take a mental head count of musicians - four horns, three percussionists, three singers, bass, guitar, keys and Alemany complete the band’s line-up. That adds up to thirteen if I did the math correctly. Ricky Ricardo would have felt right at home with this combo.

They key word with music like this is rhythm. I mentioned in my review of Gipsy Kings last summer how that was a lesson in rhythm. This was a follow up to the learning I received that day. The reason why I don’t really consider this Jazz is due to the ability to dance to what was presented. I know Jazz has many sub categories. What this band really represents is the dance clubs of Pre-Castro Cuba - straight from the 1940’s – music with a serious spice to it. There also seemed to be far less emphasis on improvisation in this band’s set as opposed to the likes of Gipsy Kings. I think a good portion of the show may have been changed in slight ways from time to time, but unquestioned were its tight arrangements.

The band’s three singers took charge of their songs with serious support from the rest of the players. I wish my Spanish was better as far as understanding the lyrical content but that didn’t matter all that much, as music is the universal language. Cubanismo is all about getting their fans to move. Recently, a friend mentioned to me how there should be more room for dancing when going to see a band play. A larger dance area would have certainly helped the situation, especially when the band gave a mambo lesson on the final number. Cubanismo showed the moves while on stage and their fans followed. This was yet another reason I say it is not really Jazz per se. Nobody (particularly other musicians) was sitting around admiring the technical sophistication of the players. That being said, I am not at all saying the band members were not amazing. We just weren’t pelted with one self-indulgent solo after another in typical jazz fashion. It was truly an ensemble performance.

To give readers a brief history of the band, Alemañy was a child prodigy in Cuba before joining Sierra Maestra when he was just 16. After more than a decade of playing with that group, he moved to London to pursue his own career. There he met a fellow Cuban, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, and the two musicians organized a jam session in Paris in 1994. It was there that record producer and head of Hannibal Records Joe Boyd heard the group play and suggested the pair organize another descarga (or improvised jazz session) in Cuba with all-star musicians from all over the country and record it. The recording was such a success that the group formed a band and toured extensively.

The band played selected tunes from their hit albums “Melembe”, “Reencarnación” and “Greetings from Havana” along with many other up-tempo, cha-cha-driven favorites.

The music of Cubanismo is straight from an era of Cuba long since gone. The tradition does live on through the music of this particular band that has received critical acclaim. Supporting this music is what keeps it alive and I hope to see more of that. Jesus Alemany should be proud of what he has assembled. If you get a chance to see them live, I am sure you will not walk away disappointed. In fact, you will not walk at all…you will dance.

www.cubanismo.org

Published in In Concert

The McAninch Arts Center (The MAC) located at the College of Dupage kicked off the holiday season with one of the most entertaining Christmas shows one could hope for. Actor/singer Craig A. Meyer, who was featured in last year’s sold out event “The Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel”, reprised his role as recording artist Elton John in a holiday event to remember, “Almost Elton John and the Rocket Band: A Very Elton Christmas”.

Meyer, whose vast array of credits include Broadway’s Meet Me in St. Louis, a national tour of Cats and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, has also worked with both Elton John and Tim Rice on The Lion King. After the hard-working actor was approached numerous times about his likeness and his capability to sound like the legendary singer who brought us such greats as “Yellow Brick Road” and “Your Song”, Meyer formed Almost Elton John and went on to take his act around the world, giving fans another outlet to experience the excitement of an Elton John concert.

The positive response Meyer received at The MAC was proof positive that this Elton tribute act might just be one of the best around.

“Almost Elton John and the Rocket Band: A Very Elton Christmas” was divided into two sets, the first being that of Elton classics and the second a wide variety of Christmas songs.

Donned in glittery pants and high-heeled- silver boots, big sunglasses and a studded top hat, the caped singer quickly won over the crowd the first few songs in his set including “Bitch is Back”, “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Yellow Brick Road”. The first act went on to include “Crocodile Rock” and “Bennie and the Jets”. Meyer’s likeness to Elton was uncanny, but the similarity in voice even more impressive.

Throughout the show, Meyer quipped with the crowd, even delivering often misinterpreted lyrics in song. As a fan, and having seen Elton perform in Singapore, I couldn’t help but be awestruck at the way Meyer captured the essence of Elton.

As the second act began, Meyer returned to the stage, this time in a red glittered outfit, sequined Santa hat and all. Meyer again delivered. Rolling through Christmas faves that included “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “White Christmas”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, and a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” there was no shortage of Christmas spirit in the acoustic friendly theatre. Meyer even managed to take “Jingle Bells”, a holiday song I could do without, and turn it into a fun, energetic number that bounced and was decorated with unique and enjoyable harmonies. He ended the set with his encore medley of “Another Hallelujah / O Holy Night”, a medley that was as moving as it was celebratory of the reason for the season.

Almost Elton John is an electrifying concert experience that I would recommend checking out whenever in performing in the Chicagoland area. Charismatic and able to reach his audience, Meyer is exceptional as Elton and carries along with him a talented band and back up singers that make the entire package the next best thing to the real deal. Concert dates and more information on this very fun band can be found at www.almosteltonjohn.com.

The MAC is also an impressive theater. Comfortable seating (not a bad seat in the house) and fantastic acoustics highlight this modern theater that also includes a full snack and drink bar and an art gallery to check out before or after the show. Home of the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, The MAC will also be host in December and January to “Presley, Perkins and Cash: A Million Dollar Christmas”, National Theatre Live’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” with Daniel Radcliff and Joshua McGuire, “The Nutcracker” National Theatre Live’s “Obsession” with Jude Law, “Moscow Festival Ballet: Cinderella” and famed trumpeter Chris Botti. For show dates and to see other upcoming events, visit www.atthemac.org.

 

Published in In Concert

 

 

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