Sunday, May 2, 2010

Liberty Bistro Saturday Nights

It is a grey morning here in Toronto, but the weather is warm and almost balmy.  Lake Ontario is reflecting the greys of the sky and the shore on the far side seems just a blend of darker grey.  I have broken out my balcony furniture and have reconstructed my outdoor living room in preparation for another summer season.  Despite grey skies, petty injustices and less than desired outcomes in a few fronts, life is pretty good in Toronto.

Now that I have my Collingwood Shangri-La back from my winter ski tenants I am not so often in Toronto on a Saturday night.  I decided to stay home this weekend to get ahead of chores in the City, before the really great weather starts and so was around to catch something very special that is happening on the first Saturday each month at the Liberty Bistro.  Actually, something special happens each Saturday night at the Liberty Bistro, but the first Saturday is reserved for the Latin Jazz band XOTEKA.  Aside from the regulars in the band, there is also a different musical guest each month and this month it was Luis Mario Ochoa.  The music was just fantastic and the warm and friendly atmosphere combined with great music, good food and  friendly faces made the night really special.

XOTEKA, (pronounced "exotica") is  a band featuring Laura Fernandez' vocals and Don Naduriak on piano.  The quartet included a skilled percussionist and a really talented bassist  and they were joined on stage by others at various points in the evening.  Other than Don, I am not sure if the other musicians are regulars in the band as the MySpace site for XOTEKA does not contain much detail.  For a period of time in 2009 the band did the Tropical Night Thursdays dinner show at  Chalkers Bistro Pub/Pool hall,  but having checked the Chalkers site there is no mention of  this now so I presume that gig has ended.  Seems like if you want to hear this band, at least for the time being you will need to mark the first Saturday of each month on your calendar as a Liberty Bistro night.

Laura Fernandez is the radio host of Café Latino on Jazz FM 91.1 each Saturday from 4:00 too 6:00.   I have come to know Laura as she is a regular at the Liberty Bistro Open Mic Wednesdays (See here for other blogs featuring Liberty Bistro and their music nights), which I also try and get out to most weeks.  This is the first time that I have been able to catch Laura and XOTEKA,  as she is usually a listener rather than a performer at the open mic nights.  Last night Laura performed a set of maybe 10 or 15 songs and she sung all but one in Spanish.  Laura was born in Spain but grew up in Toronto, as she mentioned during the performance, only recently embracing fully her  roots and diving deep into the Spanish music and culture of her ancestors. She sang songs she first heard at home sung by her mother as well as a selection of Cuban and Brazilian jazz standards such as Girl from Ipanema.  We also got to hear some of Laura's original compositions which will be featured on her up coming CD to be released the end of May.  I believe this is Laura's 2nd CD.  I will be sure to pick up a copy.

Laura's personal introduction to each song, explaining background to her interpretation as well as the story told by the Spanish lyrics was very much appreciated.  Laura came across as a lovely and gentle person as well as a particularly talented performer who holds her own with the likes of Luciana Souza, who I have written about in my blog previously.  As you might detect, Latin Jazz is one of my favourite types of music!

Some info from Laura's bio:
Award-winning singer/songwriter, painter and illustrator, Laura Fernandez is as culturally diverse as she is artistically a true "renaissance woman". Born in Madrid, Spain, lived in Switzerland as a child, spent her youth in Calgary, Alberta and her adulthood here in Toronto as well as travelling worldwide. Laura brings her cosmopolitan world view to everything she does. She writes songs in English as well as Spanish, and her musical compositions are a reflection of her many influences. Originally trained as a classical pianist, her style is a blend of classical, jazz, pop, Latin and world music anchored by intimate and heartfelt lyrics. Laura often describes her songs as self portraits and paintings inspired by her own life captured in a musical medium.

You can learn more about Laura Fernandez and her musical ventures (and sample some songs) at her MySpace page.

XOTEKA's guest performer this month was a Cuban, Luis Mario Ochoa,  who did a couple of sets with the band, supplying both fabulous vocals and lead guitar.  Clearly this man is a tremendous talent and this yet again confirms my belief that we in Toronto are extremely lucky that so many great musicians have chosen Toronto as their home.  To hear such musical treats at a local no cover bistro  is unbelievable.  OK, this is not just any neighbourhood bar but is one with particular demographics as it is located in a downtown boomer predominated and one of the  prime Toronto arts neighbourhoods.  None the less, unbelievable and much appreciated!  Another unique factor is that the owner, Nezam Soltan, seems determined to make it become a restaurant/bistro with a reputation throughout the City for great I music as well as great food and vibes.

As my pitch for the local talent we are so fortunate to have, we Torontonians need to make a point in getting out to hear our musicians and support them by buying their CDs at the venues they are performing at.  Most often they are paid a very small amount to perform and rely on these sales plus a day job to pay the rent.  Whenever possible, I try to buy a CD from each artist I hear.  I have to thank Nezam for the one I am listening to now - the CD that Luis Mario Ochoa made available last night - titled cimarron.  You can buy one on his web site.  Listening to his vocals reminded me of last December when I was in Havana at the Tropicana Club listening to some of their jazz soloists accompanied by a Cuban big band.  Fantastic music very much in the mood of Buena Vista Social Club

I notice from Luis' web site that he plays maybe a half dozen or more gigs in the city each month - the next one of note is LuLa Lounge on May 22nd.  From the bio on his web site I learned that he teaches Latin Jazz Ensemble at the renowned Humber College Jazz school of music.   Check out his web site for more information on performances and you would like to sample his music and learn more.

The Liberty Bistro is the best kept secret in the city.  Maybe every neighbourhood in the City has one or two special places like this with no cover and great food and music, but I can't help but shake my head when I see a place like this with tables still available at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.  Maybe it was because at the end of April a lot of folks were hunkered down at home, short of cash having just paid the tax man.  I understand that last month the place was pretty full during the dinner set which starts at 8:00.  By the way, if you want to go for 8:00 for the dinner set they won't make you order dinner - but in all fairness, I know the owner wouldn't be able to keep this without cover, if he doesn't sell a good number of dinners, so if you like the good music plan on a late dinner at the Liberty Bistro next month on June 5th and catch a set of XOTEKA - for a whole meal experience involving great music as well as a very decent dinner.

For us folks "of a certain age" - it is fabulous to be able to go to the bistro and start an evening of music at 8:00 rather than 10:00 and leave at 11:30 or 12:00 feeling like I have a full night.  I am sure that as the months march forward and word spreads, Liberty Bistro will start filling up. It might not be as easy to get in then as it was last night and so I note that reservations are recommended.  I know I will be organizing my weekends up north so I am back here on June 5th for dinner and Latin Jazz!

1 comment:

  1. We're having similar weather. We opened our picnic pavilion this weekend as well. We put together the large swing that we had dismantled and stored on the pavilion. The swing is back on the patio. I hope to sweep the pavilion floor and wipe down the tables, etc. tomorrow (if it doesn't rain). It sounds like you had an enjoyable Saturday evening at Liberty Bistro. Have a great week, Peggy.


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