TO Jazz Review: Spanish Harlem Orchestra, June 26, Metro Square

Toronto – The first thing I noticed about the Toronto Jazz Festival this year is that it has moved. I can easily detect these kind of things because I’m a detail-oriented kind of guy. Also, I’m a quick study. You can’t easily slip things like a major venue change past me. No sir. Especially after a few meandering circles around and through the old venue at Nathan Phillips Square, and then confusing the jazz fest for a homeless man on Queen Street, and then listening to him yell and sing at me while tending to his pet rats. Like I said, quick study.

As a hard-nosed amateur music journalist, I know that you expect me to ask the tough questions. This is why when I finally arrived at the new venue at Metro Square, I found the very first person with a staff badge and asked, “but, but, why did you move?” This man with a hat told me that Nathan Phillips is in the midst of a facelift. Apparently these renovations will make the new square better for every day use, but not so good for festival use. I for one believe him. Did I mention he was wearing a hat, and hats are inherently reputable? Well they are.

“With salsa music, you could be singing about the holocaust and it would still make you want to dance, smile, and wiggle your butt.”

Anyway, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra played Sunday evening at the Toronto Star Stage. This is the Toronto Star Stage at Metro Square, not the Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square, which no longer exists. Let’s try and keep up people. Opening for them was Dubmatix, which consisted of two DJ’s, a saxophonist, and a bass player. It was chill reggae beats with some occasionally feisty horn playing. Creatively mixing beats is no small feat. However, it’s interesting how much a difference a charismatic vocalist can make. They play such a crucial role as a focal point for a band. Without one, I just didn’t know who or what to focus on.

Next up was the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Not only did they have one vocalist, they had three. This made it very easy for the crowd to focus. The singers would sing, and we would look at them. Problem solved. They were backed by a hefty brass section, and some top-notch percussionists. It was tight, upbeat, happy salsa music. At least I think it was happy. I don’t speak Spanish so I can’t  tell if the lyrics were happy or not. Still, with salsa music, you could be singing about the holocaust and it would still make you want to dance, smile, and wiggle your butt. By the end of the show, the band had succeeded in getting most of the people in the tent up and dancing. Not bad for a Sunday evening.


Spanish Harlem Orchestra:

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival