Direct from the city of Recife in Northeastern Brazil, the SpokFrevo Orquestra debuted at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s three-day Brazilian Festival.
The orchestra is a 17-piece powerhouse, led by the progressive and free-spirited saxophonist, composer, arranger Inaldo Cavalcante de Albuquerque, aka Spok. It specializes in frevo, a style of music whose origins date back to the second half of the 19th century in Recife, where the maxixe, the Brazilian tango, the quadrille, the gallope and particularly, the military two-step and the polka inexplicably combined to form a hybrid music.
As a child Spok listened to frevo on the radio with his father, who was passionate about the music and became acquainted with the frevo masters, the popular poets (aka repentistas) and the pioneers of baião (a rhythmic formula that became the basis for a wide range of music). In 1986, he moved to Recife, where he honed his craft under the tutelage of some of the most renowned conductors, composers and music teachers.
In 1995, he formed the orchestra and the rest, as they say, is history. During its initial years the orchestra played frevo songs as they were written. Today the music is jazzier and the emphasis is on improvisation, rhythmic variation and artistic freedom.
At Jazz at Lincoln Center the orchestra’s repertoire was a mixed bag of original compositions, such as “Spokiando” and “Moraes de Frevo” and classic compositions by Dori Caymmi, Paulo César Pinheiro and Jovinos Santos Neto among others. The delightful medley, “Muito delicioso, Muito delicioso, Deliciosamente” (aka Very Delicious, Very Delicious, Deliciously) was a highlight.
Special guests included the Chilean saxophonist, composer and 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition winner Melissa Aldana, the renowned trombonist, composer, conductor arranger Wycliffe Gordon, accordion player Victor Gonçalves and trombonist Natalie Kressman, who widened the scope of the music and brought their unique talents to bear.
Admittedly, frevo is relatively new to American ears. But it’s mostly instrumental music, so there’s no linguistic barrier that prevents anyone from enjoying it. Frevo is fast and loud by nature, but it’s also vibrant, rich, energetic and joyful.
SpokFrevo’s strength lies in its power, precision and its unwavering commitment to spreading the frevo gospel. Still, in my opinion it would be interesting to see the orchestra step out of its comfort zone and venture into new territory. By all accounts, the orchestra demonstrated that is up to the task of taking the next step in its evolution.
In the meantime, I highly recommend the orchestras most recent recording, titled “Ninho de Vespa” (Motema). To learn more about the history and evolution of frevo, see the documentary film “Sete Coraçoes” (Seven Hearts), which follows the exploits of Spok and seven frevo masters in the days leading up to to Carnival.
SpokFrevo is: Spok – alto, soprano sax; Carlos Cleber (Kebinha) – alto sax; Gilberto Pontes – tenor sax; Rafael Santos – tenor sax; Enok Chagas – trumpet; Augusto Franca – trumpet; Flavio Sanatana – trumpet; Erico Verissimo – trumpet. Elci Ramos – trombone, Marcane Tulio; Adonis Garcia – trombone; Thomas de Lima – trombone; Renato Bandeira – guitar; Helio Silva – bass; Adelson Silva, drums; August Silva – drums and percussion; Didi Simpata – percussion.
Long live frevo!
Photos: Frank Steward – Jazz at Lincoln Center
“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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