From the red carpeted entryway to the waitress’ feather headpieces, the House of Jazz gleams with an air of affluence. One look at the wine list prices would provide a punch to the wallet. For the jazz fanatic, being surrounded by photos of Oscar Peterson sitting in that very restaurant would provoke a similarly shocking (though more excited) reaction. For first-timers, it’s easy to feel as if everyone – in their expensive suits and polished lips – is so far removed in their grandeur that they cannot be swayed by a swing beat, but little do they know, Giovany Arteaga and the Cuban Connexion has not yet graced the stage.
On the evening of October 4, Arteaga took the stage at the House of Jazz, wrangling the ritzy atmosphere down to earth with a repertoire of soulful Latin jazz. The set opened up with a bright salsa bebop. Interpretive percussion set against smooth piano and saxophone solos woke the lulled audience. The band’s start was a bit disjointed initially, but after a few hand signals, eye contact, and encouraging claps, it managed to get into the groove. Arteaga then took the mic. His voice wavered slightly, displaying a beautiful authenticity in contrast to the pretension of the restaurant. He spoke to the audience about his Cuban roots and the way Cuban street jazz made him reminisce about his childhood.
The audience continued to sip its wine, swimming in his smooth confidence, and the Connexion’s bass player continued to chew his gum – casually, relaxed, as if he were home, jamming in Cuba. The group’s unpretentious stage presence deconstructed the faux-riche décor of the room, forcing the high-class audience to leave their opulent comfort.
The group’s unpretentious stage presence deconstructed the faux-riche décor of the room, forcing the high-class audience to leave their opulent comfort.
Arteaga’s range showed as he switched effortlessly from saxophone to flute, to backup vocals. The genre transformed at the same frequency at which he switched instruments. Speaking to The Daily, Arteaga said, “I guess jazz is a vocabulary, so you have to get it. Sometimes I know that I don’t have my answer, so I try to mix it with the Cuban jazz [and] the West Coast jazz.”
The predominant genres of the night were Afro-Cuban and jazz, with traces of chacha, rumba, and timba. The band also delivered a Latin-style Stromae cover, which garnered an enthusiastic reaction from the audience. However, rarely was one style showcased on its own: the piano played in smooth classical modes underneath bright Spanish vocals, whilst the percussion adopted an improvised sound, reflective of vibrant street music. However, all diverse sounds were brought together seamlessly, always ending precisely in sync. If the technique of the musicians had wavered even in the slightest, the genre-mashing wouldn’t have survived, but that was no concern thanks to the immense talent on stage.
Partway through the first set, Arteaga invited a guest vocalist to join him on stage. By the second song, the effortless charm of the Connexion and Arteaga plus the new vocalist had every audience member swaying along to the music, with their heads nodding to the beat.
The predominant genres of the night were Afro-Cuban and jazz, with traces of chacha, rumba, and timba. The band also delivered a Latin-style Stromae cover, which garnered an enthusiastic reaction from the audience.
After the second set, Arteaga told The Daily the secret behind the band’s chemistry. “[We] used to have a band group back home in Cuba. And this is part of that same band – different name.”
Arteaga was born and raised among the music and folklore of Guanabacoa, an eastern township in Havana, Cuba. His musical journey began with the flute – following the footsteps of his musician father – but he eventually switched over to the saxophone. After leaving his hometown, Arteaga had a difficult first encounter with the music industry.
“It’s a hard and difficult world for the artist,” he said. “It was hard in the beginning. […] I guess [for] anybody who has moved from one country to the next: you have to adapt, you have to speak the language, you have to live out in the country. And then you have to study like you’re born again and that’s how I see myself: born again into the new world with the beautiful people.”
Arteaga was born and raised among the music and folklore of Guanabacoa, an eastern township in Havana, Cuba. His musical journey began with the flute – following the footsteps of his musician father – but he eventually switched over to the saxophone.
Arteaga has since gained tremendous success: he has been on a national tour with the Buena Vista Social Club, received his degree in jazz interpretation from the Université de Montréal, and performed at many prestigious jazz festivals across the country, gracing the world with his imperturbable stage presence and captivating skillset.
As the night’s set was coming to a close, people began to shuffle out, still loudly singing along with the music and calling out praise for short, improvised solos. At one point, the pianist began to sing and laughter rippled through the band. Though the audience had no idea what was going on, everyone felt like they were in on the joke due to the warm atmosphere permeating through the once-stuffy upper-class bar.
For the last number, only the pianist and guest vocalist remained onstage while the rest of the band took their front row seats to listen. A soft, Spanish jazz number began, and soulful tremors with classical piano runs filled the restaurant’s late-night quiet. As the bar closed and the waiter set out the next day’s cutlery, the sound of the last lingering notes never wavered. The band looked on in reverence, clearly set in a trance by their bandmates’ song. With a satisfied ease, the band eventually packed, chatting and smiling after a show well played.