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Jazz Plaza 2020: The Celebration of Otherness



Callejón de Hamel - La Habana, Cuba

Cuba meets Jazz… and The Classics

This session at Fábrica de Arte was meant to announce the concert (to be held at Teatro Martí on January 17th) – a return engagement – this time featuring a chamber orchestra – and this was received with great expectation and excitement. Victor Goines presented members of his ensemble – the inimitable pianist, Jo-Ann Daugherty, bassist Herman Matthew Burney, drummer Clifton Adrian Wallace. Janio Abreu also announced the names of some of the members of his illustrious ensemble, including – the pianists Dayramir González and Carlos Alberto Gaitán (the latter was present) and Orquesta de Cámara de la Habana directed by Mtra. Daiana García. (A full review of this breathtaking event will be published here in a forthcoming part of this series on Jazz Plaza 2020). This presentation also included the launch of the CD Grecolandia by the inimitable José Miguel Crego sharing the stage with other musicians, including the saxophonist Alfred Thompson of the celebrated Cuban Sax Quintet.

Marianela Santos Cabrera, Victor Goines, Janio Abreu
Marianela Santos Cabrera, Victor Goines, Janio Abreu at Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

“The late, great Leonardo Acosta, author of the seminal book Cubano Be Cubano Bop characterised Conjunto Chappotín as one of the greatest big bands of the swing era”

A breathtaking discovery from otherness and Jazz unfolded at the afternoon concert by Aruán Ortíz and Grete Skarpeid, two musicians – one a Cuban and the other a Norwegian – could not be more geographically and culturally apart. Despite the discernable differences, not only in gender, but also in character and musicianship the two artists staged an extraordinary vent that encompassed the storied world of traditional Norwegian song and classical lieder together with avant-garde Jazz classism seared together in the pure gold of Afro-Cubanism. Miss Skarpeid’s soaring vocalastics led the listener into a rarefied realm, while Mr Ortíz hovered at a respectable distance until – that is – it was his turn to bask in the music’s warming spotlight. The quartet was made whole with the addition of cellist Alejandro Rodríguez and the young virtuoso drummer Oliver Valdés.

Cucurucho Valdés, Fabián García Caturla at El Tablao
Cucurucho Valdés, Fabián García Caturla at El Tablao. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

Of course, the daily events at Fábrica de Arte were monumental and unique; they were also just a foretaste of what followed each night in Havana. On the 16th of January, for instance the Performance Art Theatre El Tablao which is in the heart of Havana once again came alive with music. The club, cleverly hidden in the basement beneath the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, on Calle San Rafael features a neon-bright stage and dance-floor club and it played host to Cucurucho Valdés and an extraordinary cast of stellar musicians. The brilliant concert full of magical pianism, and ingenious musical interlocution was, sadly, marred by awful sound management affecting mostly the equipment of the pianist. When things were on an even keel, however, the music was vivid and intoxicating. Alejandro Delgado was particularly brilliant as was the spectacular Mr Valdés, of course.

Exhausted and unable to attend the crowning glory – the Tribute to Conjunto Chappotín directed by Eduardo Sandoval at Sala Covarrubias, Teatro Nacional, La Habana, 16 January 2020, William Tilford, “The Voice” of Cuban music at his Chicago-based Timba headquarters was on hand to witness the startling event and graciously agreed to send us this:

“Since the signature sound of the iconic Conjunto Chappotín is based upon a powerful trumpet section, it was interesting to listen to a trombonist’s perspective on the music. This concert was not exactly a battle of the bands, but there were two basic configurations on stage simultaneously- a full big band directed by Eduardo Sandoval and a conjunto configured as Conjunto Chappotín. The trumpets and flugelhorns as well as the vocalists were given their due, but there were also extended exchanges between the trombones, saxophones, and a musical conversation between Eduardo on trombone and a flautist. The son style of the Chappotín sound dates to the Arsenio Rodríguez era, with a slower, more relaxed groove than today’s younger bands employ, but full of swing.“

Eduardo Sandoval - Tribute to Chappotín - Jazz Plaza 2020
Eduardo Sandoval – Tribute to Chappotín at Teatro Nacional. Photo credit: William Tilford

The late, great Leonardo Acosta, author of the seminal book Cubano Be Cubano Bop (Smithsonian Books, 2003) characterised Conjunto Chappotín as one of the greatest big bands of the swing era. The Swing Era was not meant to be an Americanism for the music of the roaring 20’s. Perhaps, but this conjunto was just the “other” example of the “otherness” of the day that shone brightly under the fateful stars that once united us all – Cuban and everyone else – and still unites us all, this time, thanks to the unique nature of the “otherness” so elemental to that wonderful phenomenological (experience) of the black music we call Jazz.

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