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New York Report

Elio Villafranca’s Vision Comes Alive at Jazz at Lincoln Center

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Elio Villafranca

Elio Villafranca at JALC

Pianist, composer, arranger Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopator’s presented Cinqué – The Suite of the Caribbean at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room before a warm and receptive audience.

The suite consisted of five movements dedicated to and inspired by Joseph Cinqué, the protagonist of “La Amistad,” a freedom fighter and force of nature whose journey of self-discovery was rooted in the idea, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Consistent with Yoruba wisdom, Villafranca’s powerful sonic-art honored the ancestors and the branches and roots of our collective ancestral tree.

Essentially, the repertoire was a musical journey in five parts:

  • Part 1: Cinqué / The Capture / Troubled Waters.
  • Part II: Maluagda / La Burla de Los Congos / Madre Agua (Yaya Baluande).
  • Part III: Indigo / Mesi Bondye.
  • Part IV: The Night at Bois Caiman / Burn Down the Fields.
  • Part V: Comparsa.

The movements represented a diverse range of colors, textures, rhythms, melodic call and response and solos accented by traditional dance.

Highlights included Jon Faddis’ riveting brass acumen; consistent, tasteful exchanges between the pianist and his team of polished musicians; trombonist/conch/shell player Steve Turre’s unparalleled swing and crowd pleasing harmonics; the tasteful inclusion of traditional Puerto Rican rhythms (Bomba Xica), the integration of recorded Kongo chants, a sweet rendition of the tune, “Mesi Bondye” by banjo player, Leyla McCalla and the closing comparsa (Cuban Carnival swing with classic chorus) as dancer Liethis Y Hechavarria tap danced with wood block sandals playing 2-3 beat of the clave.

Jonathan “JBlak” Troncoso – need to see / hear more of his pan Afro-Caribe virtuousity with some featured solos….as the old Kongos would say “somos o no somos” / “are we or are we not.”

Prior to the concert, Ben Young of Swing University conducted an interesting and informative pre-concert discussion and touched on Elio Villafranca’s geo-historic background in context to the Caribbean Basin of island nations. It is here that a brief description of the banjo used in Leyla McCalla’s work would have been helpful.

To conclude, Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopators are lined up for “Nsambi Mpugu’s” (God Almighty’s) blessings as he builds upon the high standard that he has set for himself. We respectfully watch his growth. Bacheche! (excellent in Kongo).

Personnel: Elio Villafranca: Musical Director, piano and Guataca; Jon Faddis: trumpet; Leyla McCalla: cello, banjo, vocal; Vincent Herring: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Steve Turre: trombone and multiple conch shells; Greg Tardy: tenor sax, clarinet; Michele Wright: clarinet; Gregg August: bass and assorted percussion; Jonathan “JBlak”Troncoso: percussion: Liethis Y Hechavarria: dancer.

Elio Villafranca: www.eliovillafranca.net
Jazz at Lincoln Center: www.jazz.org

I am an Ifa Priest — an “Awo Ifa Ol’Obatala”……. Spiritual Counselor / Mentor and Educator…… When addressed and respectfully referred to as “Babalawo” (Father of Esoteric Knowledge), I humbly and graciously accept the title.

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New York Report

“Si Va’ Llover” and the Advent of Música Artesanal

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Henry Cole

Henry Cole & Villa Locura release a new song featuring Alex López ‘El Callejero’ – “Si Va’ Llover” – and a new form of making and sharing music.

Alex López and Henry Cole met in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico sometime around 1992 when Henry attended the Manuel A. Barretto School.

Two images of Alex have remained forged in Henry’s memory. One is of Alex hanging out with Henry’s oldest sister, Tidzia Cole, and her friends in front of his grandmother Angelina Simon’s house on Calle Estación. The other is of Alex watching him from a little store next to the Cundo Rovira Pharmacy, where they sold “icys” (snow cones) and “empanadillas” (meat pies). Henry sensed that Alex was letting him know with his eyes that he was looking after him.

Henry Cole and Alex López
Henry Cole and Alex López

In 2006, the two met again in New York City during a Bomplenazo in which Henry participated as a guest of Los Pleneros de 21. Alex was part of the group Cocolay y sus Pleneros. As soon as they discovered they’re both musicians, they knew they wanted to collaborate. Whenever they met up, they talked about doing something together.

The opportunity arose in 2019. Henry was to appear with this group, Villa Locura, in Mayagüez for the first time, and he invited Alex to join them. He also asked Alex if he had a song that he’d like to adapt for Villa Locura. Alex sent him “Si Va’Llover.” Henry listened to several versions of the song and created a new arrangement within a couple of hours. And then, the gig in Mayaguez was canceled.

Henry performed “Si Va’Llover” in Santurce last December (2019) and although Alex didn’t sing with him, it was clear that people loved the song.

In 2020, Henry decided to record the arrangement of “Si Va’Llover,” this time with the participation of Alex López and a dream band. This is the result!

About The Process

The recording of the song entailed two experiments. The first was for Henry to see how his music would turn out with Villa Locura, his band made up of local Puerto Rican musicians, with the exception of keyboardist Jason Lindner.

The second experiment was to explore the legendary AQ30 Studios in Bayamón, which during the 1990s Merengue era recorded many greatest hits. Perhaps the most famous was, Elvis Crespo’s megahit “Suavemente.”

Henry Cole at AQ30 Studios in Bayamón, Puerto Rico
Henry Cole at AQ30 Studios in Bayamón, Puerto Rico

Discussing the process, Henry says: There’s a lot of analog equipment from that era that wasn’t being used because most of the work now is done with Pro Tools. I wanted to get the gears cranking again on the machine that had been so successful.

I started listening to some of the albums that were recorded there to relate the space to the music. I called trumpeter Luis Aquino and asked him how they recorded and what kind of equipment they used. Every time I saw the founder and recording engineer, Ricardo Marty I asked him a thousand questions and slowly I gathered fascinating information about the use and the history of the space.

Through these experiments I got a sense of what it would be like to record my next album in Puerto Rico.

At one point I felt that the equipment and the space spoke to me and welcomed me. This was confirmed in the takes that we recorded. Especially when I saw how the artists shone as their parts were added, and how easy it was done. It took Alex only one and a half takes to record his vocals. ‘I put on my headphones and went on a trip. I felt everything flow at once,’ he told me.

We only had one rule in the studio: no plugin’s (signal processor, equalizer, or compressor). The sound had to come from the subject to the analog machines without “filtering.”

About The Art

The artwork was inspired by the Portfolio de Plena series, a set of prints created by the Puerto Rican painter, printmaker, calligrapher, Lorenzo Homar, and painter and the draftsman, graphic artist, muralist, and illustrator Rafael Tufino, who celebrated Afro-Puerto Rican music in the 1950s.

Henry Cole - Si va a llover que llueva

Also, Henry called the painter, Martin Garcia Rivera, who is very familiar with Homar and Tufino’s works, and respects the Puerto Rican culture.

“Martin’s process was an incredible learning experience for me. In the middle of the pandemic he sent me photos and meditations about his process for creating the piece, a process called Intaglio, using Punta Seca. One day Martin called me and I heard the joy in his voice, and knew that he had succeeded. That call lasted about three hours. We talked a lot about the painter, Francisco Oller, Puerto Rico, our culture, and Martin’s story.”

“The press is manual, it’s like traveling back in time to a hundred, two hundred, even five hundred years ago. The past is the present with different actors and all that today has to offer,” says Martin Garcia Rivera.

La Música Artesanal is Born

Once the “master” was finished, Henry shared it with some people in the music industry, garnering the usual results. Some said, “Wow, this amazing, it’ll stick.” And others said, “We don’t know if it belongs on a playlist, it’s too long, it’s too instrumental, it’s too jazzy, it’s regional, people consume a more urban sound.”

The story was the same when presented “El Diablo” with Tito Allen and “Caminando” with Tego Calderón.

Henry was aware that even if there were some interest, he would have to give away his song for streaming, which generates less than a penny per play. And with a schedule of canceled concerts for the rest of the year, he realized he wouldn’t be able to continue in that direction, nor could he expect the industry to dictate what he should do with his music.

So Henry decided to take inspiration from the figure of the artisan, using this analogy: Craftspeople make their handiwork —whether it be jewelry, or furniture, or carved nativity scenes— but they would never expect to make a living by simply giving it away as if it were a free sample. This would leave the artisan with no profit to buy food or materials.

For example, there’s craft beer, craft coffee, craft jewelry. A craft beer is more expensive than a regular beer. Why? Because of the quality of the ingredients, the process by which it’s made, the attention to detail.

Henry developed the idea of launching his own platform to sell his art in conjunction with visual designer Abdiel Flores.

La Música Artesanal also seeks to bring together artists who share this same thinking and passion for their crafts. In this way, they’ll form a Mercado of craft musicians.

“And so,” says Henry, “I offer you here my Música Artesanal, created with the best musicians, artists, engineers, machines, and processes.”

“The ‘mission,’ was to create an aggressive, punchy, in your face, groovy, virtuosic sound. Also, I wanted to present my vision of New Plena and send a message to the other Plena, Bomba, and Salsa Bands in Puerto Rico, that, ‘This is 2020 and Henry Cole and Villa Locura is here!’ Aside from the lyrics, I composed all the parts. I brought in the bassist Ricky Rodriguez, who gave me the aggressive, nasty bass lines I was seeking. This virtuoso type of bass playing happens in Merengue but rarely in Plena. Also, there is Trap (a sub-genre of hip-hop ) played by musicians, not computers. ” — Henry Cole

LYRICS

Well, my people
Our Plena
Our Roots
Our Culture
If It’s Going to Rain, Let it Rain
Nothing Will Stop My Plena!

HENRY COLE AND VILLA LOCURA’S DYNAMIC SOUND AND ALEX LOPEZ’S POWERFUL LYRICS TAKE PLENA INTO THE 21ST CENTURY!

CREDITS

Henry Cole – Music, Drums
Alex López – Lyrics, Vocals
Martin Rivera Garcia – Art
Michael Brauer – Mixing Engineer
Emanuel Santamaria – Punteador
Axel Rodriguez – Guiro
Jason Lindner – Keyboards
Piro Rodriguez – Trumpet
Jahaziel Garcia – Trumpet
Jonathan Acevedo – Tenor Sax
Victor Maldonado – Baritone Sax
Javi Perez – Guitar
Giovanni De La Rosa – Guitar
Ricky Rodriguez – Bass
Jay Laboy – Coro
Antoinette Rodriguez – Coro
Sebastian Otero – Coro
Glorimar Nogueras – Coro
Recording & Editing
Giovanni De La Rosa
Wendell Sanders
Luis Rodriguez
Rubén Morales
Matt Burr
Hector Espinoza
Fernando Reyes
Idania Valencia – Mastering
Abdie Flores – Cover
José Diaz – Video
Joealis Filippetti – Promotional Voice Over

Tomas Peña – Promo, Editor

Artist Website/Source: henrycolemusic.com
La Música Artesanal: lamusicaartesanal.com

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