New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center: Chucho Valdés, Pedrito Martínez, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra open the 2014-2015 concert season with Ochas, a new suite dedicated to the Orishas
The Pre-Concert Discussion
For those who missed it, Bobby Sanabria’s pre-concert discussion on the history and fundamentals of Cuban music was worth the price of admission. Sanabria is a high-energy, hands-on drummer and educator with a deep understanding of the subject matter. He is intelligent, witty, funny, street-wise and thinks nothing of demonstrating a point – and making it stick – with his drum-kit. Above all, Sanabria is an artist in the trenches who practices what he preaches. As we filed out of the room reminded us of the fact that music is a science. According to Sanabria, “It changes your molecular structure!” How deep is that?
Jazz at Lincoln Center kicked off its 2014 season with Ochas, an ambitious collaboration featuring pianist Chucho Valdés, master drummers Román Díaz, Pedrito Martínez, Clemente Medina and Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
The project dates back to 2010 when leader, Wynton Marsalis and his 15-piece assemblage of virtuosos visited Cuba for a week long residency and series of performances that raised Marsalis’ consciousness about the links between American jazz and Cuban music, the main current of which is Africa.
The end result is an ambitious and sweeping 8-part suite dedicated to the Orishas (deities) in the Yorùbá pantheon and a musical conversation between the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the batá drums.
Began with Moyuba, a salute to the ancestors and the introduction of the drums – Iyá, the leader or Mother Drum that calls for changes in rhythms and songs, Itótele – the middle drum that carries on a conversation with the Iyá drum and the smallest drum, Okónkolo that maintains the underlying beat and syncopated rhythms.
In an ongoing conversation with the batá drums, the Orchestra played themes intended to invoke the deities, Eleguá, Ogún, Ochosi and Obatalá. It’s worth pointing out that in actual ceremonies, the dialogue is between the drums and the singer. In Marsalis’ reinterpretation, the conversation is between the batá and the orchestra.
Pianist and 5-time Grammy Award Winner Chucho Valdés appeared in the segment devoted to Obatalá – The King of the White Cloth. His presence – which was all too brief – elevated the music, electrified the room and provided a bridge between the orchestra and the drummers.
Included vocals (chants) and dance. As before, there were invocations for Oshún, Oyá, Yemayá and Changó and variations on the themes.
Dancers Dresier Durruthy Bambolé portrayed Changó – the orisha of dancing, drumming, thunder and fire while Yesenia Fernández Selier captured the spirit and energy of Yemayá, who represents mother water and orisha of the oceans.
At its best, the orchestra and the drummers came together in a joyous and seamless celebration of American jazz and Cuban music, however there were moments when Marsalis’ compositional style and the orchestra were out of sync with the drummers. Having said that, I applaud Mr. Marsalis for taking on such an ambitious project.
Marsalis’ Ochas is the latest addition to a long line of performances featuring batá drums that dates back to the 1930s. The first lecture demonstration with batás was with Fernando Ortíz at the University of Havana in 1936, followed by a Gilberto Valdéz concert in 1937. It took another seven years for orisha songs to be heard on the radio, performed by singer Merceditas Valdés. In 1952, the great pianist, composer and bandleader, “Bebo” Valdés, featured the batá with his big band in a rhythm he called batanga. Twenty years later Chucho Valdés created his own version of the jazz piano trio by using batá instead of the standard drum-kit.
Two exceptional artists who have a deep understanding of jazz, Cuban folkloric music and religious music are drummer, composer Francisco Mora Catlett, leader of Afro Horn, and pianist, composer and leader of New Yor-Uba Michele Rosewoman. New Yor-Uba reflects the progression of the ancient Yorùbá people from Nigeria to present day New York through the use of brass, saxophones and a rhythm section, three batá and conga drummers. Catlett, a veteran of the Sun Ra Arkestra, approaches the music from a more avant-garde stand point and African-centered view. Interestingly, Afro Horn and New Yor-Uba share the genius of Román Díaz.
Kudos to Fernando González for his interesting and enlightening program notes.
Since the 1990s, Jazz at Lincoln Center has celebrated Cuban music with collaborations with Celia Cruz, Israel “Cachao” López, Candido Camero, and Bebo Valdés, including a landmark Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra residency in 2010.
For more on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 2014-2015 visit: www.jazz.org
“Si Va’ Llover” and the Advent of Música Artesanal
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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
Well, my people
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!
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
Idania Valencia – Mastering
Abdie Flores – Cover
José Diaz – Video
Joealis Filippetti – Promotional Voice Over
Tomas Peña – Promo, Editor
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