Feature by NY Co-Editor, Contributing Writer, Tomas Peña
2013 was a remarkably good year for the New York music scene and a particularly good year for Cuban music. Producer Dita Sullivan presented an intriguing (never before seen) Cuban Drum Series at the Jazz Standard, featuring: Calixto Oviedo of NG La Banda, Enildo Rasúa, creator of the “Third Hand” drum technique and Emilio Valdés. The Zinc Bar’s Midnight Rumba Series, featuring master percussionist, Román Diaz is a hot ticket. Pedro Martinez and his group are holding court at Guantamera. Sounds of Brazil, better known a SOB’s is the place to go for Cuban dance bands and World Music. One of the best live performances of the year took place at the Highline Ballroom where pianist Roberto Fonseca made a rare New York appearance. New York’s Salsa scene has seen better days however Puerto Rican stalwarts, saxophonist Miguel Zenón and the Rhythm Collective and Papo Vázquez and his mighty Pirates and Troubadours are keeping Puerto Rican folkloric music and jazz alive. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of independent recordings that surfaced this year. With rare exceptions, record stores have become a thing of the past however Rough Trade, a London based record store recently opened a branch in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Here’s a partial list of some of the books I read in 2013: David Byrne’s How Music Works, Diane Pecknod’s Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music, Preston Lauterbach’s The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock n’ Roll, John F. Szwed’s Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra, George E. Lewis’s A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, Jayne Cortez’s Jazz Fan Looks Back and The Echo Tree: The Collected Short Fiction of Henry Dumas among others. As I was writing this New York City was in a deep freeze however the Winter Jazz Fest, featuring 80 performances at venues throughout the city heated things up. Finally the APAP, Global Performing Arts Conference and Marketplace is taking place at the New York Hilton from January 10th to the 14th.
Favorite Recordings Of 2013 (in no particular order)
FRANCISCO MORA CATLETT, AFRO HORN – RARE METAL (AACE RECORDS)
RARE METAL is the follow-up to AFRO HORN MX, one of the hippest and best kept secrets of 2012. Like its predecessor, RARE METAL draws its inspiration from the writings of the African American writer and poet, Henry Dumas, who conceived the Afro Horn as a spiritual tool with the potential to unite people and clear out unfounded notions and misconceptions. The repertoire draws from the Yoruba pantheon, praises the ancestors and pays tribute to Sun Ra, Babatunde Olatunji, Max Roach and the poet Jayne Cortez. It speaks of historical events in Haiti and the Crescent City (New Orleans) and the “Blue People” of the Sahara. Above all, the music swings, burns and takes the listener on a journey that is only limited by one’s imagination. During a recent conversation with drummer, composer and Sun Ra alumnus, Francisco Mora Catlett, I asked him to describe Afro Horn’s sound. ”It doesn’t have to be put into a category,” he replied, “music is about freedom, that’s what it proposes and that’s why people love it. And it’s not freedom that comes without discipline. This is something that Sun Ra taught me very well. You have to be disciplined in order to obtain the tools to express freedom.” Afro Horn is: Pianist Aruan Ortiz, saxophonists Sam Newsome, Salim Washington and Alex Harding, bassist Rashaan Carter, percussionists Román Diaz and Andrew Daniels and vocalists: Danys “La Mora” Pérez, Meredith Wright, Liethis Hechavarria and Sandra D. Harper. RARE METAL is turning heads, receiving rave reviews and slowly but surely, building a loyal fan base. Not bad for an independent recording that is beholden to no one and marches to the beat of its own drum.
MICHELE ROSEWOMAN, NEW YOR-UBA
A MUSICAL CELEBRATION OF CUBA IN AMERICA (ADVANCE DANCE RECORDS)
2013 was a banner year for Michele Rosewoman. She celebrated her 60th birthday and the 30th anniversary of New Yor-Uba (the first incarnation). The second incarnation is a new eleven-piece ensemble, whose sound has been described by Ben Ratliff of the New York Times as, “two big cultural streams flowing simultaneously …” The project pays homage to Michele’s mentor and former ensemble member, Orlando “Puntilla” Rios whose angelic voice and profound knowledge of Afro Cuban Foklore was crucial to the ensemble’s musical development. The New Yor-uba ensemble is: Percussionists/vocalists Pedro Martinez, Román Diaz and Abraham Rodriguez, bassist Yunior Terry, drummer Adam Cruz, instrumentalists Freddie Hendrix, Mike Lee, Vincent Gardner and original members Howard Johnson and Oliver Lake. In the liner-notes, Michele Rosewoman writes, “New Yor-Uba is the tapestry that weaves together all of my dreams, experiences, knowledge, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the lives I’ve lived.” Michele and the project, has been nominated in multiple categories in The Jazz Times Reader’s Poll and A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America is in contention for one of the Best Recordings of the Year.
MICHELE ROSEWOMAN AND MEMBERS OF NEW YOR-UBA PERFORM “AGAYU”
SALSA DE LA BAHIA – A COLLECTION OF SF BAY SALSA AND LATIN JAZZ
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending a performance at Symphony Space entitled, EAST MEETS WEST, featuring Arturo O’ Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. The guest curator was John Santos, a prolific percussionist, educator, historian and foremost exponent of Afro Cuban jazz from the Bay Area. The post-concert discussion and performance explored the development of Latin jazz on the West Coast and addressed the unspoken rivalry between the East and West. Salsa de la Bahia does a commendable job of presenting the development of Latin jazz and Salsa in the Bay Area. The project also doubles as the soundtrack for the documentary film, THE LAST MAMBO. The lineup includes some of the finest artists in the Bay Area, past and present: John Calloway, John Santos and the Machete Ensemble, the John Santos Sextet, Orestes Vilató, Anthony Blea y Su Charanga, Vission Latina, Louie Romero Y Su Grupo Mazacote, La Moderna Tradicion and Benny Velarde Y Su Super Combo among others. SALSA DE LA BAHIA’s liner-notes, written by Chuy Varela, are required reading for anyone who is in the history of Latin music in the U.S.
AN OVERVIEW OF SALSA DE LA BAHIA
ETIENNE CHARLES – CREOLE SOUL (CULTURE SHOCK)
I stumbled on CREOLE SOUL while perusing the New York Times Music Section’s PRESS PLAY, a section that debuts noteworthy recordings in their entirety at absolutely no cost to the listener. Suffice it to say I was impressed. Trumpeter, composer, producer Etienne Charles conceived the concept for CREOLE SOUL while listening to field recordings from various parts of the French Caribbean, the music of Motown, Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver. The end result is six original tunes and covers that are Creole at heart. The recording opens with the plaintive cry of a Haitian voodoo chant, tips its hat to the island of Martinique (ROOTS) Thelonious Monk (GREEN CHIMNEY’S), Etienne’s parents (THE FOLKS), Dawn Penn’s monster hit, NO, NO, NO, Bob Marely’s TURN THE LIGHTS DOWN LOW and the Mighty Sparrow’s MEMORIES. CREOLE SOUL is an exceptional and enjoyable recording by any measure. Moreover, it brings home the fact that, “We are all Creole!”
ETIENNE CHARLES PERFORMING BOB MARLEY’S “TURN THE LIGHTS DOWN LOW”
THE O’FARRILL BROTHERS – SENSING FLIGHT (ZOHO RECORDS)
SENSING FLIGHT is a Brooklyn-based sextet, led by trumpeter Adam and drummer Zack O’Farrill (of the renowned O’Farrill clan) and bandmates pianist Adam Kromelow, bassist Raviv Markowitz, saxophonist Livio Almeida and guitarist Gabe Schnider. The album consists of original compositions and two covers, Carla Bley’s Wrong Key Donkey and Billy Strayhorn’s Upper Manhattan Medical Group. As the title implies, these astonishingly young, virtuous musicians are “in the throes of becoming unglued, detaching from the point of origin in their lives, in their careers, in their identities and in their art.” There is an openness, eagerness and lack of preconception in the sextet’s sound that embodies the Buddhist concept of “Beginner’s Mind.” Given the median age of the septet (Zack was born in 1991) the music is amazingly coherent, sophisticated and mature. SENSING FLIGHT is the second recording by the O’Farrill Brothers, “chips off the old block” who are evolving right before our eyes.
THE O’FARRILL BROTHERS: “BROKEN WINGS”
BEST BOX SET
TITO PUENTE: QUATRO – THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION
(CD, LP AND DIGITAL BOX SET – SONY MUSIC LATIN)
Congratulations to Sony Latin Music for creating an impressive and informative box-set fit for a King. QUATRO celebrates the life and music of Ernesto Anthony Puente on, what would have been his 90th birthday. The 5 CD set includes over three hours of digitally re-mastered music, extensive liner-notes and never before seen historical photos and memorabilia from historian, author Joe Conzo’s personal collection and commentary by Anthony Gonzalez, Marc Anthony, Arturo Sandoval, Sheila E, Emilio Estefan, Tony Bennett, Andy Harlow, Celia Cruz, Bobby Sanabria and Ronny Puente. The music covers Puente’s RCA years (1955 to 1960), a time that defined his early musical development and set the foundation for his later work. The box-set also includes CUBAN CARNIVAL (1956), NIGHT BEAT (1957), DANCEMANIA (1958), REVOLVING BANDSTAND (1960) and a bonus edition which includes bonus tracks, outtakes, alternate takes, the hit single RAN KAN KAN and the original cover-art and liner-notes. Who can forget CUBAN CARNIVAL AND DANCEMANIA, featuring vocalist Santitos Colón, or the musical conversation between Tito Puente and Buddy Morrow, on REVOLVING BANDSTAND? QUATRO contains a wealth of music and historical information. Above all, the music swings from start to finish. As box-sets go, it doesn’t get much better.
BEST DANCE-ORIENTED (SALSA) RECORDING
RAY VIERA – SAMBUMBIA RADIOACTIVA (COFRESI PRODUCTIONS)
SAMBUMBIA RADIOACTIVA conjures up images of dancers strutting their stuff. It also represents the evolution of Ray Viera, an up and coming vocalist (sonero) who is ready for his close-up. The album’s tasty repertoire is a dancer’s delight. Invited guests include: Flutist Johnny “El Maestro” Pacheco, sonero Hermán Olivera, trombonists Jimmy Bosch and Reynaldo Jorge, percussionist “Pequeño” Johnny Rivero and arrangers Marty Sheller, Sonny Bravo, Edwin Sánchez, Pedro Bermúdez, José Madera, Louis Cruz, Willie Ruiz and José Lugo. “Sambumbia” is a term commonly used in the Caribbean to describe a concoction or mix of ingredients to create something new. Ray Viera and his killer band have created an album that is a cut above the formulaic Salsa served up on commercial radio. Moreover, it’s the next best thing to catching Viera and crew, in a live setting.
RAY VIERA: “PORTATE BIEN”
TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON – MONEY JUNGLE: PROVOCATIVE IN BLUE (CONCORD JAZZ)
PROVOCATIVE IN BLUE is Terri Lyne Carrington’s interpretation of Duke Ellington’s 1962 classic trio recording, MONEY JUNGLE with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach and pays homage to MONEY JUNGLE’S 59th anniversary. The original recording was a radical departure for Duke and a scathing commentary on society and the ongoing war between art and commerce. Fast forward to present day, where Terri Lyne stumbled on the original recording totally by chance and found herself haunted by the trio’s “unusual energy and chemistry.” With the aid of pianist Gerald Clayton and bassist Christian Mc Bride and invited guests Clark Terry, Lizz Wright, reed players Tia Fuller, Antonio Hart, guitarist Nir Felder and percussionist Arturo Stable. Terri Lyne succeeds in adding “fresh light and energy” to Duke’s concept. The project is peppered with powerful clips from speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and others. Through music and the spoken word Terri Lyne Carrington makes a powerful statement about the ongoing war between art and commerce. PROVOCATIVE IN BLUE has been nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” category.
TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON – MONEY JUNGLE: “PROVOCATIVE IN BLUE” TRAILER
THE JOHN SANTOS SEXTET AND FRIENDS – FILOSOFIA CARIBEÑA 2
FILOSOFIA CARIBEÑA VOLUME 2 picks up where its predecessor left off. As before, the project pays homage to the creators, pioneers and innovators of Jazz and Caribbean musical forms. Unlike its predecessor Vol.2 features more song and spoken word and pays tribute to the Greater Antilles – Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic – all of whom share common histories. As music journalist Raul Da Gama writes, “One aspect of John Santos’ music that sets him apart from many artists in the Latin realm is the depth of its spiritual consciousness.” Other factors include his activism, his profound knowledge of the history of Afro Cuban music and his working relationships with artists from all walks of life. The staggering list of invited guests includes: Jerry González, Orlando “Maraca” Valle, Orestes Vilató, Steve Turre, Juan Gutierrez and Ismael Rodriguez among others and his core septet, flutist John Calloway, saxophonist Melecio Magdaluyo, trumpeter Marco Diaz, drummer David Flores and bassist Saul Sierra. The dynamic fusion of Afro Caribbean and Afro American music (jazz) reveals itself in the septet’s soulful homage to saxophonist “Rev” Ron Stallings, a former member of the Machete Ensemble. Other ear catching tunes include DOMINGO YAUCANO and QUE SABROSO, featuring the vocal gymnastics of Jerry Medina. John Santos writes, “Whether in Spanish, Yoruba/Lucumi, Brikamo, Ki-Kongo, Bozal, and Kreyol, or Arara, African-rooted Caribbean philosophy is at the core of all the pieces presented here.”
THE JOHN SANTOS SEXTET AND FRIENDS: “QUE SABROSO”
LUIS PERDOMO – LINKS (CRISS/CROSS)
2012 was an amazingly productive year for pianist, Luis Perdomo. He released THE INFANCIA PROJECT AND UNIVERSAL MIND to wide acclaim, traveled the world and among other things, was awarded a residency at the Cell Theatre in New York. On the surface, LINKS is a “smaller’ recording than his previous efforts however it is no less powerful. Perdomo teams up with saxophonist Miguel Zenón, drummer Rodney Green and bassist Dwayne Burno, whose recent passing sent shockwaves throughout the jazz community. The repertoire includes songs composed by Perdomo, his band mates and covers by Gerry Weil, Harold Danko, Sir Roland Hannah, Mimi Jones, Woody Shaw and Elvin Jones. In addition to the high level of musicianship, the recording shines a light on the long-standing relationship between Perdomo and Zenón, who are fast friends and have shared the stage, off and on, for fourteen years. LINKS is a hip, intimate affair that bears repeated listening. It also serves as a reminder that every day is a gift. RIP Dwayne Burno.
LUIS PERDOMO: “WAITING TIME”
OMAR SOSA AND THE AFRI-LECTRIC EXPERIENCE – EGGUN (OTA RECORDS)
EGGUN heralds the birth of the Grammy nominated AFRI-LECTRIC EXPERIENCE, created by Omar Sosa when he received a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2009 to create an original work based on Miles Davis’ KIND OF BLUE. It took one year for Omar to compose and transcribe the material and four years for the recording to surface however the result was well worth the wait. In true Omar fashion, he composed an original suite that honors the spirit of freedom in Davis’s work. Some years ago I interviewed Omar and I asked him why his repertoire does not include standards or covers: “Why should I silence the messages I receive from my spirits or ancestors?” said Omar, “tunes like Round Midnight and Giant Steps are always in the air.” EGGUN is a sonic tapestry that feels like a religious experience. It invokes the spirits of Miles, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers in the best possible way. I venture to say that if Miles were alive today he would have given EGGUN his stamp of approval.
OMAR SOSA AND THE AFRI-LECTRIC EXPERIENCE: “RUMBA CONNECTION”
BEST POSTHUMOUS RECORDING
CHARLES FLORES – IMPRESSIONS OF GRAFFITTI (DAFNISON MUSIC)
When I think of Charles Flores what I remember most is his command of his instrument and his infectious smile. I am grateful to have met Charles and seen him perform with The Michel Camilo Trio on several occasions. In a past interview with Michel he spoke very highly of Charles’ commitment to the music, his incredible touch, sound and pitch and of his importance as a member of the trio. IMPRESSIONS OF GRAFFITI is Charles’ second recording as a leader, the first being REMINISCENCE, which was released in 2000. IMPRESSIONS OF GRAFFITI was released posthumously and has yet to receive the attention or air-play it deserves. Nevertheless it offers a glimpse into Charles’ creative process and gives the listener some indication of where his music was headed. According to Dafnis Prieto, “Charles was waiting to put his “voice” and creative mind as a band leader out there and he captured the sound he wanted through his compositions and wonderful interplaying. Charles makes a solid musical statement and his vision is fully expressed.” In his short but illustrious career Charles Flores shared the stage with some of Cuba’s most prominent musicians, including Bobby Carcasses, Emiliano Salvador and Afrocuba among others. He performed with the Michel Camilo Trio from 2002 to 2011. Charles Flores died on August 22, 2012 due to complications of throat cancer. The world has lost a prolific musician and a great human being. His music lives on.
PROMO VIDEO: “IMPRESSIONS OF GRAFITTI” COURTESY OF DAFNISON MUSIC
BILL O’CONNELL AND THE LATIN JAZZ ALL-STARS – ZOCALO (SAVANT)
DIEGO URCOLA – MATES (URKO MUSIC/SUNNYSIDE RECORDS)
ARTURO O’FARRILL AND THE CHICO O’FARRILL AFRO CUBAN JAZZ ORCHESTRA
FINAL NIGHT AT BIRDLAND (ZOHO MUSIC)
PALANTE! MARQUES/STINSON/O’FARRILL TRIO (QUADRANT RECORDS)
BUIKA – LA NOCHE MAS LARGA (WARNER MUSIC LATINA)
LUIS PERICO ORTIZ – TIEMPO DE AMAR (SAN JORGE’S CHILDREN FOUNDATION)
MULATU ASTATKE – SKETCHES OF ETHIOPIA (JAZZ VILLAGE)
MARC CARY FOCUS TRIO – FOUR DIRECTIONS (MOTEMA MUSIC)
MIGUEL ZENON AND THE RHYTHM COLLECTIVE – OYE! LIVE IN PUERTO RICO (CD BABY)