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My Olympics Soundtrack: Part 2

March 24, 2010

At one point during Martha Wainwright’s show at the Commodore last week the songstress abruptly stopped mid-song. She called out two men in the audience who were on the verge of pummeling each other over some sort of disagreement. This was happening about four feet from where I stood. Wainwright asked if they were having an “alter-fucking-cation” in the middle of her song. She told them to cease and desist and reminded them it was a “folk concert”. Not long after security swooped in and moved them out, she sang her hummable hit “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole”. How appropriate.

The scene illustrated why I admire Wainwright: she’s feisty and does what she feels like. Don’t get me wrong – the colorful language is only one side to her. Wainwright sang beautifully throughout her solo show at the Commodore, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. The Cultural Olympiad show was Wainwright’s very first concert since the death of her mother – the great Kate McGarrigle – in January. But aside from searching for the right chords on one song, there was no hesitancy in her delivery; she sounded as committed to her art as ever.

Here’s Wainwright in London, back in January (a week before her mother died), doing a classic song from Edith Piaf’s repertoire, “L’Accordioniste”. Wainwright didn’t do the tune at the Commodore, but she’ll be at our jazz festival June 26 with her Piaf project, featuring lesser-known songs by the French icon. That will be a must-see concert.

The next night I went to one of the last Cultural Olympiad shows: pianist Hilario Durán’s Latin Jazz Band at Performance Works. Weeks ago when I saw who would be in the big band – a mix of players based in Toronto, Vancouver, Cuba and elsewhere – I knew it would be a stellar show. Aside from Durán, who exemplifies the technique and artistry of top musicians from Cuba, the group included flutist/soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett. I’ve heard Jane play live and interviewed her many times, so I’m very familiar with her consistently high musicianship and passion for Cuban music. Then there’s tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer, who is always a treat to hear. But perhaps the biggest draw was Changuito, a legendary Cuban percussionist who was a member of Los Van Van.

They all played with fiery intensity on the challenging arrangements. Other standouts were trumpeters Alexander Brown and Vancouver’s Miguelito Valdes – who both effortlessly hit the high notes – and suave singer Luis Mario Ochoa. I brought young Miles, who somehow started nodding off during the first set despite the supercharged music. But he stayed awake long enough to appreciate what was going down. I’m especially glad that Miles the drummer got to hear the 62-year-old Changuito display his timbales mastery.

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