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Alison Young Quintet Coming To Meaford

Friday August 3rd brings the Alison Young Quintet to Meaford for the third show of the Meaford Summer Concert Series.  Each concert is under the open sky in the parking lot beside Meaford Hall.

Alison Young is a sax player, originally from Ottawa, who has become one of the most in-demand players in the Toronto jazz scene, performing regularly in venues like The Rex, The Jazz Bistro and The Reservoir Lounge, contributing to several albums and touring around the world with a variety of bands.

“That’s basically how I travel,” she says, “I’m lucky enough to work with a lot of groups that work in Europe. Last year it was Singapore and South America. It was great!”

After playing with R & B bands as a teen, before attending the music program at University of Toronto, her featured performances in the National Youth Jazz Ensemble at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2001 and 2002, inspired one critic to note:

“The stun is witnessing phrasing and technique indicating decades of practice and study, coming from a girl too young to have done any of that. She plays alto with an authority and command beyond her short years…performing with the facility and inventiveness of a much more mature musician.”

Downbeat magazine has noted her “endless creativity and flair”.  Last year she was chosen as one of the ‘Best 35 jazz Canadian Jazz Artists under 35’ by the CBC.   Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen writes “her melodic maturity rises above the music”, while the Whole Note Magazine says “Alison Young takes musical chances, and has something to say”.

She knew from a very young age that this was the life for her.

“In junior high I had a really great band teacher and she actually ran a stage band.  That was the first time I heard swing music and I was like: ‘What is this?  I need to do this!’  So I got my parents to rent me a saxophone and taught myself basically for the first little while and then never looked back.”

Praised even at a young age for the maturity and tone of her playing, she explains, “I played along with records and just kind of wanted to capture that full sound.  That’s always been important to me.”

Her initial jazz inspiration from listening to big bands blended with an appreciation of R & B picked up as a teenager.

“When I was seventeen and eighteen, my first gigs were playing in a soul cover band.  We played these little bars in Ottawa and in Hull and I thought this was so cool.

“I love that music.  When they hired me they said, ‘OK, just check out the movie, The Commitments.’  It was basically that repertoire so that got me into Aretha Franklin and Solomon Burke and all these R & B artists.

“A lot of the gigs I do in Toronto are R & B gigs.  When I play as a sideman with several bands, I do that kind of music and I also play a lot of jazz.  I play a lot of both and I’m still trying to figure out which one is my sound, or can they both be my sound?  And I think I’m heading in that direction: just do both.”

But the experience of a big band in full swing still lures her.

“I’ve been playing with the Jim Galloway Big Band in Toronto,” she says, “which is all older Basie charts and Ellington charts.  So it’s like going back to my roots because that’s the first jazz I listened to and I was so excited about it.”

Alison has been leading her own band in various formations since 2012, which has allowed her to compose and arrange for combinations from duo to septet.  Among her many recorded performances as a session player, her compositions, recorded with the Heillig Manoeuvre and Red Hot Ramble, have been featured on JazzFM and CBC2.  She has a debut album of mostly originals ready to release.

“A lot of my songs are straight ahead and in the hard bop vein, a little bit funky but with jazzy chord changes.  Melody is my priority when I compose.”  She admits to influences more along the Stevie Wonder vein and isn’t through growing yet:  “I think next I’m going to try to get some rock and roll into the sound, because we’ve got Eric St Laurent on guitar and he’s a real rocker.”

The quintet playing in Meaford will include St. Laurent’s  “eclectic and energetic” guitar; Saskatchewan’s “hard swinging” Jeff McLeod on piano and organ; Chris Banks on the bass; and Chris Wallace on drums.  The repertoire for a Meaford Friday night will be “party jazz, funk and soul.”

The same precocious talent that has accelerated Alison Young’s career is evident in the opening act, singer/songwriter Miranda Journey.

Bring a camp chair and a contribution for the food bank to catch the 7 p.m. start.

Latin Grammy Winner Alex Cuba Headlines Weekend at Blue Mountain Village

On Saturday August 4th at 8:30pm Blue Mountain Village brings Latin Grammy and Juno Award Winner Alex Cuba to the Coca-Cola Village Stage, headlining the weekend’s Mosaic World Music Festival.

A musician since the age of four, Alex Cuba has in his veins the music of that tropical island whose name he has appropriated for the stage.  But his music is uniquely Canadian in spirit.

His Cuban music roots run deep. Seminal Cuban artists like Matamoros, el Benny and Compay Segundo filled his ears from infancy.   He played in his father’s ensemble of 24 guitarists alongside his twin brother Adonis Puentes, (who will be at Summerfolk this August), appeared as a teen on Cuban national TV, won a songwriting competition at the age of eighteen.

After studying electric and standup bass, he toured Cuba and internationally.  He was on a tour of Canada when he fell in love with a Canadian girl, Sarah Goodacre, daughter of a B.C. politician.  She returned with him to Cuba and they were married.  Later they emigrated to Canada, so that he could “creatively spread his wings” and to be close to Sarah’s’s family in Smithers, B. C.

In Smithers, he and his wife created an independent label Caracol Records, to distribute Alex’s music.  Working on their own, Alex and Sarah have built his career and a following in the Spanish-speaking world.  In Cuba, his music is not heard, in keeping with that country’s total rejection of artists who leave to find success elsewhere, abandoning the revolution.  Like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente before him, international success excludes the country of his birth.  Likewise in the U.S. labels still avoid Cuban artists, both in the aftermath of a longstanding blockade of trade between the countries and in anticipation of more of the same from the Trump administration.  He succeeds in spite of these drawbacks because what he offers has a distinctive difference.

Alex’s brother came to Canada as well and under the name the Puentes Brothers they made a great first impression on the Canadian music scene, picking up a Juno nomination nomination in 2001 for their first recording.  In 2004 they diverged into separate recording careers in Canada, but they continue to write together.

Not long after embarking on a solo career, Alex Cuba’s recordings on 2006 and 2008 won him Junos  for World Music Album of the Year.  Working from a Canadian base his music has had an impact on the Latin music world. He won Best New Artist at the 2010 Latin Grammy Awards, where his third album, self-titled, was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Album.  In 2011 he won a BMI Latin Award for his songwriting on Nelly Furtado’s #1 Spanish hit “Manos Al Aire” to which he contributed on more than half the songs.  In 2012, Alex received his second Socan Hagood Hardy Award for outstanding achievement in Jazz and World Music. And he continued to win Latin Grammies with every new release.

In 2016, his Latin Grammy win was as a singer-songwriter rather than for World Music, for an album which included duets with several Canadian artists, including Ron Sexsmith, David Myles, Alejandra Ribera and Kuba Oms.   His Canadian take on Latin music substitutes beautiful vocal harmonies and guitars for the horn riffs in the style of Beny Moré that normally punctuate Cuban music.  “Lo Mismo Que Yo,” his intoxicating duet with Sexsmith, became a hit in the UK Singles Chart, reaching #52.

Alex is aware that he sounds different from other Latin artists and he attributes that to his “Canadian identity”.

“I became a singer-songwriter, a producer, a musician in Canada. Canada has given me an identity,” he told Georgia Strait, “My music was made in Canada. No Latin artist in the Latin world can sound like me, because they don’t have this Canadian side that I have. They don’t have the situations, the inspirations, et cetera, that I have found in this country.”

Part of the Canadian influence on his sound is the guitar-oriented narrative tradition in Canada evolving from artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn to bands like The Tragically Hip.  Another part is the wilderness surrounding Smithers, where he has lived for fifteen years, which he credits with giving his music a more open and airy feel, and ensuring his themes have universal appeal.

“In Cuba,” he went on to tell Georgia Strait, “sometimes it’s all about the rhythm; it’s all about making you move, physically. But Canada, it’s different. It’s about making you move mentally, maybe making you move spiritually. You know what I mean? That inspired me to create that way, to incorporate that into my music—to pay more attention to the way I craft my music, my melodies, how many instruments I have on an album, et cetera, et cetera. It has given me a sound.”

Ironically many Canadians won’t understand his narratives because they don’t understand Spanish.  His music has a spiritual and rhythmic beauty that can be enjoyed even by someone who doesn’t understand the words, but like other Canadian artists, he has something important to say.  He cares about his lyrics.

It is special to him when he gets a chance to perform for “people that understand Spanish, that understand the power of my words,” he continues. “This has been happening for me in Mexico, as well. I’ve been playing solo shows down there; the last one I did, I played for 2,000 people on my own, and it was unbelievable—all those people singing my songs. I felt like a kid, you know? Like I wanted to play nonstop for four hours. It was beautiful!”

The Alex Cuba concert is the highlight of a weekend of world music at Blue Mountain Village that includes Bamkanda Drumming, Greek Dancing lessons, belly dancing, and the Beinn Gorm Highlanders, along with some great rock and roll from Sean Pinchin, The Summit Band and Alysha Brilla.

 It’s all free!