After an intense week of final prep, the Joe Bataan gig is in the past. It was not the first time I've learned another artist's repertoire and mounted a band for them - Trio Bruxo has done that frequently - but this was on another level. I felt like, in the absence of Joe and his music director, Ray Poncin, that I was entrusted with his legacy of Latin soul and getting it into shape before they got there. The musicians of Mantecoso had the music for two months before the gig, and like any jazz-trained bandleader I rehearsed according to "the ink," or what was on the page. It was only two days before the show, during dinner, when Ray told me, "Oh yeah, we don't play it like the charts." Cue some mad scrambling before the final rehearsal to figure out their sign language signals (similar to my own, but different enough that we had to wrap our heads around it) and realizing that basically every tune was no longer a set arrangement but modular sections to be cut and pasted at Joe's whim.
It was an honour to be on stage alongside Joe - an old-school performer and businessman who drives the bus in the same way as classic R&B singers of yore. It's a New York-bred mentality that not many people have in Montreal. His riveting stories about contracts and life on the road was mentorship unlike any that exists in Canada. I have to thank Frank Rodriguez and Lou Piensa of Afro-Latin Soul for spearheading this project, and for them and Joe and Ray to put their faith in me is a privilege I don't take lightly. And many thanks to Pop Montreal for taking the initiative of booking Joe Bataan, an artist who has a significant cult following; contrary to the enthusiastic Midnight Poutine review, most of the audience at Sala Rossa were there explicitly and exclusively for Mr. Bataan. Before we went on stage, Joe received a few guests backstage telling him that they had waited 30 years to see him live.
Some reviews of the show have gone up, and I just want to set the facts straight. It's clear from the tone of the reviews from The Gazette's T'cha Dunlevy and La Presse's Alain Brunet that, like any good freelance journalist, they caught mere snippets of our set. Anyone who knows Joe Bataan's catalogue would not peg him as a salsa artist - he has always referred to himself as "Latin soul." Only three of the tunes in our twelve-song set were salsa dura - the rest ran the gamut from bossa nova to breakbeats, proto-rap and gospel. As much as I love the Latin musicians in Montreal, I don't know many of them that could handle that diversity of music. It takes a versatile crew of musicians to be able to hang on "Puerto Rico me Llama" as well as "Call My Name." I'm aware that it wasn't perfect, but I'm satisfied with it, considering we had 3 hours with Joe to re-learn the arrangements. Regarding the weakness of drums and percussion in the mix, suffice it to say that when the congas are miked with only one overhead mic, its presence in the mix will be severely compromised, regardless of how great the player is.
Regarding the lack of Latino-American musicians on stage with Joe, I want to bring to everyone's attention that we had three musicians from the Latin & South American diaspora with us: Butta Beats is originally from Buenos Aires, saxophonist Steve Salcedo is of Dominican heritage, and conguero David Sanchez (also of Heavy Soundz) is Mexican. The fact that we had a Torontonian Jew, a Québécois, and a Minnesotan in the band reflects the reality of the Montreal music scene quite aptly and I think is a perfectly appropriate showcase for Pop Montreal and for the influence of Afro-Latin Soul across North America. Let's use this successful concert to rejuvenate the Latin music scene in Montreal. The crowd came out to support in force, and there are ample musicians here, Latino or not, to capably back up the legends that are still among us.