Jazz Plaza 2020: Ancient to the Future

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at Fábrica de Arte Cubano – Havana, Cuba – Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama

The musicians of Cuba – especially those of African origin – live and breathe this and seem to me to be in a very special place. There are, of course, places where this rapture can be even greater and writers and ethnomusicologists like Alejo Carpentier and Valmont Layne have described this experience in books. Alejo Carpentier did it in Los pasos perdidos [The Lost Steps, 1953] and in his seminal work La música en Cuba – The Music of Cuba. [The musician and Sufi mystic Inayat Rehmat Khan Pathan [1882-1927] delves deeply into this world of music and mysticism in The Mysticism of Sound and Music – Shambala, 1923]. The “ancient to the future music portal” was activated during the performance at Fábrica de Arte Cubano where Monk Boudreau met the Cuban funk and rap, pop idol Cimafunk during which performance drummers including the Second Line Drummers from the Trombone Shorty Academy of New Orleans and the great contemporary Cuban tumbadora and conga player Yaroldy Abreu created a wall of rhythm from which Monk Boudreau and Cimafunk leapt off, into the world of music’s unknown.

“The ensuing music appeared to be something of a colossal seven-way conversation where the musical exchange may be started almost anywhere”

What held our attention throughout this impromptu performance were the stories told by Monk Boudreau – including those relating to the origin of his elaborately embroidered coat and matching trousers – was the epic nature of his narratives. Once he was joined by Cimafunk, the music and narratives took on a whole new dimension. The percussion textures change, becoming more sinewy as opposed to the thicker, more viscous rhythmic notes of the solo performance. The melodic content also became somewhat separated from the harmonic one. It was almost as if a new polyphonic architecture was unfolding before us. The music of the drummers, too, changed with the advent of Yaroldy Abreu in the mix. And this brought about that feeling as if we were all part of this rippling Afro-centric portal that began to occupy the auditorium.

Yaroldy Abreu and a drummer from the Trombone Shorty Academy at Fábrica de Arte Cubano - Havana, Cuba - Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama
Yaroldy Abreu and a drummer from the Trombone Shorty Academy at Fábrica de Arte Cubano – Havana, Cuba – Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama

This remarkable feeling of being in a Black Hole of the traditional and the modern; the past and the future became more pronounced at a concert that was held at Teatro Martí on the 19th of January. This was one that presented by the new Cuban supergroup – El Comité – featuring pianists Rolando Luna and Harold López-Nussa, bassist Gastón Joya, drummer Rodney Barreto, trumpeter Carlos Sarduy, saxophonist Irving Acao and percussion master Yaroldy Abreu. The musicians seem to play with a single musical brain.

The ensuing music appeared to be something of a colossal seven-way conversation where the musical exchange may be started almost anywhere, followed by one or more (or all of the players) jumping in at any point in time, and where each musical conversationalist has the ability to (and does) embellish each other’s conversation by finishing a phrase or – and this is so most often – by providing the most breathtaking ornamentation to another’s phrase – which, in musical terms, would be the melody or by picking up an improvised line and taking it to another special place in the music’s architecture.

The result is everywhere, not all at once, of course, but we could hear this song after song after song, as the musicians shuffled along – pianists exchanging places between piano and electronic keyboard and trumpeter and saxophonist walking in and out of the warm spotlights on stage. Piano would also dovetail into keyboards while trumpet and saxophone melt into one, while the bass created a catalytic, chain reaction drawing in the drums and tumbadoras and other percussion. Thus this musical edifice came into being drawing us in and out of the tradition, creating a brand new musical palimpsest. This was evident everywhere, but especially on the music of “E’Cha” and “Transiciones”.

Rolando Luna, Carlos Sarduy, Gastón Joya at El Tablao
Rolando Luna, Carlos Sarduy, Gastón Joya at El Tablao – Havana, Cuba – Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama
Raul Da Gama
Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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