Jazz Plaza 2020: Ancient to the Future

Janio Abreu at Teatro Marti
Janio Abreu at Teatro Martí – Havana, Cuba – Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama

The music of El Comité – their arrangements of older music and newer compositions written by them – is suggestive of one of the tributaries that this mighty river of Afro-Cuban music. [You will find more about their music here]. The other tributary is beginning to develop with the music of Janio Abreu. This is clear from his own music, especially the musical projects he has shared with the inimical Victor Goines. Their own concert that was held at Teatro Martí on the 17th of January was a magnificent example not only of this meeting of remarkable musical minds, but also of the raising of the proverbial curtain on a dramatic and truly exciting collision of the long and vibrant traditions and characters of Cuba and Jazz – particularly that music which was born in New Orleans. The African voice was heard virtually simultaneously in the Caribbean [particularly Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican], Southern United States [particularly] New Orleans. It seems to me that Mr Abreu and Mr Goines have been pushing the boundaries further away; perhaps even blurring them to the extent that their music is bearing new testimony to uniting two great traditions – their musical pasts in music into a glorious future.

“Ernán López-Nussa is a consummate musician, a pianist of great genius whose melodic and harmonic conception is informed by Classical music”

Victor Goines at Teatro Marti
Victor Goines at Teatro Martí – Havana, Cuba – Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama

Tradition is a fundamental – and wonderful – reality. But it is also true that to not revolutionise within the tradition can be a prison. This is why the inner dynamic of Cuban tradition always points towards innovation. The greatest of Cuban and Black American musicians have not only made this a mantra, but have made music propelled by it. From Arsenio Rodríguez, Frank Emilio Flynn, Emiliano Salvador, Peruchín to Hilario Durán and others. From Chano Pozo to Tata Güines, from Bebo to Chucho Valdés right down to Elio Villafranca, Aruán Ortiz and David Virelles, César López and Yosvany Terry Cabrera, and scores of other musicians who have rung in the changes either in subtle or dramatic fashion. Each year there is evidence of this to the extent that the network of pathways to and from tradition and the future of the Afro-Cuban [and Black American] music now looks like a complex collection of rivers and tributaries feeding a great baobab of a music tree. It isn’t always discernable, but in a festival such as Jazz Plaza, it seems to be everywhere.

Another wonderful example of this came – unsurprisingly – from listening to two generations of the López-Nussa musical dynasty. Following the breathtaking El Comité concert at Teatro Martí that featured pianist Harold López-Nussa, we rushed across Havana to catch the great Ernán López-Nussa and his ensemble at Teatro Nacional. It was the penultimate concert of Jazz Plaza. Ernán López-Nussa is a consummate musician, a pianist of great genius whose melodic and harmonic conception is informed by Classical music from Chopin and Scriabin. His songs are magnificent miniatures, full of poetic soundscapes that seem to unfold with great delicacy before your eyes. Just when you think that you hear a Classical influence, there is hint of montuno and all hell breaks loose with Ernán López-Nussa leading the charge, back and forth between tradition and often outrageously modernity; even futurism.

Ernán López-Nussa at Teatro Nacional 2
Ernán López-Nussa at Teatro Nacional – 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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