At times, you could almost feel like you were on a Caribbean beach sipping pina coladas.
Of course you were in The Crossing Pub in Sharbot Lake sipping beers but hey . . .
At any rate, the combination of Mario Franco and Dennis Larocque (backed by drummer Leo Vervuurt) produced a unique soundscape that is unlikely to be reproduced in the local music scene for some time, if ever.
Franco, who grew up in Santiago, Cuba, has a personable approach to his native Cuban sound, a sound that carries an almost mystical reverence to it in many music circles.
“Syncopation is the key thing,” he said in an interview after the show. “With balance.
“But it’s not something you learn in school — you have to feel it.”
The audience certainly felt it as he swept through two sets full of originals and latin standards like Tito Puente’s Oye Como Va, Cielito Lindo (the Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay Song), Blue Moon (more the Ella Fitzgerald version as opposed to the Marcels’) and the Cuban classic Guantanamera (from the poem by Cuban independence hero Jose Marti).
Franco didn’t really grow up playing music however. He came to it in a rather roundabout way and perhaps that’s a key factor in his distinctiveness.
In the ’80s, Franco went to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv to become a mechanical engineer. He also learned to play guitar there. After graduating, he went to Siberia to build houses.
“On the train going there, some heard me singing and said ‘we have to get you into this music festival,’” he said. “I won second place.”
He formed a little band which was invited to play another festival and before he knew it, he was working for the Canadian tourism industry.
In 2004, as Cuba began to relax its emigration policies, especially to Canada, Franco came here and began performing in several international festivals, as well as venues in and around Kingston.
“I used to play Fridays in Westport (at The Cove) for about five years,” he said.
Which is where he met Larocque, who would make the trek eastward to hear Franco play.
“We met at The Cove seven or eight years ago and our families became friends,” Larocque said. “He stopped playing professionally for awhile and we’d jam sometimes.”
When they decided to do The Crossing gig, Larocque had reservations.
“The music he plays and what I’ve done is night and day,” Larocque said. “I’ve been learning different rhythms, scales, patterns, chords — you name it.
“And I’m still just along for the ride.”
Well, the Crossing audience, which consisted of a considerable number of musicians curious about what this collaboration would produce, would probably disagree with Larocque, at it certainly appeared they were enjoying ‘the ride.’
As for future collaborations, Franco said he certainly enjoys playing with Larocque and their families are “good friends.”
Larocque too left open the possibility, saying “I look forward to feeling more comfortable (with this style of music) in the future.”