Alex Cuba charms Aeolian audience

Alex Cuba and a two piece back-up band performed Saturday night, March 22, at London's Aeolian Hall. The Aeolian, always a great venue, provides the perfect atmosphere for a performer like Cuba. Not only is it a place where he can display his amazing musicianship, it is also a venue where he can exhibit the charm that supersedes any language barrier.

Alex Cuba (Alexis Puentes), the son of a guitar player and music teacher, emigrated from Cuba to Victoria, BC in 1999. He has been performing and recording in Canada since then, receiving various accolades and recognitions. Among them, two JUNO Awards for World Music Album of the Year in 2006 and 2008, as well as a 2010 Latin Grammy for Best New Artist.

He now resides in Smithers, BC and his drummer and bassist have played with him on and off over the past ten years. His close relationship with them was evident throughout the show.

Yes, Cuba performs virtually all his songs in Spanish, which I for one do not understand.

But does that matter? Not at all. Because not only is he a polished musician with a fine band, he is an engaging and charming personality.

As a musician, Cuba's repertoire is wide and his playing is exceptional. Sure, he is essentially a "Latin" artist, but the range of sound he presents is anything but repetitive. Within that Latin sphere, Cuba mines many different sounds. He was equally adept with jazz fusion, reggae, calypso, rock, and country and western. At one point I could even pick out the influence of West African rhythms as he channeled a little Ali Farka Toure. Cuba is a gifted guitarist, and hearing him live, where he can extend himself in innovative solos, really brings that home.

And the man clearly loves to perform for, and relate to his audience. Throughout the evening he kept up his banter with the crowd in English and Spanish. His monologues often had a self-deprecating quality, and his relationship with his band mates came across as warm and respectful. Cuba routinely invited the audience to sing along, often playfully rehearsing them in the Spanish of the chorus. A number of times he engaged them in call and response scat singing, until the call became so elaborate, that the audience just broke down laughing.

All in all a most enjoyable evening. If you are reading this review, the next time Alex Cuba comes to town, I urge you - do not miss his show.

Lyle Goorvich is a a former school teacher, vinyl enthusiast and lover of music.