The Latin jazz Network – Raul Da Gama – 06/01/2022

This recording – Forever Lecuona – is a glorious tribute to the great 19th century Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona – glorious because of the performance of its principal artist – Luis Mario Ochoa, a Cuban-Canadian steeped in the nuanced emotions and magic of Mr Lecuona’s music, which ranges from the bravura of the contradanza and criolla;  the gilded elegance of every sondanzón and Sevillana from the composer’s mighty pen. Luis Mario is an exceptionally brilliant guitarist and a singer possessed not only of an incredible vocal range, but the gift of using it to dig into the very emotion and meaning of words and phrases.

Moreover, the vocalist has a golden vibrato that when employed twists nuanced feelings hidden in the lyric of son and danzón. In doing just so to perfection, Luis Mario makes the joys of a word or two bounce with effervescence, or ‘cry’ tremulously with elemental sadness – a perfect way to describe the words of Mr Lecuona and the great Cuban poet José Martí [on “Una Rosa Blanca”].

Luis Mario is also a magnificent guitarist – up in the rarefied realm with other great guitarists from South America and the Caribbean. This is a rather uncommon phenomenon – coming as it does from Cuba, a country better known for its pianists and percussionists. In fact  – listening to the marvelous manner in which Luis Mario plays throughout [but mainly on] Mr Lecuona’s “Three Afro Cuban Dances” one might suggest that Luis Mario is not really that far from achieving what the legendary Cuban guitarist Leo Brouwer has achieved on the instrument. Put that together with the outstanding vocals on the repertoire of Forever Lecuona and you have an album to die for.

The album also features a treasure-trove of Canadian musicians – originating from Cuba, Perú, El Salvador. The genius of pianist Hilario Durán is omnipresent – both in the almost impetuous virtuosity of his pianism, but also in his fine arrangements [he shares arranging duties with Luis Mario, who is responsible for the other half of the songs]. The prodigious gifts of percussion colourist, arranger and vocalist Luis “Luisito” Orbegoso are another reason why these songs are aglow with gem-like brilliance. The three bassists, Louis Simão, Roberto Riverón, as well as Jonathan Amador all caress each harmonic variation with the deep velvet of every one of their luscious rhythmic forays into the songs.

Thus these musicians enhance the melodic and harmonic sheen  for the proverbial rhythmic wall, scaled only by the drummer Amhed Mitchel and percussionists-extraordinaire Rosendo “Chendy” León, Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” and Raimundo Sosa, who play congas and bàtá respectively, and caressing the skin of their drums as if seducing a dancing partner to wax eloquent on the dance-floor. There will, no doubt, be many other tributes to Mr Lecuona – including in his beloved homeland, Cuba. But Forever Lecuona by the incomparable Luis Mario Ochoa will be remembered for its exceptional interpretations of [Mr Lecuona’s] music in a performance equal to the stature of its honoree. (LatinJazzNetwork)

JazzWox – 04/06/2022 – Marc Myers

Nacido en Cuba, Luis Mario Ochoa hoy vive en Toronto. Emigró a Canada en 1990, después de completar su licenciatura en guitarra clásica en el Instituto Superior de Artes de la universidad de La Habana. En Canada, expandió su carrera musical como vocalista, compositor, arreglista y director. Su primer album A La Cubana (1995) fue el primero en ser lanzado por un Cubano nacionalizado Canadiense en ese país.

Ochoa se mudó al Nort, pero ha retenido toda su alma cubana. En 1914 Luis se mudó a Miami, donde la idea de pagarle tributo a Lecuona, comenzó. En su quinto album, Forever Lecuona, Forever Lecuona (Lecuona Para Siempre) lanzado hoy, la voz y guitarra de Ochoa son bellas y con mucho espíritu. Lecuona (1896-1963) fue un compositor y pianista cubano, el cual escribió más de 600 obras, varias de las cuales fueron temas de filmes de Holywood. Su padre era de las Islas Canarias y su madre Cubana. Una de sus canciones Siempre En Mi Corazón, fue escrita en 1942 para la película Always In My HEart y fue contendiente a un Award de a academia de Oscars a mejor cancion en 1943, pero al final fue Blanca Navidad la ganadora del galardón. (Siempre en mi Corazón), was written for the 1942 film of the same name and was a contender for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1943. White Christmas, from Holiday Inn, won instead.

Ochoa arranges 10 of Lecuona’s love songs with passion, favoring a bed of Afro-Cuban jazz rhythms and traditional Havana seasoning. His vocal power and tone are sensational, and the arrangements are modern with earthy intensity and purpose. I could detail the individual songs but there’s really no need. All of them will sweep you away. Ochoa’s taste is superb, and the music pays respect to the original masterpieces with a bright, contemporary feel. 

Sadly, I don’t speak Spanish but I love Cuban music, and my heart understands everything Ochoa sings about on the album. Best of all, the songs are stylish but as soothing as long, slow strokes on the back. A joy to hear the music of this once-celebrated and prolific composer. Even better, brought up to date by Ochoa’s voice, guitar and sincerity. (JazzWox.com)

The Wholenote Magazine – Cathy Riches – 05/20/2022

Ernesto Lecuona, known as “the Gershwin of Cuba,” is the subject of the latest release by singer-guitarist Luis Mario Ochoa. Since Lecuona wrote both music and lyrics during his prolific and celebrated career, I suppose he’s both George and Ira Gershwin. Indeed, his most famous work was done in the field of operetta and film (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award), and Ochoa includes several of those tracks, lovingly reproduced here.

You couldn’t find a more authentic interpreter of this music than Ochoa, who was born and raised in Cuba and studied the great masters during his musical education at the University of Havana. Cuba’s loss was Toronto’s gain when Ochoa emigrated here in 1990 and became a bandleader and regular feature on the club circuit. Ochoa has drawn on the deep Toronto talent pool for the world-class musical support on this album, including gifted multi-instrumentalist Louis Simao on bass, fellow countryman Hilario Duran on piano (no electronic keyboards here!) and Luis Orbegoso and Chendy Leon on percussion.  

With songs dating back to the early 1900s, this is a nostalgic but still relevant collection of classic Cuban sounds. Themes of heartbreak and longing never go out of style, do they? Neither does dancing, and this album will surely inspire you to get on your feet and take a turn around the floor. This may be especially true for non-Spanish speakers, as all the songs are in that language, of course. But everyone speaks the language of uplifting rhythm and Ochoa’s beautiful guitar playing and bright, plaintive singing clearly convey the message. (TheWholeNoteMagazine)

Latin Jazz Network – 2008 by Raul d’Gama

This is Luis Mario Ochoa’s fourth record and a slight departure from earlier records, which featured this extremely talented artist in a larger setting. Ochoa has developed a unique sound that melded almost all forms of music – traditional and modern – into a breathtaking sonic adventure. Call it salsa or whatever is expedient, the fact remains that the unique exuberance of his music is the only thing that is constant and all that matters when listening to Luis Mario Ochoa. With Momentos Cubanos you can never get enough of the infectious ebullience of Ochoa. He is a wonderful singer with a powerful voice, a fine technique and a near-perfect sense of timing, not the least because the dynamics of his expression is flawless. In fact there are times when he can conjure up the memory of Beny More here.

What a sensational start to the record! To begin with a song in coro-pregon form and that too a chart made famous by Felix Chapotin. And because Ochoa has such a brilliant sense of time and expression this track, “El Carbonero (The Charcoal Maker)” is right on the money. The chart sets the ebullient tone for the whole record. Not only is Ochoa stellar as he drives the vocals like a delightful arrow through the romantic heart, but he is also superb on acoustic guitar – especially in the second chorus when he plays off-key, like Tom Jobim once did in another country on “Desafinado”. This is music – as mentioned earlier – right out of the majestic Beny More spectacle and is quite unforgettable. Pianist Hilario Duran is also superb as he dazzles rhythmically and with two-handed stylistics.

And just when you thought that the musical bar could go no higher, Ochoa raises it skyward with the Ernesto Lecuona classic, “Canto Siboney (Siboney chant)” which harks back to the days when the revolution was young. Ochoa’s vocals soar unfettered here and it is here that the record reaches its pinnacle. Ochoa’s mixing of mambo-cha-cha-cha with the folkloric bolero is a masterstroke. But it is his vocals and the fine and sensitive playing of bassist Paco Luviano, who recalls the tradition of the great Cachao, that makes this quite the memorable chart of the record. Actually all of the vocal work is defining: So, in other words are the tracks, especially “Y Deja (Please Let Me)” with its exquisite son form and subtle samba interlude, “Si la Rumba va a Empezar (If the Rumba’s going to start)” and, of course, the equally (to “Siboney”, that is) memorable vocal on “Perla Marina (Marine Pearl)”

Actually there is not a single track on this record that does not merit many hearings. You will find that you simply cannot get enough of the music. That’s how infectious it is. And the musicians are on top of their game as well. Drummer and percussionist, Luis Orbegoso is one of the finest on this record. A vastly underrated percussionist – almost self-effacing – he has one of the finest and most sophisticated senses of time and the hidden and bewitching inner rhythms that unravels with Cuban music. He can make his drums and percussion rattle when he wants to, thunder melodically when he wants to and ping when the music calls for it. He can whisper and rumble to enhance the layers of moods and meanings of the songs. Orbegoso’s star turn on cajon, on the closing chart, “Flor de la Canela (The Cinnamon Flower)” The second percussionist Papiosco is just as sensational, but he defers often to Orbegoso, which is what the music calls for. David Virelles makes a guest appearance on “Perla Marina” and is superb as he solos with aplomb. It is music like that on Momentos Cubanos that puts the music of Cuba front and center and artists like Luis Mario Ochoa that deserve the greatest appreciation and thanks for creating or re-creating (as the case may be) the unforgettable.

Tracks: El Carbonero; Un Habanero En Brasil; Canto Siboney; Momentos Cubanos; Y Deja; Si la Rumba va a Empezar; Perla Marina; Simbiosis; Flor de la Canela.

Personnel: Luis Mario Ochoa: vocals, acoustic guitar, bandleader and producer; Hilario Duran: piano; Francisco “Paco” Luviano: bass and background vocals; Luis Orbegoso: drums, timbales, cajon, small percussion and background vocals; Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco”: congas and small percussion; David Virelles: piano on track 7.

Jazz Times Magazine
September 2008, by Rebeca Mauleon

Following the previous acclaimed releases by his nonet Cimarrón, Havana-born (and Toronto-based) guitarist, vocalist and composer Luis Mario Ochoa delivers a subtler and more jazz-tinged offering in Momentos Cubanos. With brilliant cohorts including pianist Hilario Durán, bassist Paco Luviano, Jorge “Papiosco” Torres and Luis Orbegoso (percussion) and David Virelles (pianist on the gorgeous bolero “Perla Marina”), Ochoa’s quintet shines through Cuban classics as well as originals, including a beautiful cajón-infused rendition of Peruvian composer and singer Chabuca Granda’s “Flor de la Canela.”

The leader’s emotive voice and delicate touch on nylon-string guitar make for a welcome change from the more standard fare in Latin jazz recordings, instead providing harmonic richness and rhythmical variety in an intimate setting. The powerful opening track, “El Carbonero,” takes the Cuban tradition of the pregoneros (street vendors) into the 21st century in this wonderfully re-harmonized rendition. Pianist Durán lends his masterful touch to eight of the nine tracks, with stirring solos and a wonderful balance of fiery montunos and rock-solid jazz comping.

Ochoa’s originals include a haunting guaguancó entitled “Si La Rumba Va a Empezar,” while Lecuona’s classic “Canto Siboney” appears here as a bolero/funky cha-cha, and Piloto and Vera’s timeless “Y Deja” blends a bit of samba into Cuban jazz, with Ochoa’s vocal reminiscent of a young Pablo Milanés. His and Durán’s instrumental solos here feel authentic and unassuming, and the mastering of the album overall gives the listener the impression of being up close and personal to the quintet.

Rebeca Mauleón

The Whole Note Magazine
May 2008 by Cathy Riches
Luis Mario Ochoa looked to his Cuban heritage and heart for Momentos Cubanos

Ochoa is best known for his nine-piece dance band Cimarrón, but for this disc he rounded up just a handful of his compañeros — la crema de la crema of Cuban-Toronto musicians — to make a more intimate record. For this outing Hilario Duran joins Ochoa’s quintet: David Virelles on piano, Paco Luviano on bass, the ubiquitous Luis Orbegoso and Jorge Luis Torres on percussion, with Ochoa handling the guitar work and adding his strong, emotive tenor to the vocal tunes. A handful of the tracks are instrumentals — the most notable being the breezy title track — and are classic Cuban (no hip hop or other urban styles here), with a few nods to Brazil and Peru. With the lyrics being sung in Spanish, English-speakers might anticipate feeling a little in the dark, but Ochoa is such an expressive singer, no translations are necessary.

Women’s Post
June 24th, 2008 by Cathy Riches

Things got muy romantico at The Pilot last night when the Luis Mario Ochoa Quintet hit the stage. Ochoa is best known for his sizzling hot salsa band Cimarron, but his latest recording project with the quintet has a more intimate feel.
Last night Ochoa’s (nylon string) guitar chops were on display when he wasn’t crooning his way through love ballads en espanol. Couples held hands as everyone in the room got swept up in the mood, allowing themselves to forget how corny romance is supposed to be. sigh.

All About Jazz
June 2008 by Jerry D’Souza

Guitarist/vocalist Luis Mario Ochoa showcases his new acoustic quintet on his fourth recording. It’s a departure from Cimarron, the nine-piece ensemble he calls a Cuban dance band with a jazz sound. Ochoa continues to find the groove as a composer and arranger as he mines Cuban and Peruvian music with all their attributes for thoroughly enjoyable listening.
Ochoa sets the mood with the sparkling “Simbiosis.” The melody is catchy and Ochoa rides it on the guitar with round, juicy round notes. His parlaying of the melody is vivid and he lends it that extra dimension with emphatic voicing and short, fleet runs. But where would the music be without the congas? Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” (congas) keeps the beat singing. With Hilario Duran illuminating the song on the piano, this is quite irresistible.
“Perla Marina” is a beautiful song composed by Sindo Garay, one of Cuba’s leading songwriters. The title translates to “Marine Pearl” and is a fine showcase for Ochoa’s singing. He is a passionate singer, his enunciation and phrasing strong and packed with emotional power. He is also the troubadour who adds to the soul with his guitar. David Virelles completes the lure through the eloquence of his harmony and phrases on the piano.
“Momentos Cubanos” is another joyful paean to Cuban music; a wonderfully happy and frisky tune. Ochoa gives it a traditional Cuban flavor adding son and changui rhythms. It is a mark of his skills as a composer as he weaves the rhythms into a seamless fabric.
Ochoa once again convincingly takes Cuban music, embellishes it with his imagination and comes up with an album that is difficult to ignore.

Toronto Sun
June 2008 by Errol Nazareth

Luis Mario Ochoa making it work Advice from father, teachers has paid off nicely for multi-faceted guitarist By ERROL NAZARETH – Sun Media
Luis Mario Ochoa is clearly doing his dear dad, and the teachers at the music conservatories he attended in Cuba, proud.
When I profiled the cat who wears many hats–guitarist/singer/composer/arranger/bandleader — eight years back in these pages, Ochoa told me, “The biggest lesson I learned from my dad and from the schools was discipline. If you want to accomplish something, be disciplined and work, work and work.”
Since arriving in T.O. from Cuba 18 years back, Ochoa has released four albums, led a variety of big bands and Latin jazz bands, and taught at Humber College.
At this year’s TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival, which starts today, he’ll be playing two gigs in four days — one with his 13-member salsa squad Cimarron and the other with an acoustic quintet.
This ain’t a big deal for Ochoa who, in the space of a week earlier this year, performed with his Humber College Big Latin Band — comprising 22 musicians! — then played with Cimarron and followed that with a show with his quintet.
“It was a lot of fun,” he tells me. “I try to do as much as I can and have a good time with it.”
Oh, Ochoa also plays in a sextet called Cuba Tradicional that “performs material from the pre-Buena Vista Social Club era.”
But, back to the quintet that he’s performing with at the Pilot on Monday as part of the club’s Guitar Series.
I’ve followed Ochoa’s career since Cimarron released its debut CD, A La Cubana, in 1995. La Fiesta came out five years later, and Cimarron dropped in 2005.
All were brilliantly produced, straight-up salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz affairs that featured killer playing and tight arrangements.
Nothing wrong with that, but these ears were getting a little weary of the same ole.
Last month, much to my surprise, Ochoa released Momentos Cubanos, a sweet acoustic record that he’d recorded with a quintet.
Gone were the blazing horns and fiery percussion. Instead, I was treated to some gorgeous playing from Ochoa, pianist Hilario Duran, bassist Paco Luviano, and percussionists Jorge Torres and Luis Orbegoso.
“It has been always in me to perform with a smaller ensemble,” Ochoa says. “I studied classical guitar for 13 years back home and I used to perform solo all the time. Then I came to Canada and had an opportunity to have my own band and do my Cuban music the way I felt it, but a smaller ensemble was always a dream and it came true.”

The biggest challenge, he says, was to get the top-flight musicians together in the studio since all are in big demand.

“Regarding the music, it was all there,” he says. “It was just a matter of selection. We’ve been playing with this group for a while already, so the repertoire is quite large.”

And was it a challenge writing for a quintet after composing for an orchestra for more than a decade?

“Not necessarily,” Ochoa says. “One of the advantages of being an independent artist is that I have the flexibility to do what I love. I don’t think the music style has changed much. The concept is the same but I am just featuring my guitar playing more.

“It is a struggle, however, to do everything by yourself,” he adds. “I have so much music that I would love to release one day, but I don’t think it will be possible because it’s just too expensive to do it right.

“A good production is just the beginning, the promotion is a different world and the booking to be able to promote it is a big challenge, even though I am lucky to say that my work is very well received every time I perform live.”

Live Music Report
May 2008 by Corbett & Humbert.

Luis Mario Ochoa’s Momentos Cubanos CD release was an experience to savour. Our ears were treated first to a room-warming Antonio Carlos Jobim instrumental leaving us ready, if anything could, for the perfection of Luis Mario Ochoa’s version of Ernesto Lecuona’s “Siboney”. The enormous passion with which Ochoa sings this intensely romantic piece is matched with equal finesse. Few are those who can sing a bolero as beautifully as Ochoa sings “Siboney”. This is definitely a song in which the voice is the star and the instruments play supporting roles yet pianist Hilario Duran’s scaffolds of chords and curlicues of notes, the solid bass and crisp percussion were all of the superior quality such a voice deserves.
The acoustic quintet of Luis Mario Ochoa on guitar and vocals, Hilario Duran on piano, Paco Luviano on bass, Jorge “Papiosco” Torres on congas, bongos and maracas and Luis Orbegoso on timbales, cajon and maracas played all of the songs on the CD plus a few others over the two sets of the evening. A true pleasure to listen to, these exceptional musicians exemplified how to combine sensitivity and energy in their playing. It was also a pleasure to watch how they listened to and enjoyed each other’s contributions to the whole.

As on the CD, the pieces were nicely placed to contrast and complement each other in an ever-moving flow of sound. After Ochoa’s outstanding vocal performance on “Siboney”, came an instrumental reminding us of his impressive skill as a guitarist. The piece was named “Simbiosis” because of the different rhythms and grooves the percussionists Orbegoso and Torres threw into its mix of latin jazz.
Another Ochoa original, “Si la rumba va a empezar” (if the rumba is going to start) celebrates the Afro-Cuban “rumba cycle” — yambú, guaguanco and Columbia — and combines it with Cuban jazz, the whole resting on a steady rumba clave. The “son” style with a little “changui” forms the basis for Ochoa’s dreamy “Momentos cubanos” and the samba is combined with Cuban forms in “Un habanero en brasil” and Ochoa’s arrangement of “Y deja”, written by the famed Cuban songwriting team of Giraldo Piloto (Sr.) and Alberto Vera.

The upbeat “El carbonero” echoes the call of a street vendor in a style known as prégon. “Perla marina” is delicate and poetic in lyric and instrumentation. Both are popular Cuban songs. The end of the night though, belonged to “Flor de canela” (Cinnamon Flower) with its Afro-Peruvian groove, deep, dramatic piano, pulsating cajon and the expressive voice of Ochoa. Played with much passion and again, much finesse, it was breathtaking.

Momentos Cubanos is a delightful synthesis of diverse and contrasting elements and qualities. It is traditional and modern, passionate and controlled, earthy and sophisticated. I recommend the CD but ideally, you should also hear this quintet live!

Jazz Journal International – Feb 2008 p.33 by David Lands
Luis Mario Ochoa – Cimarron – Cuban Music Productions LMOCD-2

Born and educated in Cuba, Luis put this group together in Canada in 1990 and called it collectively Cimarron (meaning free spirit). It is one of the most vibrant and exciting Latin bands I have heard in yonks. Usually there are too many rhythm players and not enough soloists. This band gets the balance right, plus great singing from Luis. The tunes are mostly supplied by the leader with two standards thrown in. The band swing and the leader’s guitar solos are stylish and catchy. Some of this music reminds me of Dizzy’s foray into Afro-Cuban music way back when jazz was hot. It has all the excitement that Gillespie projected but Ochoa delivers the music with more subtlety; less brash than the Bebop boy. If you like this style of jazz and want to obtain this album you can go to www.CubanMusicProductions.com. It’s worth the trouble.

La música de Luis Mario Ochoa
by Toni Basanta – Oct 2007.

Aunque conozco a Luis Mario Ochoa desde su primera adolescencia musical en las aulas del Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán en La Habana, Cuba, a finales de los anos 70s. Desde mi llegada a Vermont, el pasado mes de Noviembre del 2006, recibí su música y ha sido un verdadero placer comprobar el desarrollo alcanzado como compositor e intérprete.

Aunque he presentado parte de su CD “Cimarrón: Luis Mario Ochoa & friends” (2007) en varias ocasiones, fue, a propósito de estas bellas fiestas de Halloween, que me pidieron participar en la WRUV 90.1 FM Burlington, junto a otros 2 DJs latinos: uno boricua (Jarred) y el otro guatemalteco (DJ Mundo), para poner a los estudiantes a bailar con la rica Salsa.

El impacto fue tal, que ya hay varios DJs en Burlington, Warren y Brattleboro, VT sonando estos discos.

El CD “La Fiesta”, de Luis Mario Ochoa, grabado en Toronto en el 2000 y lanzado por su propio sello Cuban Music Productions en una fiesta de principio a fin.

En su segunda producción Luis Mario Ochoa se hace acompañar por una Orquesta de jóvenes talentos cubanos nacidos al calor de los Concursos Jojazz en La Habana a partir de 1998 y de otros veteranos cubanos e internacionales en la escena Torontiana y hasta de su propio padre: excelente solista en “Alma con Alma” un clásico del bolero escrito por Juanito Márquez, con una inspiradora Orquesta de Cuerdas y el fliscorno de Guido Basso.

Vale destacar que Luis Ochoa Sr. fue uno de los fundadores del “Trío Voces de Oro”, matriz cubana de este imborrable formato vocal e instrumental que tanto contribuyó al desarrollo del FILIN.

También hay una bella Samba, original del Paq-Man, Paquito D’Rivera, como solista en “For Brenda with love”.

Versiones de “Old Devil Moon” (Harburg&Lane) con solos de John Johnson (alto sax) y de Russ Little (trombone), “Days of wine and roses” (Mancini/Mercer), con solos de Hilario Durán (piano) y Paco Luiviano (bajo) y el “Lamento cubano” de Eliseo Grenet convertido este último en un híbrido bluesy-jazzy-guajira-cha.

El resto del disco (5 temas) le corresponde como autor, y también como arreglista. La nómina de acompañantes ha sido distribuida con gran inteligencia aprovechando la experiencia y la musicalidad de cada uno de sus ilustres acompañantes.

Con mucho cariño a éste joven guitarrista, compositor, cantante y arreglista cubano LUIS MARIO OCHOA, graduado de la Universidad de las Artes (ISA, Cuba), en los anos 80s, los invito a disfrutar y a proponer en sus programas y a sus amigos lo mejor de su música. Muchas gracias.

Jazz Hot
by Jean-Jacques Taïb
Supplément n°636 – Février 2007

Luis Mario Ochoa & Friends
Titres et renseignements discographiques
communiqués sur le livret
Durée : 49’ 34”
Cuban Music 2

Sorti tout droit d’une pub – look d’enfer, tout de blanc vêtu – pour le café machin chose, le chanteur guitariste compositeur et arrangeur cubain Luis Mario Ochoa installé au Canada depuis près de quinze ans, se plaît à brouiller les cartes. Bercé dès son plus jeune âge par les répétitions de son guitariste et chanteur de père, éduqué et diplômé de l’Harvard’s institute Superior of Art de la Havane, abondamment abreuvé aux sources musicales de son pays d’origine (de Celia Cruz à Frank Emilio Flynn via César Portillo et José Antonio Mendez), copieusement nourri de jazz et de mowtoneries (Ella, Sarah, Nat Cole, Stevie Wonder…), ce bonhomme-là, aux multiples influences, est « un cimarron», un esprit libre. Ni les étiquettes ni les catégories ne l’impressionnent. Alors peut lui chaut si ce troisième album qu’il présente se nomme salsa cubaine, portoricaine, latin jazz…, ce qui lui importe, c’est que la musique soit et force est de constater qu’elle est. Essentiel non ?
Il faut dire qu’avec la bande de furieux qui l’accompagne, il aurait été surprenant que l’album ne déménageât pas gentiment. Certes, rien dans l’outrance, mais un savoir consommé de cette musique exécutée par des hommes auxquels on ne la fait pas. Mise en place rigoureuse, soli de bon aloi, chants irréprochables, et trois invités de marque où l’on retrouve, outre son père, chanteur à la manière du Buena Vista Social Club, un remarquable trompettiste-bugliste : Guido Basso et l’incontournable Paquito D’Rivera venu réinterpréter – magnifiquement – à la clarinette, son inusable « To Brenda With Love », contribuent à la réussite de cet album fort sympathique.
Au répertoire original et classique – re/découverte du compositeur Eliseo Grenet avec «Lamento Cubano» une pièce écrite en 1932 – Luis Mario Ochoa a ajouté «Days of Wine and Roses » et «Old Devil Moon » deux standards de jazz mitonnés à la sauce cubaine. A s’en lécher les oreilles. Excellent pour le moral.

Los Que Soñamos Por La Oreja
by Joaquín Borges Triana
Agosto 31, 2006

De un tiempo a acá, el mercado canadiense ha ido abriéndose para la música cubana. Es halagüeño que compatriotas nuestros, en un rango que va desde un pianista como Hilario Durán hasta un cantautor como Evaristo Machado, se hayan ganado un espacio en aquel circuito. En certámenes de Canadá como el National Jazz Awards o el Premio Juno, hoy no resulta sorprendente encontrar distintas producciones discográficas protagonizadas por músicos de nuestro país que son nominadas o incluso, galardonadas.

Durante la más reciente emisión del National Jazz Awards, en la categoría de Mejor Artista de Latin Jazz compitieron por el lauro, además de Hilario Durán (quien a la postre se llevó el gato al agua), el destacadísimo pianista santiaguero David Vireyes y el guitarrista Luis Mario Ochoa, escogido para la lid por su disco denominado Cimarrón. Afortunadamente y gracias a la gentileza del propio Luis Mario, ya dispongo de un ejemplar de dicho CD.

Para quienes no lo conocen, hay que decir que este creador pertenece a una familia donde la música ha reinado durante años. Su padre, Luis Ochoa, fue cantante, guitarrista y fundador del trío Voces de Oro, mientras que uno de sus tíos era el legendario saxofonista José «Chombo» Silva. Con tales antecedentes, no tuvo nada de extraño que desde pequeño, el ahora guitarrista, compositor, orquestador y cantante, se vinculase al universo musical y llegase a graduarse en el Instituto Superior de Arte.

Aunque de formación clásica, los principales intereses de Luis Mario siempre han decursado por los terrenos de la música popular, lo cual lo lleva a fundar en 1992 el grupo Cimarrón, un proyecto a través del cual ha podido concretar sus ideas musicales, hasta la actualidad plasmadas en tres álbumes: A la cubana (1995), La fiesta (2000) y Cimarrón, aparecido en el presente año.

Esta tercera producción fonográfica de Ochoa es un trabajo que si bien lo tiene a él como figura central de la grabación (no solo toca la guitarra sino que también compone cinco de los temas del material, está a cargo de todas las orquestaciones y además canta), se distingue por la prevalencia de un sonido colectivo, donde cada instrumentista de la agrupación tiene espacio para el destaque individual. Es una obra que habla por sí sola de la madurez de su hacedor.

De conjunto, las diez piezas del álbum me retrotraen al espíritu que se percibe en propuestas de la música cubana de los 60, al corte de lo hecho por gentes como Los Amigos o el Noneto de Pucho Escalante, por supuesto a tono con los aires que se respiran en el 2006. Los arreglos orquestales persiguen como mira la integración de variados géneros tradicionales de nuestro país, como son: chachachá, guaguancó, bolero, con deliciosas armonías jazzísticas, en un contexto que aprovecha sabiamente el legado de la salsa de Nueva York, acorde con el mercado canadiense, al cual está dirigido el disco.

Lo primero en que uno piensa al escuchar el corte inicial del CD, Como Penélope, es que se está ante un cantante de muchas posibilidades, tanto por su entonación y la expresividad que pone al interpretar, como por el fino sabor que impregna a los montunos. En el aspecto instrumental, en el disco abundan los buenos solos, como el que hace el trompetista Alexis Baró en ese propio tema.

En ese sentido, uno de los temas de mayor impacto es To Brenda with love, con eminentes improvisaciones de clarinete y de una guitarra acústica con cuerdas de nailon, la cual sorprende en virtud del poco uso que de dicha variante del instrumento se hace hoy entre nuestros jazzistas, más dados a la guitarra eléctrica. Igualmente, sobresaliente es la versión de Lamento cubano, de Eliseo Grenet, y donde sobresalen Ochoa en el canto, Alexander Brown en la trompeta, David Vireyes al piano y el trombonista Yankar González. En el plano de las orquestaciones, brillante es la reinterpretación que se hace de Days of wine and roses (hay un formidable solo del bajista Paco Luviano), de Henry Manzini, y que se trae a la rítmica cubana.

Guitarrista que continúa la línea de Juanito Márquez y Carlos Emilio, Luis Mario Ochoa nos entrega en Cimarrón un disco de buen gusto y saber hacer.

All About Jazz
by E. I. Iannelli – June, 2006

Cimarrón (meaning “free spirit”) is the nonet that Havana-born guitarist and composer Luis Mario Ochoa assembled shortly after moving to Canada back in 1990. This eponymous release is not just the ensemble’s third album, but also a celebration of its fifteen years of happy existence. Musical guests such as Paquito D’Rivera, Guido Basso, and Ochoa’s father, Luis Ochoa, Sr., were invited to take part in the fiesta.

And what a free spirited celebration it is. “Como Penélope,” a song about a woman awaiting her lover’s return (the title acknowledges the page it takes from Homer’s Odyssey), sets things in motion with a spicy son tempo and bright, sharp horns. In an equally bright tenor, Ochoa himself relates the tale of the faithful woman he sees every day in the same café, and in keeping with the jazz-inspired nature of Ochoa’s brand of Latin music, Alexis Baró dishes up a fiery trumpet solo in between soothing coro harmonies. D’Rivera’s self-penned “To Brenda with Love” maintains the pace, featuring his swinging clarinet and Ochoa’s guitar atop a light, limber samba complete with cuica. Its effortless energy and grace make it one of the standout tracks.

Ochoa’s soulful rearrangement of Eliseo Grenet’s classic Cuban tune “Lamento Cubano” slows the party down to a medium tempo. It’s followed by a truly cross-cultural rearrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” as a swaying guaguancó, an exercise reminiscent of Joe Craven’s outstanding Latin reinterpretations of Django Reinhardt charts.

But by this point it’s become apparent that the majority of the solos, however accomplished, come from both major and minor musical guests, which seems odd given that this album is ostensibly highlighting the core nonet that is Cimarrón. This doesn’t have any audible effect the fluidity and cohesion of the group as a whole, but the regular Cimarrón performers should, I think, have more than a supporting role after titling an album in the ensemble’s honor, and particularly in light of such commanding solos from Cimarrón tenor saxman Jeff King (on “Bacuranao”) and trombonist Russ Little (on “Old Devil Moon,” which, incidentally, doesn’t quite gel with Ochoa’s admittedly “spanglish” vocals).

Cimarrón is, at any rate, a surprisingly varied and entertaining album that will continue to engage listeners with its appealing arrangements and infectious Latin rhythms. D’Rivera, Basso, and Ochoa Sr. (the latter two on the same track, no less) are excellent additions to a somewhat overabundant rotating cast of guest artists. And while the regular Cimmarón players deserve more consistently prominent places, Ochoa certainly proves himself multifariously gifted in original composition, fresh arrangements, and performance on both vocals and guitar.

Jazz Improv Magazine – April 2006
by Joe Ferrari

Luis Ochoa put together the group Cimarrón (Free Spirit) about 15 years ago after moving to Canada from Cuba. Ochoa has the music in his blood being the son of the great Cuban singer and guitarist Luis Ochoa Sr. Surrounded by music as a child; Luis followed in his father’s footsteps and studied music in Havana’s conservatories finally graduating from Havana’s Institute Superior of Arts.

It’s obvious even on first listen that Luis has lived up to his genetic potential – this is first rate Afro-Cuban Jazz. Luis Ochoa has an exceptional voice. His soaring tenor rises above the horns and percussion, delivering the lyrics with sincerity and power. Como Penelope taken at a fast Son tempo, features a heavy duty horn arrangement and vocals by Ochoa that will raise the little hairs on the back of your neck. To Brenda with Love a Samba written by Paquito D’ Rivera features Paquito’s masterful clarinet. Lamento Cubano a classic Cuban Guajira by the great Cuban composer Eliseo Grenet is given a bluesy feel by Ochoa. Once again, it’s Luis Ochoa’s voice that stands out. Alex Brown on trumpet, Yankar Gonzalez on Trombone and David Virelles on piano swap eight bar solos and take the chorus back to the top and out. Ochoa approaches the classic Henry Mancini tune Days of Wine and Roses as a Guaguancó, giving the familiar melody and unexpected flavor. In Afro-Cuban Chant Mr. Ochoa blends several rhythms illustrating musically the cultural mix that is Afro-Cuban Jazz. Alma con Alma the classic bolero by Juanito Marquez features the vocals of Luis Ochoa Sr. singing a duet with his son for the first time on a recording. This cut features a beautiful string arrangement by Ochoa Jr. and some interesting trumpet work by Guido Basso. The harmonies between father and son are exquisite. Mestizos meaning ‘mixed race” written by Ochoa to reflect his own multi-ethnic background, highlights some very tasty playing by Ochoa on nylon string guitar and Luis Guerra on piano. The jazz standard Old Devil Moon is arranged as a Son Montuno and has Luis Ochoa singing in English with neat solos by John Johnson on alto and Russ Little on trombone. If there is a weak point on this recording it’s this tune. I wish that Ochoa had just sung it in Spanish. Bacuranao, a slow Mambo has pretty, loping melody with gorgeous solos by Ochoa on electric guitar and Jeff King on tenor. Declaración de Amor a bright, happy melody wraps the recording on a cheerful note.

Cimarrón: Luis Mario Ochoa and Friends is a “must have” recording for anyone who loves Afro-Cuban Jazz and outstanding vocals. You will not be disappointed.

Global Rhythm Magazine – April 2006
By Ernest Barteldes

On this new CD, the Canada-based Cuban vocalist/guitarist mixes his popular music roots with the jazz and samba influences brought to him by the likes of Laurindo Almeida, Irakere, Ella Fitzgeral and, of course, Celia Cruz. It’s an impressive group of friends he’s gathered for the session too, including Paquito D’Rivera, Guido Basso and his own father, Luis Ochoa Sr. The first track to stand out is “To Brenda With Love”, an instrumental written by D’Rivera, on which the composer himself is featured on clarinet, trading impressive solos with Ochoa while brazilian percussionist Joelson Costa makes the band sound as if they’re playing in a gafiera in Leme. Ochoa gives a Cuban groove to Henry Mancini’s “Days Of Wine and Roses”, rendering it barely recognizable, and does a playful take on his vocal treatment of “Old Devil Moon”, effectively granting a different flavor to a tune that has been performed by countles jazz vocalists. Listen attentively to “Como Penelope”, and original fast-paced tune based on the story of Penelope and Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey.

Jazz Review.com
by Sheldon T. Nunn.

Ten years ago, Havana, Cuban born guitarist Luis Mario Ochoa released his first recorded effort. Since that time, Luis and his band of merry men have blazed and embellished Latin jazz with some of the finest music of our time. Recently, Luis and his band Cimarrón as well as a host of other notable individuals have come together to record an album emblazoned with the band’s name. Although Cimarron is the group’s self-titled release, it is only the band’s third album. This release provides ten tracks that illustrate a picturesque overview of superbly written originals that have been augmented by a few traditional compositions and cover songs. Ochoa gains inspiration from the musical lore of his native Cuba, South America, the Caribbean and the verve of an energetic group of sidemen. Collectively, Cimarron has all the trappings of strategically placed Latin rhythms coupled with straight ahead tradition.

Although Luis Mario Ochoa’s band goes the distance in making Cimarron a rhythm activated sound energy experience, additional input from clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and Luis’ father Luis Ochoa, Sr. Together, they craft beautifully rich melodies that are filled with Ochoa Jr.’s twelve-string guitar. In addition, Ochoa jumps into the frey as a singer, guitarist, composer and arranger, which is a first by any stretch. His introspective approach to this CD as well as guest artists such as Guido Basso, Hialrio Durán and Joelson “Manihno” Costa offers a wide variety of influences that push the envelope of perfection. The release provides flamboyant sambas, Afro-Cuban classics, intensely rich Latin jazz grooves and a host of colorful boleros to make ‘Cimarron’ one of the year’s best releases of 2006.

Jazz Times Magazine – Reviews Guitartistry– JazzTimes April 2006
by Bill Milkowski

This Latin Jazz session led by Havana native and guitarist-singer-arranger Luis Mario Ochoa is full of fire, finesse and authenticity. He contributes some tasty nylon-string guitar work on Paquito D’Rivera’s samba “To Brenda with Love” (which features the composer playing a sizzling clarinet solo) and blows a fluent and jazzy solo on his spirited guajira-bembe “Afro-Cuban Chant” wish is reminiscent of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue”. Ochoa also plays a passionate nylon-string guitar solo on the percolatin son “Mestizos” and summons up a lovely lyrical warm-toned electric guitar solo on his slow mambo “Bacuranao”.

But this recording is not about killer guitar solos. Ochoa does flaunt some impressive chops, but his primary role here is to weave polished danceable arrangements to his tight, horn-powered nonet like his cleaver son montuno take on “Old Devil Moon” his swinging guaguancó interpretation of Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” or his energized Cuban-Puerto Rican salsa hybrid “Declaración de Amor”. On that level, he excels

Pop Matters
by Kevin P. Davis

There’s something innocently adventurous about voyaging into a genre of music that you know virtually nothing about and then attempting to critically discuss a record that resides in said genre. I like Sinatra and Jobim as much as the next guy, but give or take a few girls from Ipanema, my knowledge in the field of jazz created south of the US border is of mighty limited substance. But then, maybe that’s for the best. Pretenses are plenty of that which ruins so many things artistic, so if there are any surrounding Luis Mario Ochoa, I’m sure glad to be ignorant of them, because Cimarron has proven to be one of the most thoroughly enjoyable records I’ve heard in a good long while.

It’s a difficult album not to like on principle alone. Take a look at the cover and just try to resist being seduced by the charm of that suavely dressed Latin man with the guitar. He’s not trying to bullshit anyone; he wants you to buy his record, and he wants you to take it home and be wildly entertained by it. One hates to oversimplify, but there’s something about Luis Mario Ochoa’s grin on the cover of this record that more adequately describes the music contained therein than any review could ever hope to; he knows a riotous party is about to erupt on your stereo, and he’s just waiting for your reaction.

Cimarron is a spectacular coming together of exceptionally skilled players whose individual excellences are only surpassed by their collective ability to exist as pieces of the larger puzzle. The vocalists, the percussionists, the horn section, even the soloists—every musical component to this record is strategically placed and stunningly performed. Album opener “Como Penelope” is a raucous exchange between Ochoa’s spirited singing and Alexis Baró’s trumpet playing that perfectly sets the mood for the remainder of the disc. Along the way, we’re treated to a melodically flawless reading of Henry Mancini’s lovely “Days of Wine and Roses” that features a rhythmically delicious solo from bassist Paco Luviano; the supremely catchy “Afro-Cuban Chant”, whose main melody sounds like the bridge to the Grateful Dead’s “Help on the Way” as played by a mariachi band; Guido Basso’s tender flugelhorn intro “Alma Con Alma”, reminiscent of Miles Davis leading into a romantic version of “My Funny Valentine” circa 1964, setting the stage for some spot-on vocal harmonies from Ochoa and Luis Mario Ochoa, Sr., whose vocals blend in a way that only two people whose voices are made of the same DNA code could blend. Scattered throughout are passages of Ochoa’s brilliantly fluid and subtly tactical flamenco guitar playing.

The best moment is the last moment, “Declaración de Amor”, a track that sounds like it was designed to be the farewell number of a blistering outdoor concert on a hot July night. Ochoa sings with a projection that blends unrivaled fun with cry-for-freedom desperation, while the backup singers belt out the most melodically satisfying chorus I’ve heard all millennium, hand drummers beating frantically and horns adding flavor any time an empty space presents itself. The fact that I can’t understand a single word of Spanish just makes it that much better. It’s that song directed to the one person in the crowd who isn’t tapping his foot, whose dour misgivings about any given thing just won’t let him enjoy the show. “Declaracion de Amor” is the song that makes this person forget heÂ’d ever been sitting down.

Cimarron isn’t without its lesser moments. If you’ve ever had the strange desire to hear Fez from That ‘70s Show croon his way through “Old Devil Moon”, might I heartily recommend setting your CD players for track eight and preparing yourself to be dazzled. Not seemingly a singer to ever turn in a sub-par performance, Ochoa sings it quite well, but it sounds more like a caricature than an interpretive reading. But that’s all right; jazz music has long been an art form bent on presenting popular material in alternate venues, and while I’ll always choose the version of “Old Devil Moon” from Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, Ochoa’s goals in his arrangement are invariably admirable.

Perhaps the best endorsement I can give Cimarron is this: in my first month as a PopMatters writer, I received five CDs from artists I’d never heard before, and Cimarron is the only item that will remain in my personal collection as something I will continue to enjoy beyond its object of review material. Or maybe a better one would be that Cimarron has proven to be the musical highlight of the year (young though it may be) for someone whose knowledge of Cuban jazz is all but nonexistent. But whatever I can say about it, I’d like to say it and stress that I mean it: Luis Mario Ochoa’s latest is a durable piece of danceable jazz that satisfies the desire for both substantial depth and boisterous good times. What more is there?

ZooKeeper Online

Cuban born, now based in Canada. Delicious Latin jazz from his nonet, with occasional guests sitting in. Tracks range from Cuban and American classics to original tunes. All marked by his warm vocals, tight arrangements, hot horns, lively percussion, and a rich, sophisticated sound. It’s solid big band jazz, that makes me wish I was in a nightclub. With lots of drinkies.

*1. Lively and swinging uptempo son w/great trumpet break.
2. Clarinet-led samba (by Paquito D’Rivera) instrumental. So good!
*3. 30s classic , midtempo dance w/nice horns/piano/perc.
4. Mancini goes Latin. Jazzy, midtempo rework w/good piano.
5. Horns/perc/sax/guitar, instru. Mid/uptempo.
*6. Gorgeous ballad duet w/his dad. Sigh…
*7. Jazzy, upbeat son w/flamenco hints.
8. Another classic updated w/big vocals & lots of flair. Upbeat.
*9. Strong, midtempo mambo w/a late night, small club feel.
10. Brassy, mid/uptempo love song. Paco, I want to dance!

Latin Beat Magazine – February 2006 – Volume 16 – Number 1
by Luis Tamargo

Radicado en Toronto desde 1990, el guitarrista/vocalista/compositor/arreglista habanero Luis Mario Ochoa – vástago del trovador romá¡ntico Luis Ochoa (padre) y sobrino del legendario tenorista/violinista José “Chombo” Silva – nos ofrece su tercera autoproducción al frente del noneto denominado Cimarrón* y resforzado en esta ocación con una serie de distinguidos invitados, tales como el antedicho progenitor de Luis Mario y los ilustres jazzistas Paquito D’Rivera e Hilario Durá¡n. Resaltando el incentivo vocal y la flexibilidad guitarristica de Ochoa, las orquestaciones mezclan diversos géneros tradicionales cubanos (son, guaguancó, bolero, mambo) con refinadas armonías jazzisticas, influencias salseras y otros ingredientes panamericanos e ibéricos. El repertorio consiste de cinco composiciones originales, una deslumbradora samba aportada por D’Rivera, un par de estándares estadounidenses y un par de “clásicos” cubanos. Uno de los mejores temas es la adaptación (con sentido de blues, tacto de jazz y apropiada intervención pianística del joven santiaguero David Virelles) de Lamento Cubano, hermosa guajira estrenada el 1932 que provocó la expulsión a España de su prolífico autor habanero, Eliseo Grenet Sánchez (1893-1950) y que ha sido actualizada históricamente por Ochoa al agregar soneos que hacen clara alusión a las atrocidades cometidas en estos momentos por el dinosáurico Esteban Dido y sus cómplices fraticidas. (LT)
*En el material publicitario remitido al cronista de LATIN BEAT, se indica que la palabra cimarrón significa free spirit, aunque tal adjetivo se aplica usualmente al esclavo ó animal domestico que huye al campo y se hace montaraz (y en Argentina se aplica al mate amargo, sin azúcar).

Salsa TO

Bossa Nova, Salsa, Jazz and Cuban! Two sets! Three singers showcased! On a Tuesday night no less. The Mod Club was packed with jazz and latin fans for Cimarrón, Luis Mario Ochoa’s 2nd CD Launch Party. “Welcome you all… [It’s] such a treat to be invited by Luis. You’re in for a pleasant surprise.” Amanda Martinez said as she opened the evening with a three song set. Soft Bossa Nova started the evening as Kevin Laliberté and Chendy León accompanied her. One song was written in December and an album is in the works. Amanda finished her set with a Mexican song that got the audience in the mood for what was to come. A white clad and white chapeaued Luis took the stage and got down right away with Como Penélope, a strong jazzy arrangement that showcased each of the evening’s musicians: Luis Mario Ochoa – Vocals/Guitar; Alexis Baro – Trumpet/Fluglehorn; John Johnson – Flute, Clarinet, Soprano & Alto Sax; Luis Deniz – Alto Sax; Jeff King – Tenor Sax; Russ Little – Trombone; Paco Luviano – Bass; David Virelles – Piano; Alberto Suarez – Congas; Ricky Franco – Percussion/Back-up Vocals; Chendy Leon – Drums/Back-up Vocals. The large band was amazingly light, tight and well modulated. The music was for everyone, the jazz people who sit and savour their music and the dancers who move and are inspired with their music. A mix of samba, rumba, salsa, and cha cha accents kept the feet moving. After a brief, pause, Cimarrón returned for a second set. “Ok guys, Rumba time!” Luis quipped as the band got into Lamento Cubano. Soy Cimarrón, a favourite from Luis’ first CD came along as well. A special treat of the evening was Eliana Cuevas who joined Luis for a romantic duet. All too soon, the evening came to an end with the audience looking for more. Latin and Jazz fans will not be disappointed as there is enough to give everyone a taste of their favourite musical flavour. 2006 could be a turning point for Latin and Cuban and Jazz in Toronto. There is almost a critical mass of good and passionate musicians turning out great tunes and CDs that are getting recognized. Several venues, including Lula Lounge, Café Cantante’s Havana Feelings, bi-weekly Casa de Musica at The Gladstone Hotel provide friendly places to play.

Jus’ Jazz

Havana-born, vocalist, composer and arranger Luis Mario Ochoa is releasing a new Latin Jazz CD entitled ‘Cimarrón: Luis Mario Ochoa & Friends.’ The recording is best described as Cuban-Jazz fusion and features Paquito D’Rivera on the side, along with Canadian jazz luminaries Guido Basso and Hilario Duran, some of Toronto, Canada’s finest Latin and jazz musicians. Luis’ latest effort features five original compositions, 4 classic tunes highlighting works from Cuban and North American songbooks. Paquito D’Rivera makes his presence on the CD clear with a samba contribution as well. All of the material on the album was arranged by Luis Mario. The ten tracks on ‘Cimarrón’ are a showcase for Luis Mario Ochoa to combine the rhythms of Cuba with Caribbean and South American cultures. The end result is a special blend of stylized harmonious music, filled with a serious taste of traditional Latin influenced jazz.

Corriere Tandem
by Kerry Doole
– Jan 22, 2006

Toronto meets Cuba
Bandleader Luis Mario Ochoa delivers strongest work yet

It has not received much media attention, but we’re in the midst of a golden age for Cuban music in this city. In the space of a month, three Toronto-based and highly-talented explorers of Cuban music have released superb albums. Jane Bunnett’s Radio Guantanamo features the sounds of changui, Cuban-born jazz pianist/composer Hilario Duran has put out Encuentro En La Habana, and now Luis Mario Ochoa and Cimarron have created their strongest work yet, Cimarron. Ochoa is a pioneer of Toronto’s Cuban music scene, and he clearly takes real pride in its evolution. “It is such an exciting time for Cuban music here. The level in terms of Cuban musicianship has been raised to the sky in the last three to four years. When I moved here in 1990, I only knew of one other Cuban musician here, a conga player. Now there is a real Cuban music explosion here and I feel I’m in the middle of a party!” Luis is quick to credit the role of Buena Vista Social Club in popularizing Cuban music. “They took it back to the roots, and that was easier for the world music audience to digest. This is a really good time for Cuban music, and people are buying it like crazy.” He expressed eagerness for the album to be released, as it has been a long time in the making. “We started recording back in December 2004, and we had to work around the availability of the musicians.Those in the band are some of the best in Toronto, so they are all very busy.” That is no exaggeration, for Luis has assembled an ace cast of players from the city’s jazz and Latin music community. They include virtuoso flugelhorn player Guido Basso (“a lovely friend and a great supporter since the very beginning”), John Johnson, Alexis Baro, Russ Little, and Cuban piano stars Hilario Duran and David Virelles. One special guest is internationally acclaimed jazz star, clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, who performs on a fine version of his own samba tune, “To Brenda With Love.” This was a real thrill for Ochoa, who was a fan of D’Rivera back when Luis was a young music student in Havana. I was 12 and just starting to go to jazz concerts, and Paquito was part of a very important band, Irakere. There’d be just three or four of us in the theatre, and they were playing for us. I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me then he’d be on my record!” Another special guest is Luis‚ 72 year old father, Luis Ochoa Sr. He was a founding member of Trio Voces de Oro, one of Cuba’s top romantic groups, and his warm full voice is showcased on the song “Alma Con Alma.” “This is the first time he has been on one of my records. He loved the tune and he sounds great. My father has always been my toughest critic, but, yes, I think he is very proud.” Luis was strictly schooled in classical music in Havana (he still teaches classical guitar, but he also had a love for vocal and fusion jazz, and traditional Cuban styles. His stylistic eclecticism is shown over the three albums he has made since moving to Canada, A La Cubana (1995), La Fiesta (2000), and now Cimarron. “La Fiesta was more salsa-oriented, a little more commercial,” he explains. “Back then, salsa was quite strong still, but now Cuban music is back and I’m back to my roots. I love salsa and dance music, but improvisation is extremely important to me.” Ochoa’s preferred term for the sound of Cimarron is “Cuban jazz fusion. This is not a Latin jazz album to me, as that is a very specific term.” Its songs range from American jazz standards (“Days Of Wine And Roses,” “Old Devil Moon”) to older Cuban tunes to imaginative new originals. Styles incorporated include bolero, samba, guajira, and mambo, and the fact that Cimarron is officially a nonet (nine piece) results in a full and rich sound. Luis is a prolific songwriter, and he pledges that his next record will comprise all originals. “I’m constantly writing and arranging new tunes. I’ll often jump up at 3 a.m. and start on a new one!” Cimarron is now available via www.CubanMusicProductions.com Luis Mario Ochoa

The Nashville City paper
by Ron Wynn
March 17, 2006

Cimarron (Cuban Music Productions) blends classic and more recent Afro-Cuban material with Latin jazz and rock influences through the playing and compositions of guitarist Luis M. Ochoa. Providing tight, tart solos on nylon-string guitar, he leads a star crew through songs ranging from the ‘30s “Lamento Cubano” and “Alma Con Alma” to reworkings of “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Old Devil Moon.” Paquito D’Rivera demonstrates again on “To Brenda With Love” that he’s arguably a more striking and exciting clarinet player than alto saxophonist, while Ochoa even recruits his famous father Luis Ochoa Sr., a founding member of Trio Voces de Oro to join him on occasion. Whether doing boleros, mambos or just Latin-tinged jam pieces, Ochoa and company nicely combine vintage and current musical styles on Cimarron.

by Jerry D’Souza – Jan 16th, 2006

Ten years after he recorded his first album, Luis Mario Ochoa and his band, Cimarrón, join guest musicians to make this self-titled third recording. This marriage of originals, a couple of traditional tunes, and music from his native Cuba are fertilized by the band, and the cross-pollination of styles makes for some fine Cuban jazz. Paquito D’Rivera brings his clarinet along for his bright, snappy composition “To Brenda With Love.” D’Rivera brings in whirling changes, ideas coming fast and endearingly, even as he keeps the melody in the sphere of his playing. Ochoa’s acoustic guitar falls in beautifully, and with the horns and the percussion adding to the fill, this piece comes off on top of the heap. Ochoa is a lyrical guitarist, but perhaps never more so than when he uses the twelve-string guitar, as on “Days of Wine and Roses.” His enunciation injects vitality into this chestnut, a throb given impetus once again by the horns. Ochoa comes up with a scintillating composition in “Mestizos” which has a seamless blend of flamenco and son rhythms. He is more supple here, but even in that frame he edges it on for a rousing display and then finds the right cohort in Luis Guerra’s solid, full-bodied turn on piano. Both Ochoa and his father, Luis Ochoa Sr., sing. Both come together on “Alma Con Alma,” introduced by Guido Basso on flugelhorn, who floats over the strings. Ochoa Jr. can be a forceful singer, but here he has all the emotion in check and comes up with a resonant and compelling performance.

Jazz-not-Jazz.com The Blog
by Dirk Binsau – January 4th, 2006

This CD couldn’t have arrived at a better time. When Northern Germany is in the hands of Jack Frost afro-cuban music is always a reliable way to bring a little sunshine into your life and warm you from the inside. Luis Mario Ochoa was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, where he was introduced to music by his father Luis Ochoa Sr., singer, guitarist and founding member of the Trio Voces De Oro. At the age of 11 he began full time music studies in Havana and after 13 years of intense studies, he graduated with an honors B.A. in classical guitar from The University of Havana’s Institute Superior of Arts. In 1990 Luis Mario relocated to Toronto, Canada. Two years later he formed his band Cimarrón. But it wasn’t until 1995 that the band released their first album A La Cubana. La Fiesta followed in 2000 which makes the new album Cimmarrón only their third release. Unfortunately I don’t know their first two albums but judging from the quality of the latest release it was worth the wait. Luis Mario Ochoa and his band have a refreshing sound combining latin jazz, son, mambo, guaguancó, bolero and other afro-cuban music styles with half of the songs being original tunes. For this album the nine piece band is joined by special guests like Paquito D’Rivera, Guido Basso and Luis’ father Luis Ochoa, Sr. Mr. Ochoa, Sr. appears on the turgid Alma Con Alma, a beautiful slow bolero with string section that stays on the right side of the thin line between the right pathos and shmaltz. The album’s opener Luis Mario’s own composition Como Penélope is a fast son with a hot brass section and nice trumpet solos by Alexis Baró. Luis Mario hardly can do no wrong with his other originals like the inspiring instrumental Afro-Cuban Chant or Mestizos, an interesting song that starts and ends with flamenco-like handclaps and features some groovy Latin Jazz inbetween. “I composed this piece trying to reflect my own multi-ethnic background” Luis Mario says. The slow mambo Bacuranao is another instrumental highlight as is the rendition of Henry Mancini’s Days Of Wine And Roses (originally from Blake Edwards’ movie of the same name). Great to hear Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet on his own song To Brenda With Love, which gets covered as a swinging samba here. The only song that failed to impress me is the cover of Old Devil Moon. I really can’t argue with the fine muscial arrangement, it’s Luis Mario’s “spanglish” that distracts me. I really wish he would’ve sung this tune in Spanish. But nine very good songs out of ten isn’t a bad score. So if you’re into Latin Jazz this is a great worthwhile album. Hopefully Luis Mario Ochoa and his band Cimarrón won’t let us wait another five or six years for the next album.

by Bruce Crowther’s Reviews
– December 2005

Attractively played and sung, this set by Luis Mario Ochoa’s Cimarrón blends the music of his Cuban homeland with standards from his new home in North America. Resident since 1990 in Canada, Luis plays guitar and sings and is accompanied here by formidable rhythm section players. There are also numerous guest horns, including clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, trumpeters Guido Basso, Alexis Baró, Luis Deniz, Alex Brown, trombonists Yankar Gonzalez, Russ Little, and saxophonists John Johnson, Jeff King. This is Luis’s third CD as leader of Cimarrón and will appeal not only to the band’s followers but also to anyone with a liking for relaxed, melodic Cuban styling with a jazz bite.

www.Descarga.com Editor’s Pick
by Bruce Polin – December 26th, 2005

The second offering from Luis Mario Ochoa is a fresh, uptempo and high caliber Latin jazz release that provides a well conceived format for his fine guitar work. There are tight, well-knit instrumental tracts as well as some with vocals (provided by Mr. Ochoa) like “Lamento Cubano” by Eliseo Grenet and the beautiful Juanito Marquez composition “Alma Con Alma,” which also features Ochoa’s father, Luis Ochoa Sr. on vocal harmony, which is quite moving. Ochoa’s mastery is appealing on many levels, one being that he doesn’t tend to outshine his fellow musicians, it is obvious that he incorporates his fretwork into the arrangements with great care. And Ochoa, clearly an ardent student of Afro Cuban rhythms, borrows freely from its history, utilizing elements of guajira, guaguancó, bembé, and bolero. I especially liked the Flamenco-son-jazz hybrid “Mestizos,” one of the best tracks on Cimarrón. It cooks. Features Paquito D’Rivera and Hilario Duran as guests. Highly Recommended. (BP, 2005-12-26)

El Todo – Enero 18, 2006
by Josue Navarro

Luis Mario Ochoa Presenta CD “Cimarrón”

El guitarrista, cantante, compositor y arreglista cubano Luis Mario Ochoa presenta su más reciente CD titulado “Cimarrón” para el sello Cuban Music Productions de Canada. Esta tremenda producción estará a la venta a partir del 15 de enero de 2006. Los amantes del jazz latino podrán disfrutar de una buena fusión donde se combinan una serie de elementos musicales como el bolero, la samba, el mambo, la guajira, el guaguancó y el son montuno “Salseao”, para darle una variedad exquisita a la producción.

El CD comienza con la melodía “Como Penélope” y en donde se destacan Luis Mario con su voz y Alexis Baró con su trompeta y utilizando la rítmica cubana hace de la pieza una muy sabrosa.

La banda de Luis Mario Ochoa & Friends, la componen nueve músicos, pero en este CD trabajan sobre 12 invitados, entre ellos Paquito D’Rivera en la pieza de sus propia inspiración “To Brenda With Love”, en la que al ritmo de samba, te transportará en viaje imaginario por Brasil. Una de las piezas más emotivas lo es la guajira “Lamento Cubano” del compositor Eliseo Grenet y en donde Luis Mario, con su potente voz, su pasión y sentimiento hace reaccionar al que la escucha. Junto a él se destacan el trompetista Alex Brown, el trombonista Yankar Gonzalez y el pianista David Virelles. Luis Ochoa padre, cantante del famoso “Trio Voces De Oro” participa como invitado y haciendo un dueto junto a su hijo Luis Mario, en la famosa melodía de Juanito Marquez “Alma Con Alma”.

En memoria del gran percusionista cubano Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría, Luis Mario escribe e incluye en la producción la melodía “Afro-Cuban Chant” en ritmo 6/8, con cambios momentaneos a guajjira en un afro/bembé, logra destacar su guitarra y el saxofonista Luis Deniz. Luis Mario, con su guitarra acústica, tiene una destacada participación en la pieza instrumental “Mestizos”, la cual es una fusión de jazz latino con flamenco y en donde el pianista invitado Luis Guerra hace un despliegue de notas y armonías las cuales le van a gustar al que la escuche. Cierran la producción “Old Devil Moon”, “Bacuranao” y la pieza “Declaración de Amor” la cual es un híbrido de la salsa cubana y puertorriqueña.

The Toronto Star – Saturday, January 13, 2001
“Havana fun time at an Afro-Cuban Fiesta. HAVANA TO TORONTO” by Geoff Chapman

Luis Mario Ochoa, a 10-year Torontonian shows his roots on La Fiesta. La Fiesta (LMOCD1)
Havana-born Luis Mario Ochoa’s warm tenor voice dominates his second CD featuring the band Cimarrón, which he formed shortly after settling in Toronto in 1990. The nine-tune session smartly underlines the priority he places on Afro-Cuban roots amid a sparkling fusion of steamy Cuban and Puerto Rican salsa. Charts and ensembles are tough and tight and the beat tougher still on a classy release from a future star who wrote all the songs.

Americas Magazine – Music notes / Volume 52, No. 6 / December 2000
by Mark Holston

The rapid pace in recent decades of immigration in Canada by people from throughout the world, particularly Latin America and the Caribbean has served to infuse new vitality into that nation’s arts community. The arrival of diverse talent Canadian artist to initiate collaborations that lead to rewards for both the participants and their audiences. Three new releases by Canada-Based artists underscore the dynamic quality of that country’s rapidly evolving, globally influenced music scene. Havana, Cuba native Luis Mario Ochoa, today a resident of Toronto, is a youthful composer, arranger and vocalist whose highly energetic take on the contemporary salsa tradition is firmly grounded in such venerated Cuban styles as son and guajira. Indeed, his robust orchestrations and rhythm section, often radiate the explosive, hard swinging essence of what tropical music purists refer to as “salsa dura” (hard salsa), an elemental derivation of the genre popular three decades ago. As a vocalist, Ochoa sings in a high spirited style that’s instantly engaging. His orchestra provides an opportunity for many non-Latin musicians in the Toronto area to learn the salsa craft in the company of a promising young master.

www.Descarga.com – November 2000
Editor’s Pick

You’ll be up and dancing within seconds of plugging this CD into your stereo. Like a double espresso, this high-energy salsa number will wake you up, and it will leave you wanting more. Luis Mario Ochoa, a very talented young vocalist and bandleader out of Ontario Canada, is someone that you should watch out for. All of the compositions on this release are his, and his band is tight and has no trouble keeping up with him. No fat here, pure beef. Recommended.

Toronto Sun – Friday, November 17, 2000
“Latin scene ready for Fiesta” by Errol Nazareth

Don’t believe Luis Mario Ochoa when he says there’ll be more people on stage than in the audience when Cimarron celebrates the release of La Fiesta, their second CD, at the Bamboo next Thursday. And don’t believe the Cuban-born singer/guitarist/arranger when he says, ‘The CD’s a piece of crap compared to our live show.’ Even before La Fiesta arrived in stores earlier this week, those in the know were claiming it’s the best salsa record to come out of Canada. Give this superb disc a spin and you’ll believe the hype. Powered by a 13-strong group comprising some of this city’s finest Latin jazz musicians, La Fiesta — if properly marketed — will take our Latin music scene international, the same way Maestro Fresh-Wes’ Symphony In Effect brought attention to Canadian hip-hop. The music aside, there’s an obvious attention to detail here that’s lacking in the work of Ochoa’s contemporaries. Put simply, the production and arrangements on La Fiesta are killer. In his attempt to ‘do it right,’ Ochoa invested almost a year working and hanging in Puerto Rico with prominent arrangers such as Louis Garcia, Ernesto Sanchez and Tito Rivera; mixing the disc in Miami with Frank Miret (who has worked with Gloria Estefan); and recording the album in Toronto. Of course, none of these heavy hitters would have given the humble Ochoa the time of day if they weren’t impressed with his work ethic. ‘All I did in Cuba was study music for 13 years,’ says Ochoa, who began studying with his dad when he was seven and ended up spending hard time in Havana’s noted music conservatories. ‘The biggest lesson I learned from my dad and from the schools was discipline. If you want to accomplish something, be disciplined and work and work and work.’

The Jazz Report Magazine – Vol. 13 No. 4 Summer 2000
by Bill King

This recording is something for the Latin music fans to carry everywhere. If you love salsa and pure vocals with robust horn and rhythmic grooves, then you’ll play La Fiesta over and over again. This isn’t a hybrid recording marrying jazz and Latin, but an earnest effort to showcase Luis Mario Ochoa’s Cuban heritage and considerable writing and arranging skills. The production is first rate providing an enjoyable listening experience.

Hispanic Magazine – Summer 2000 issue
by Mark Holston

…How exciting to discover a truly dynamic new salsa vocalist whose talent extends to composing and arranging. Equally impressive is that Luis Mario Ochoa has been able to put together one of the season’s most satisfying salsa dates, La Fiesta (LMOCD1), in his adopted home of Toronto. The native of Cuba and Cimarrón, his largely Canadian band sounds fully the equal to New York City’s best on this engaging, energetic session. Best of all, Luis Mario sings with a degree of heartfelt passion that’s missing in the performances of many of today’s young salseros. From great songs to smoking arrangements, La Fiesta is dynamite…

Eye of Toronto 1997

“Coolest musician in Toronto

Now Magazine August 31, 1996
by Ramiro Puerta

A La Cubana (1995) represents a carefully crafted work by an artist eager to demonstrate that neither talent nor inspiration can be restrained by borders. As for Luis Mario Ochoa’s Cimarrón, without a doubt, there is a star rising in its path.

Socan Words & Music Volume 3 – March 1996
by Nicolas Jennings

…Cimarron’s debut album, A La Cubana (1995), is a classy affair, full of warm Afro-Cuban rhythms, jazzy riffs, classic cha-chas and even an elegant bolero.

Globe & Mail – November 19, 1994
by H. J. Kirchhoff-Arts

…the astonishing voice of Cuban-born singer-guitarist Luis Mario Ochoa, who makes one of the most engaging singing entrances I’ve ever seen…

Toronto Star – Nov. 18, 1994
by Geoff Chapman

…singer Luis Mario Ochoa most expressive, offering Latin classics like ‘Siboney’…