Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

David Buchbinder Draws a Straight Line Back to Andalucia

Medieval Andalucia was the musical mecca where the nobility of Europe sent their spoiled kids to learn how to play it. It was where Arabs, Jews and Spaniards traded riffs. The golden age of jazz was much the same. with its alchemy of African, European and Latino sounds. Trumpeter David Buchbinder‘s new album Walk to the Sea with his Odesssa/Havana group recalls those eras as well as Arturo O’Farrill and Steven Bernstein’s recent mashups of those sounds. It’s one of the best albums Tzadik has put out in recent years and one of the best of 2013.

The opening track, Coffee Works, is a a diptych, juxtaposing a slinky klezmer-tinged stroll and then triumphantly picking up the pace with a salsa groove lit up by Aleksandar Gajic’s stark, resonant violin, and then a spiraling Hilario Duran piano solo  A Duran arrangement of the traditional tune Landarico sets Maryem Hassan Tollar’s cool caramel vocals to a gorgeous minor-key jazz waltz, a blend of cutting-edge Fania era salsa, klezmer and jazz. Buchbinder’s chromatically bristling solo hands off to Roberto Occhipinti’s boomy bass, which gives John Johnson’s tenor and Duran’s piano a chance to conspire furtively as it goes doublespeed and then back.

The lone Duran composition here, Aventura Judia works variations on a similarly catchy chromatic salsa vamp with a lively exchange between Johnson and Buchbinder and a scampering piano solo, its web of percussion growing thicker as it pulses along. Somebody write some lyrics and give this to Earth Wind & Fire, or Spanglish Fly!  La Roza Una follows with vocal variations on a stately minor-key martial riff.

The title track begins with a moody syncopation and builds to a blaze fueled by a two-horn attack from Johnson’s clarinet and Buchbinder’s trumpet, growing funkier as it bounces along. La Roza Dos goes in the opposite direction from a funky waltz to a wary, intense anthem, Tollar’s microtonal vocals enhancing the uneasy atmosphere. Valentin gives Buchbinder a chance to work dynamic magic against Duran’s flickering piano and Johnson’s pensive tenor sax, the percussion section pushing the ensemble through long upward and downward waves.

Calliope, another slinky salsa groove, gives Johnson a launching pad for a killer Middle Eastern tenor solo, Duran’s solo leading them through a brief doublespeed romp as it winds out. The final track rises from brooding, spacious neoromantic atmospherics to the closest thing to a straight-up salsa tune here, Tollar’s insistent vocals working a neat counterpoint with the resonant twin horns, Occhipinti, Duran and then Gajic trading incisive licks. Tuneful, edgy cross-pollination doesn’t get any more memorably anthemic than this.

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October 20, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elio Villafranca: Blazing Original Afro-Cuban Grooves at JALC

You might think from their name that Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators play New Orleans second-line marches, or hot jazz from the 20s. In actuality, that’s just how the word for their music is pronounced in Spanish. Last night at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Cuban pianist and his allstar lineup romped through an expert and exhilarating blend of salsa and hard bop with richly melodic interludes and the occasional plunge into third-stream sounds. That’s been a common trait among Cuban pianists practically since the days of Ernesto Lecuona – at least those evil conquistadors left one good thing on the island, the “classical tinge,” to twist a Jelly Roll Morton phrase. Much as that is one of Villafranca’s signature characteristics, this show was all about the party: watching the couples sit and sway rapturously with the lights of Manhattan glimmering from high across the park, it was surprising that there wasn’t anyone other than guest dancer Mara Garcia undulating up there with the band.

Throughout the night’s early set, Villafranca for the most part eschewed flashy soloing in lieu of an endless groove, whether that be a frequently polyrhythmic salsa slink – Villafranca is one of the most rhythmic pianists anywhere – with straight-ahead swing, a couple of detours into rumbling Puerto Rican bomba and a long, fiery mambo at the end. Locked in with the tumbling piano, tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy alternated between hard-driving flights and warm melodicism and a wryly smoky bourdoir jazz interlude toward the end of the bomba tune. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford blasted through bop grit with rapidfire glissandos and trills…and a descent into genial blues at the end of his last solo, when he’d taken it so high that there was nowhere else to go. Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring served as a powerful foil to all the goodnatured wailing, adding a biting, sometimes haunting, modally-fueled gravitas. Bassist Carlos Enrique held to a purist, terse groove – and took one of the night’s most memorable solos, voicing a horn. Drummer Lewis Nash seemed to be having the most fun of anyone up there as he swung through conga riffs, artful clave variations that leaned on the off beat, and a jovial bounce that was all the more powerful for its simplicity.

Augmenting the rhythm was an excellent two-man team of congas and bongos, Puerto Rico’s Anthony Carrillo and the Dominican Republic’s Jonathan Troncoso. The attractively lyrical opening number, Incantations, had Villafranca staking his claim to nimble, hair-raising polyrhythms. The band bookended a brightly pouncing, riff-driven tune with dark streetcorner conga breaks, following with a song “dedicated to politics,” A Great Debater, Villafranca driving its insistence to a clamoring crescendo followed by a playful Nash solo. They wound up by taking a new, untitled bomba tune and swinging it with bisected, lyrical/frenetic solos from the horns, and then the big mambo at the end where Villafranca finally took off for the upper registers with a breathtaking tumbao assault: as cruelly as he hit the keys, the groove never wavered. It was every bit as adrenalizing to watch as it must be to dance to. Villafranca and his “jass” band are back at Dizzy’s Club tonight and tomorrow if you’re in the mood.

October 12, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/11/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album was #477:

Orquesta Harlow – La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite

This is Fania Records’ All-Star pianist Larry Harlow’s 1977 attempt to capsulize the entire history of latin music in a six-part suite. As history, there are secret corners it misses – lots of them; as music, it’s a titanic, slinky blast of horns, percussion and orchestra. Nestor Sanchez sings the classic salsa of the title track, followed by the percussion-centric Africa; the Afro-Cuban Caribbean and Caribbean Pt. 2, which blends in soca and Puerto Rican sabor; the deliciously gritty New York 1950s and 1960s and the whirlwind Futuro which blends Mingus bustle with late 70s latin disco! Too surreal to imagine, you just have to hear it…and dance to it. Here’s a random torrent.

October 13, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/29/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #550:

Machito – Kenya

A landmark of latin big band jazz. Hard to believe, but this stuff was actually mainstream in 1957 when the album came out (one of Machito’s most popular albums was marketed as being recorded at the Catskills resort where he held an annual summer residency for years). On one hand, this doesn’t have the raw bite of his stuff from the 30s and 40s, but the songs and the charts are killer. All of these are originals save for percussionist Chano Pozo’s noir classic Tin Tin Deo. Lots of flavors here: the brisk, blazing guaguanco of Wild Jungle; the slinky, suspenseful Congo Mulence; the lush, majestic title track; the stop-and-start intenstiy of Oyeme; Holiday, with its surgically precise Cannonball Adderley solo; Cannonology, a sideways Charlie Parker tribute; the sinister-tinged Frenzy; proto-ska Conversation; bustling Minot Rama; hypnotically soulful Tururato, and Blues A La Machito, which is more Machito than blues. Here’s a random torrent via Hasta Luego Baby.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/23/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #556 – on a day like this, we figured this one would be especially appropriate:

Arsenio Rodriguez y Su Conjunto – Sabroso y Caliente

Rustic yet cutting-edge for its time, this is an update on classic Cuban son. Bandleader Rodriguez, blinded in a childhood accident, played the Cuban acoustic guitar known as the tres. Highly sought after in his later years as a sideman, he was a major influence on the great salsa bands of the 70s. This flavorful, hot 1957 session carves out a niche halfway between the blazing big band sounds of Tito Puente or Perez Prado, and the Cuban country music that Rodriguez grew up with. Some may find the vocals a little over the top, but the band is cooking. The dozen tracks here include the soaring, upbeat Carraguao Alante; the lush, minor key Hay Fuego En el 23; Buenavista en Guaguancó, an old song from Rodriguez’s small-combo period in the 40s; the slinky Blanca Paloma; the sly mambo Mami Me Gusto, the hypnotically insistent La Fonda de Bienvenido, and Adorenla Como a Marti, which evades the censors by allusively referencing the notorious 1912 massacres of Afro-Cubans on the island. Here’s a random torrent via Global Groovers.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/6/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #695:

The Fania All-Stars – Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 2

Conceived as a branding mechanism for the label, the Fania All-Stars were supposed to be the greatest salsa band of their era – a goal that wasn’t all that hard to achieve because virtually everybody in the band was a bandleader. The lineup reads like a latin music hall of fame: Larry Harlow, Justo Betancourt, Yomo Toro, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Baretto, Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and literally dozens of others. From 1967 to the early 80s, they put out one ecstatic, danceable album after another, which makes this a particularly hard choice. The four-cd box set Ponte Duro: The Fania All-Stars Story was awfully tempting, but since this group was first and foremost a live orchestra, that’s where they did their best work. This scorching 1976 set, most of it actually recorded in Puerto Rico (the sound mix there was better than what they had in the Bronx), captures them at the peak of their brass-heavy power. These are long, psychedelic jams: Hermandad Fania, which gets things cooking right off the bat; the eleven-minute Celia Cruz epic Bemba Colora; Ismael Quintana’s first big, soulful hit, Mi Debilidad; as well as Echate Pa ‘lla and the fourteen-minute stomp Congo Bongo. Here’s a random torrent via sogoodmusic.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/2/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #727:

Patato y Totico

Raw, primal and hypnotic (some would say magical) but also cutting-edge, this landmark 1967 Afro-Cuban session came together when Cuban-American singer/conguero Eugenio “Totico” Arango joined forces with his fellow conguero Carlos “Patato” Valdes on a high-energy mix of classic rhumba tunes and originals, adding extra spice to the concoction with legendary tres guitarist Arsenio Rodriguez and brilliant latin bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. Essentially, this is the kind of streetcorner latin music played by gaggles of older guys throughout New York neighborhoods, taken to the next level. They give Jorge Ben’s Mas Que Nada a thorough workout, take a jaunt through the hood with Nuestro Barrio, get the passersby dancing with Ya Yo and offer a memorable dis with Ingrato Corazon. The rest of the ten tracks here include the santero chant Agua Que Va Caer (the recently deceased Totico was a highly sought-after santeria shaman); the hilarious En El Callejon and the big dancefloor hit Dilo Como Yo, covered by a million bands including Antibalas. Here’s a random torrent.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yorgis Goiricelaya Looks Forward and Back with Afro-Cuban Music

Cuban-American bassist Yorgis Goiricelaya’s new album Elegance lives up to its title. Yet it’s just as gritty in places, setting cerebral improvisations on both classic and original songs alongside joyously rustic streetcorner soul vamps, immersed in the rich history of Afro-Cuban music yet pushing the envelope at the same time. Behind him is a hall of fame lineup of latin jazz players, among them Hilario Bell on drums and percussion, Orlando Guanche on piano (and harmonica on one tune), Aldo Salvent on tenor sax, Eddie Trujillo on guitar, Carlos Puig and Omar Peralta on trumpet, William Paredes on trombone, Reinier Guerra on drums, Eduardo Rodriguez on congas, along with with cameos by rustic Afro-Cuban group Los Herederos, pianist Osmany Paredes, Cuban sax legend Paquito D’Rivera, pianist Tony Perez and singer Issac Delgado. Such a heavyweight lineup doesn’t usually come out all at once for a single project, testament to the imagination and quality of the compositions. Latin bassists tend to be an especially melodic bunch, and Goiricelaya continues that tradition: he doesn’t waste notes, his melodic hooks are consistently strong, and it’s obvious that he was able to clearly communicate his ideas to the rest of the cast here.

Los Herederos open the album with some old-time streetcorner rhumba soul, drums and vocals hypnotizing with their tricky polyrythms. Then the full band takes Aniceto Diaz’ Rompiendo la Rutina in an unexpected and richly complex direction highlighted by D’Rivera’s expansive, carefree solo. With its bossa pulse, Annalis Elisa Suarez’ Delirios is a richly melodic song without words, Salvent’s swirling tenor delivering one of several tasty solo spots. Blue, a Goiricelaya original, is a blustery cha-cha elevated by shimmering piano from Guanche, who emerges as the MVP of this session. He quotes Chopin on a lengthy, intense version of El Manicero and adds an incisiveness that’s sometimes austere, sometimes downright aggressive throughout the rest of his tracks, notably a version of Echale Salsita where he plays against some period-perfect muted trumpet from Peralta.

Bell’s Juego de Tiempo is done as vintage 70s funk, with a playfully trippy electric guitar solo by Trujillo. The band turns Jaco Pastorius’ Teen Town into a gleefully purist big band bossa romp and rips through a bubbly, hypnotic version of Bell’s Se Acabo. After the last of Los Herederos’ call-and-response interludes, the album closes with a terse, genuinely beautiful piano-and-bass arrangement of Tony Perez’ ballad My Love. The cd comes with a DVD (subtitled in English) which chronicles the recording process, including an endless series of rap video-style cameos from the musicians which occasionally provide some insight into the music. The most interesting of these are when Goiricelaya explains how he came across Los Herideros – and when D’Rivera shows off a considerable sense of humor. Goiricelaya is currently based in Miami; this album should go a long way toward getting him the broader audience he deserves.

January 26, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/19/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #772:

Machito y Su Orquesta – Esta Es Graciela

By the time the legendary Cuban-American bandleader and his sultry chanteuse sister released this album in 1964, he was in his fifties and she was getting close. But neither show their age. Only the arrangements are more lush and sensual, by comparison to the animated intensity of the band’s work in previous decades. Machito may or may not have invented salsa, but his orchestra was the one that everybody imitated, right through the end of the 60s and even beyond: the Fania era never would have happened without him. Likewise, Graciela Gutierrez-Perez, who died earlier this year at 94, set the standard for salsa divas. She could be brassy or coy and she could work a song’s innuendo the same way she worked a crowd. This one shows off both her sides: El Albanico, a slinky, sly duet with Machito; the crafty, sexy Mi Querido Santi Clo; the fast, bubbly mambo Estoy A Mil; the downright seductive Ay Jose; the lavishly orchestrated son montuno of El Gato Tiene Tres Patas; the sad, brooding Ya Tu No Estas; the characteristically tongue-in-cheek, risque Celos Negros, and the balmy tropicalia ballad Si No Eres Tu, and four others ranging from lavishly lush to swinging dance numbers. Frequently reissued and often bootlegged, later versions constantly turn up in used record stores that sell latin music. Otherwise, Fania has the cd; here’s a random torrent.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Vastly Different New Spins on Afro-Cuban Music

For those of you in el barrio – or your own private barrio – the Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s latest album Viva La Tradicion is old news (it came out in September). If you missed it, it’s a treat for anyone with fond memories of the Fania era. Rather than looking forward, it looks back, sometimes as far back as the Pedro Flores classic Linda, represented here with a fast slinky bounce. It’s sort of a collection of new and vintage salsa with a conscious theme: pride of ownership. The Orchestra do not take their name, or the historical weight it carries, in vain, something you would expect from a cast of some of the best latin players in the business, many of them Tito Puente vets. None other than Paul Simon served as co-executive producer. As exemplified by the opening track, written by Cuban bandleader Manuel Simonet, this is salsa dura with modern production values. The blazing brass of trombonists Jimmy Bosch and Dan Reagan and trumpeters Hector Colon and John Walsh sends the conscious dance tune Mi Herencia Latina off into a fiery Cuban sunset. Mitch Frohman’s baritone sax spirals out of an expansive piano solo by bandleader Oscar Hernandez on the jazziest cut here, Rumba Urbana. Salsa vet Gil Lopez, who arranged much of this, has a lush, lyrical version of his ballad Nuestra Cancion here; there are also a couple of slow cha-cha’s, the bolero-flavored, suspenseful La Fiesta Empezo and the aptly swinging El Negro Tiene Tumbao that closes the album, with guest vocals from Isaac Delgado. The percussion trio of Luisito Quintero on timbales, George Delgado on congas and Jorge Gonzalez on bongos rumble, clatter and groove behind the snaky, melodic bass pulse of Gerardo Madera.

Straight from Cuba comes alto saxophone phenom and bandleader Michel Herrera, with a far more modern sound. Although rooted in Afro-Cuban rhythms, especially clave, he and his band – the core includes Roger Riso on keys, Julio Cesar Gonzales on bass, Hector Quintana on guitar, Ismel Witnall on percussion, Yissi Garcia on drums and Eduardo Sandoval on trombone – shoot for a sound that’s jazzier and more deliberately cerebral. His compositions shift shape, sometimes on a dime, go doublespeed, go back in time eighty years (once with a beautifully rustic percussion-and-piano interlude) and give his band – especially trumpeter Julio Regal, whose work with a mute packs a thoughtfully crescendoing punch – a wide playing field. Pequena Historia, the first full-length track on his new album En La Espera, sets buoyant horns over a funky rhythm section, Herrera’s sax moving from balminess to bluster, followed by an eerily fluid, portamento-ish electric organ solo. The slinky clave groove Estaciones surprisingly serves as a launching pad for the most boisterous, bop-tinged playing here; with its sizzling piano cascades, soul-flavored electric guitar and tricky polyrhythms, the title track attests to Herrera’s wide-ranging eclecticism. Sometimes he gets carried away: the electric instruments lend an unwanted fusiony feel on occasion, and the one “R&B” flavored vocal number here is a bad joke. Still in his twenties, Herrera is a winner (and now a judge) of the Cuban Joven Jazz competition: he caught the eye of Wynton Marsalis, who’s become a sort of mentor. As the US hopefully moves toward normalizing relations with Cuba, Herrera and his colleagues deserve more of a presence here: this is an auspicious look at a scene that’s been percolating too far under the radar.

Finally, just in time for the Festival of Lights, there’s Celebrations, by Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble: latinized versions of familiar and not-so-familiar themes for Chanukah and Purim. Hybrids like this are actually more common than you might think – we gave the thumbs-up to the latest album by Kat Parra & the Sephardic Music Experience early this year – and Jews have long played an important role in latin music, especially jazz (Larry Harlow springs to mind). Here pianist Marlow is joined by legendary latin bandleader Bobby Sanabria on drums, Frank Wagner on bass, Cristian Rivera on percussion and Michael Hashim on alto and soprano sax, with pianist Nada Loutfi guesting on a brooding, expansively swinging Marlow original.

Hashim, in particular, gives these rearrangements a sly, genial bounce. Chanukah, O Chanukah gets a funky pulse and then it swings, down to just baroque-tinged piano rivulets. The famous dreidel theme is reinvented as a feisty rhumba with honking sax and inspired contributions from everyone. A Purim melody becomes a Brubeck-esque ballad, goes psychedelic with Rhodes piano and then hits a disco groove. An old Talmudic melody gets a warily nocturnal art-rock piano arrangement; the final number, seemingly a reprise of the opening theme, has a swinging Slaughter on Tenth Avenue vibe. The band are obviously having great fun playing hide and seek with the melodies to the point where they’re completely unrecognizable: all this is as fun as it is creative. Although professionally produced, Marlow’s five-minute spoken-word “explanation” of the band on the last track gives the cd the feel of a demo, an audio press kit for those who might be interested in hiring the band for a simcha. It would have been more effective – not to mention less expensive – to include this in, say, a press release, or the cd booklet.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment