It’s always good to practise what you preach, so after filing last month’s column, I scooted down to Bloom Restaurant to enjoy a fantastic prix-fix dinner paired with the musical adventures of Jane Bunnett, Hilario Duran and young Cuban vocalist Daymé. To experience such brilliant music in an intimate setting is delicious for the ears, requiring a recipe that’s simple yet challenging: Quiet!
Since most restaurant patrons are accustomed to chewing the fat while they eat, the only way such a series can work is if the music is preceded by an announcement, which in the case of Bloom, is delivered by owner Luis Mario Ochoa, a self-described “full-time musician, teacher, arranger, composer, lyricist, guitarist, leading 3 bands of my own, producer, you name it!” In addition to the monthly music series Ochoa books, his ensemble performs traditional Cuban music on the last Thursday of every month at Bloom, a 44-seat restaurant in Bloor West Village that is a true gem for foodies, especially those who fancy Latin American and Spanish dishes “made in a Nuevo Latino style which is a contemporary haute cuisine reinterpretation with a slight North American twist.”
“I got into the restaurant business by accident,” Ochoa explains. “In 2004 my brother in law opened Bloom to expand his restaurant business. He also owns Focaccia Restaurant on 17 Hayden Street, but was not able to handle two places at the same time, so my wife — his sister — who is a travel executive and I, went crazy and decided to take it over and keep it in July of 2010.”
He admits that it was no easy feat to learn the restaurant business from scratch. “But we are a stubborn couple that does not give up easily, so we gave it all we had and little by little we changed concept, got the right people in the kitchen, led by Chef Pedro Quintanilla and now we have a great front of the house team led by maître d’ Pedro Salvin. I started introducing music once a month with traditional Cuban music, and now we started expanding with a second date featuring some of the best Latin and jazz performers in town. Bloom is on a great track now, mostly because my wife is even more stubborn that I am, so she deserves most of the credit.»
For the music and a sensational three-course prix fixe menu, all you pay at Bloom is $35 and your undivided attention. This month catch acclaimed Latin songstress Eliana Cuevas on Thursday, November 14, who will perform with Jeremy Ledbetter on keys and Daniel Stone on percussion. Reservations are essential.
CD Release? Speaking of reservations, most venues do accept them, and they come in particularly handy for CD release events, of which there are quite a few this month. Over at the Paintbox Bistro, two vocalists celebrate new recordings early in November. Elegant and sincere, Allyson Morris possesses the sort of pure, powerful voice that quickly catches a listener’s ear. She releases her debut album, I Saw the Light on November 2, joined by Bernie Senensky on piano, Russ Boswell on bass, Nathan Hiltz on guitar and Ben Riley on drums. As of this writing the event is almost sold out, so if you miss it you can also find her at Morgans on the Danforth on a Sunday afternoon: November 3 with Michael Shand or November 17 with Mark Kieswetter, both shows between 2 and 5pm.
Also at the Paintbox, Sam Broverman celebrates a new recording on November 9 at 8pm: Leftover Dreams, a tribute to the music of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, both born a century ago in 1913. A professor of actuarial science at the University of Toronto since 1980, he has been singing in the Mendelssohn Choir for the past 30 years. With an abundance of respect to the Great American Songbook and its creators, Broverman delivers these songs with ample passion and deep sensitivity. Joining him at the Paintbox will be Mark Kieswetter on piano, Jordan O’Connor on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums. If you miss the release, catch Broverman at Gate 403 on November 15 at 5pm.
Jeff Jones:One of the neat things about writing this column — and about being a fan of jazz, in general — is that there is always exciting talent to discover, of any age. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing vocalist Jeff Jones for the first time, though he has been performing around town for decades. A proficient scat singer with his soul deeply drenched in the blues, Jones is a rare talent who, upon hearing, is easy to remember and so hard to forget. Putting his signature stamp on familiar songs such as “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Danny Boy” and “Stella By Starlight,” he was reminiscent that night of Mark Murphy in his prime, treating every song like a shiny vehicle for the most daring improvisational flights. It was magical not only for those in the audience but also in the band, as they were kept on their toes and with a smile for the entire evening. Mr. Jones will be special guest when Tom Szczesniak hosts a Jazz Party at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar on Thursday, November 7.
Over at the Rex Hotel, there is a great cross-section of music one might describe as “jazz” — here are just a few special evenings of note. On Monday, November 11 at 9:30pm, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, usually led by Josh Grossman, will be feature guest conductor — last year’s JUNO winner — Montreal’s Christine Jensen. The evening will feature music from Jensen’s recent release on Justin Time, Habitat. Don’t expect traditional “big band” — this harmonically sophisticated, symphonic music can be likened to an extravagant cup of coffee: intense, dark, bold and rousing.
Also at the Rex, on Wednesday November 13 at 9:30pm, a young quintet celebrates a sophomore recording of original music. Tesseract is a collective of players who met as students last decade at Humber College: Julian Anderson-Bowes on bass, Derek Gray on drums, Edwin Sheard on alto sax, Leland Whitty on tenor saxophone and Patrick O’Reilly on guitar. Tesseract is anything but square: playing with drive and drawing from a variety of influences, this group is definitely worth checking out.
Young Artists: Finally, over at Jazz Bistro — my new place of work — I’ve been given a great opportunity to book a series of up-and-coming talent, the Young Artist Series. From Tuesday to Saturday, between 6 and 8pm, you can enjoy blooming talents such as pianists Patrick Hewan, Ewen Farncombe and Sam Kogen, to name a few, on the club’s signature “Red Pops” Steinway. There is no cover charge for these performances, and your presence is, as always, priceless. See you in the clubs!
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can be contacted at email@example.com.