Jazz Plaza 2020: Speaking in Tongues

Victor Goines and Janio Abreu Together once again

Visiting our regular haunt, Havana’s Fábrica de Arte, each morning was a daily feature of the week during which Jazz Plaza 2020 was held. On January 16th we assembled for the second half of the XV Coloquio Internacional de Jazz. On the dais were Victor Goines, a great music scholar from New Orleans and principal woodwinds specialist of the iconic Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra directed by Wynton Marsalis. A superb alto saxophonist and clarinetist, Mr Goines was part of the Orchestra that had toured Cuba as one of the first cultural missions to perform in Havana after President Obama sought to normalise relations with the great island nation. During that 2015 trip, Mr Goines had met the brilliant young Cuban multi-reeds and woodwinds sensation Janio Abreu. It was clear that they not only had much in common, but they also had much to share – in the form of music – with the world.

Janio Abreu. Photo credit: Danilo Navas
Multi-reeds and woodwinds sensation Janio Abreu. Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama

“…the apparently disparate musical tongues [so to speak] of Jazz and Afro-Cuban music were closer than anyone would imagine”

By 2020 Mr Abreu had already toured the US with his ensemble Aire de Concierto and among the most memorable things he left behind was a live recording with Mr Goines own ensemble. This January Mr Goines was back in Havana with his own inimitable band, to perform once again with Mr Abreu. On the afternoon of January 16th Mr Goines took to the dais and invited his group to join him, introducing each member as he did so. The group comprised drummer Clifton Adrian Wallace, bassist Herman Matthew Burney Jr. and the sensational piano player and composer Jo Ann Daugherty. Mr Goines quite rightly pointed out that Miss Daugherty was included on this tour not because he felt the group should reflect the sign of the times by including a musician of her [feminine] gender. She is, after all a musician whose formidable reputation precedes her.

Victor Goines. Teatro Martí. Photo credit: Danilo Navas
Victor Goines. Teatro Martí. Photo credit: Danilo Navas, Raul Da Gama

Janio Abreu, for his part, brought on stage, another Cuban pianist of considerable repute. This was Carlos Alberto Gaitán Novoa. Both Mr Goines and Mr Abreu shared memories of their previous encounter in Cuba and in the US and briefed the audience about their concert that was to take place the following day, January 17th, at Havana’s Teatro Martí, a venue celebrated for both its architectural beauty as well as its magnificent acoustics. Small wonder then, that the concert was a magnificent experience. Although it was being video recorded Danilo and I were fortunate to be allowed to take photographs and so we joined the wonderful New Orleans photographer Cedric Ellsworth in not only enjoying the music but also documenting it.

The two ensembles appeared on stage joined by members of the superb Orquesta de Cámara de la Habana eloquently conducted by Maestra Daiana García. The evening’s programme consisted of eleven songs – compositions by both Mr Goines as well as Mr Abreu. The music was superbly rehearsed and flawlessly performed. The set began with a piece of music entitled “Borders Without Lines” by Mr Goines. The work was as enigmatic as its title was poignant. Naturally the audience exploded with applause. By the time the musicians launched into the beautiful and fabled elegy entitled “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans”, clearly the musicians had not only won our hearts but appeared to be making music that was ineffably beautiful, “sung” in unison, it would seem, as the apparently disparate musical tongues [so to speak] of Jazz and Afro-Cuban music were closer than anyone would imagine.

As Mr Abreu and Mr Goines played their magnificent music – with the former contributing to the repertoire just as significantly as the later, the stage came alive with a glorious sound ascending, as if to a rarefied realm. The musical riches were magnified as members of Mr Abreu’s ensemble took to the stage. These included [in short order] saxophonists Sergio Jiménez, pianist Dayramir González, who shared piano duties with Carlos Alberto Gaitán as well as Jo Ann Daugherty. Also bolstering the music were Mr Abreu’s Afro-Cuban percussion colourists – Raúl Rizo Flores and Aniel Tamayo Mestre, together with electric bassist Rafael Paseiro Monzón. The delicate pianism of Miss Daugherty combined with the gravitas of bassist Mr Burney and the thunder and lightning of Mr Wallace’s drumming together with the well-heeled chamber orchestra behind them gave us a sense of what it is like when the voices of musicians are joined together in praise of art. It is then that we came face to face with humanity at its finest, speaking, as if, in a unified musical tongue.

Victor Goines and Janio Abreu at Teatro Martí. Photo credit: Danilo Navas
Victor Goines, Maestra Daiana García, Janio Abreu at Teatro Martí. Photo credit: Danilo Navas, 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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