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The Feeling Messengers, Past and Present (Part II)

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Miguelo Valdes & The Feeling Messengers Part II

Afro-Cuban Jazz: Where The Feeling Meets The Groove

Dizzy’s classic “Night In Tunisia” -juxtaposed with Bobby Collazo’s “La Ultima Noche”- kicks off this formidable production, albeit in a not-so-standard fashion. Highlighted throughout this piece are some exceptional vocals by Yeny Valdés, as well some equally inspiring trumpet solos by Paul Sánchez.


There is however, an unexpected but pleasant departure from the form when the head suddenly leads us into the vocal of “Ultima Noche”, instead of “Tunisia”. This, by the way, all happens very sublimely, and without losing the feel for the composition. After said melody is introduced -at what would have been the bridge of “Tunisia”- there is some nice harmonizing in the bolero-son style, with Yeny joining herself in classic duet fashion, over a short but sweet danzón baquetea’o section. Interestingly, this groove does not go on forever, as is the case with most guajeos, but rather it harkens us back to the head of “Tunisia”, which is unusual, but it works nicely in order to once again bring in Mr. Collazo’s most popular melody. What follows Yeny’s reprise is a tight montuno section with an added coro to boot. Here, the bridge for “Tunisia” appears for the first time (with vocals included over the ensemble), segueing into yet another jumpy montuno section, this time filled with some more of those tasty trumpet solos by Paul Sánchez. The surprise element takes over once again after the “Tunisia” bridge repeats, as we come upon yet another pleasant quote, this time it’s a very familiar theme from the country side of Cuban music. One can almost feel the climax coming on with Guillermo Portables’ ”Guateque Campesino”, a delightful inclusion to this medley, as is the added coro, all leading to the grand finale. It’s a great chart and certainly not what you would expect in a medley.

What follows is Paul Francis Webster and Johnny Mandel’s popular song “The Shadow Of Your Smile”, and it’s such a great vehicle for Jorge Valdés Chicoy’s virtuosic guitar. His mellow but jazz-like introduction -sans the rhythm- generates a feeling of nostalgia, while Chrystal Diamond’s spoken words evoke a Silvia Rexach-like feel over Chicoy’s guitar.

Then, the guitarist unexpectedly breaks with the original mood, diving head-on into a bolero-son that is tastefully done in vieja trova fashion, much to the delight of every bachata dancer worldwide. Mandel’s best known melody is immediately stated, in classic r&b-feeling style by Chrystal, followed by Miguelo’s own tantalizing rendition, complete with original Spanish lyrics. A short but sweet guitar interlude follows and the song is then reprised by both Chrystal and Miguelo, this time with a bit more brío (a Spanish word for “oomph”). Then, a brief flurry of bongó licks come into play -not too flashy I might add- ultimately setting up the listener for a delightfully soulful and gospel-like ending.

Miguelo Valdés
Miguelo Valdés

Bert Kaempfert’s evergreen “Love” is graced not only by a humorously spoken intro from Miguelo but also by the artist’s own Spanish version of the song. The familiar tumbao kicks in almost immediately, and as with the previous cuts, Chicoy’s guitar is heard prominently throughout the song, mostly in the background, vamping, as they say. On this one, Miguelo’s decorative and smooth vocals weave their way in and out of this mid-tempo son montuno, floating as it seems, high above the torrid current.

This is by no means a mistake, as the underlying groove is quite reminiscent of the mambo and cha cha chá era, when iconic artists such as Nat King Cole and Dean Martin were busy recording Spanish-language songs in their own suave manner. Paul’s trumpet work here is in step with the mood, as he plays it laid back and very cool. Coolness notwithstanding, the overall tempo is just right for the aforementioned dance steps, and when you add to this mix the element of humor then you have a very Cuban thing going on. The newly added coro is a real plus, as it’s really in tune with the overall theme of the song. The “choir” -as I like to call it- compliments the vocalist’s humorous inspiraciones (improvisations) nicely. The arrangement is where it should be, in the ”here and now” and does not sound dated at all. Brother Nat would have really dug this one.

“Fly Me To The Moon” was written by Bart Howard and was a huge hit for Sinatra. It was quite popular during the bossa nova era but has remained dormant for years. Once again we are treated to Miguelo’s savory Spanish lyrics. As a departure from the norm, The Feeling Messengers offer up “Fly Me” as a son-guaracha, not overly colourful I must say, complete with a splendid bass intro by Jiovanni Cofiño, whose technique is reminiscent of both Mingus and Cachao. The horn licks throughout are (again) by Paul Sánchez with a straight ahead no nonsense vocal rendition by Barbara Zamora, formerly with Cuba’s all female band Anacaona. Her reverence for feeling the truth in a song and her unique ability to communicate it to others makes her a menace to what passes today as art and culture, not to mention that her diction is impeccable. It is a rare type of flattery for Miguelo to have chosen Barbara for this album, and particularly on this tune, for he himself is just beginning to be known as an arranger. For him to have included her in this album with The Feeling Messengers indicates the high opinion that they surely have of each other.

The Jobim-de Moraes bossa nova standard “Agua De Beber” is given the special son-timba-funk treatment here, with special emphasis on the dance element. Miguelo’s percussion work (as well as his singing) is exceptional. It has become more evident lately that Cuban and Latin American percussionists -past and present- are playing a very important role in the current pop “trends” with their catchy lyrics. Today’s so-called record producers have long since come to the realization that percussion instruments, when handled properly, and when played by drum masters such as Miguelo (especially when featured alongside the traditional trap drum set), afford the necessary drive required to accent those otherwise monotonous sampled beats. The Feeling Messengers have given Brasil 66’s pop hit a uniquely modern dance groove, clearly defined and explicitly precise. From the downbeat on down this piece is as non-ambiguous as any percussive engine can be, and as intoxicating a rhythm as you will find anywhere on this planet, alive and vibrant, played by dedicated musicians whose sole purpose is to make it impossible for anyone to sit still while listening to it.

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Bandleader, vocalist, composer, graphic artist and radio personality Ernesto "Chico" Álvarez Peraza has been performing as a singer and percussionist throughout the New York City tri-state area for the last four decades. Leader of conjunto Mafimba and The Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band, he was also the host and producer of New World Gallery, an eclectic world music radio show which had been airing over WBAI Pacifica Radio (99.5 FM) for more than 25 years.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Angelito Diaz jr

    Jul 11, 2022 at 7:35 am

    Increible investigacion y despliegue de conocimiento en estos articulos que me honran profundamente – como hijo de uno de los fundadores del movimiento – y proyectan el impacto universal del genero Feeling.

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Tribute to the Masters

Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera

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Mario Rivera "El Comandante"

Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante"
Mario Rivera “El Comandante”

Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" the merengue-jazz - Guest: George Coleman - Groovin High
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” the merengue-jazz – Guest: George Coleman – Groovin High

Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" and "The Salsa Refugees" - Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero - Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” and “The Salsa Refugees” – Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero – Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna

Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.


We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”

Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.

Content source: James Nadal

Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”

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