It’s heat – passion.
While much of the northern hemisphere has baked in record-breaking temperatures this week, I was reminded that cultures in warmer climates often use the scorching weather as a greenhouse to cultivate music brimming with desire and nostalgia.
The Latin American love song tradition is at the center of male vocalist Cantus’ latest program of the season. Presented in the air-conditioned comfort of four intimate local venues, “Ramas y Raices” is a four-country tour that allows each of the eight members to sing their hearts out, mix in some of Cantus’ patented tight harmonies, and then sing along. sit down and let thunderstorms erupt from a grand piano.
The latter is courtesy of Nachito Herrera, a Latin jazz artist who is among the Twin Cities’ most beloved musicians across all genres. After a near-death experience with COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, Herrera demonstrated he was back in full force during Wednesday night’s concert, practically shaking the ornate vintage window frames of Courtroom 317 of St. Paul’s Landmark Center. As a soloist and accompanist, the Cuban pianist set the bar high for the passion that the Cantus singers intermittently matched.
These gigs look like a belated pandemic comeback of sorts for Herrera, at least for Twin Cities music lovers who don’t regularly haunt jazz clubs like the Dakotas or the Crooners. But they also serve as a farewell to the member of Cantus whose influence is most palpable on this program: tenor Alberto de la Paz.
While the band has prided itself on its intercontinental acumen since its founding in 1995, Mexico-born de la Paz helped take Cantus’ performing skills with Latin American music to new levels during its four years with the group. And his solo on Wednesday provided the peak of the program.
The evening was divided into four sections of four songs each, highlighting 20th century music from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Mexico. Each quadrant featured solos by two Cantus members, a full group melody, and a solo improvisation by Herrera inspired by compositions from that country.
Herrera’s contributions were often breathtaking, his game full of physical and emotional power and his strikes sometimes seeming too big for the hall. But the piano received periodic breaks for some very enjoyable group songs served a cappella (except for the claves and shaker) like the traditional Brazilian tune “Mule Rendera” and a tantalizing “Besame Mucho.”
This opened the Mexican set, which proved the highlight of the concert. It found Herrera at his most playful and baritone Rod Kelly Hines lending an up-and-coming operatic flair to Manuel Maria Ponce’s “Estrellita.”
And that’s where de la Paz shone brightest, his rendition of Maria Grever’s “Jurame” proving a consummate lesson in chemistry from the singer and pianist. Where some of the other singers’ solos embraced the histrionics of Latin love songs — and it’s certainly part of the tradition — de la Paz captured a softer side on a rendition that sounded a lot like the passionate genuine article. We will miss him.
What: “Ramas y Reices: Songs from Latin America”
When and where: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Av., Mpls.; 11 a.m. Friday, Westminster Hall, 1201 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Museum of Russian Art, 5500 Stevens Av., Mpls.
Tickets: $5-40, available at 612-435-0046 or cantussings.org
On line: The Friday morning concert is available online from Friday 11 a.m. to Sunday 11 a.m. at cantussings.org ($5-$45).
Rob Hubbard is a classical music writer from Twin Cities. Contact him at email@example.com.