The Cuban island reverberates from dawn to dusk – from sea to sea – with the rhythmic chants of the sacred and secular music at every turn, where rumblings from the bàtá drums and the tumbadora accompany conga and rumba music, and where, equally, colonial-era theatres come alive with music and dance fueled by son and danzón, changüi and guaguancó – music made where Spain and Africa collided, giving the world great percussionists from Chano Pozo to Tata Güines, Carlos “Patato” Valdés, Pancho Quinto, Angá, Changuito and Roberto Vizcaíno to Mauricio Herrera.
Equally Cuba’s musical history has been kept alive by principled conservatoires which continue to turn out generations of brilliant pianists from Ernesto Lecuona and Ignacio Cervantes, Antonio María Romeu and Bebo Valdés to his son, Chucho Valdés, and from Emiliano Salvador and Peruchín to Frank Emilio Flynn and José Maria Vitier to Ernán López-Nussa, Hilario Durán, Alejandro Falcón, Aruán Ortiz, Harold López-Nussa, Dayramir González and beyond, and on occasion, even a guitarist as great as Leo Brower.
Coming as he does from a tradition such as this surely Janio Abreu might seem like a proverbial musical anomaly. Mr Abreu is a musician whose principal instruments comprise an extended family of august woodwinds and reeds – the saxophones and clarinets, to be exact. He plays with a nobility that can only come from technical mastery, born of vaunted learning and rigorous practice, and although his music suggests creation at the confluence of the classical and the popular song-form influenced no doubt by traditional secular forms.
This DVD – Juntos Otra Vez – captures all of this and features Janio Abreu y Aire de Concierto with the special guest Victor Goines, a leading member of the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra. Mr Abreu came to the attention of the great Mr Goines when the Orchestra toured Cuba, performing and recording at Teatro Mella in 2015. After that Mr Abreu was invited to travel to the US, to study and perform with Mr Goines and other musicians. This resulted in an invitation extended to the American woodwinds master, to come to Cuba and play with Mr Abreu – the performance of which was captured in their first DVD, Nuestra Herencia Musical, recorded in January 2018 during the Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana. One year after, in January 2019, Mr. Goines gets invited again to participate on the project Juntos Otra Vez (Together Again). BisMusic, once again, recorded and produced this concert as part of the special programming for the Jazz Plaza Festival.
The performance bristles with energy that rises to eminence with intense surges as the emotional worlds of Cuban and American Jazz music collide. Both Mr Abreu and Mr Goines – in their original music as well as in performance – inhabit the enduring spirit of their peoples. Each of the musicians – together and separately, in solo and ensemble – take turns to lead the rest of the musicians into private worlds in which dark and light, hope and joy are conveyed through music of striking character. Both musicians evoke dramatic and psychological atmospheres as if the musicians were looking over each other’s shoulder, but each with his singular sense of urgency, rhythm and colour.
This performance peaks several times – once during “No Entiendo Nada” [featuring Mr Abreu on bass clarinet], again on “Mori”, a vibrantly thunderous work that celebrates Cuba’s African music heritage. It is a solo flight for Mr Abreu, who plays tenor saxophone here, facilitating a percussion call-and-response between drummer Hugo Cruz and conguero Raúl Rizo, and once again on “Twilight”, a magnificently tender and evocative danzón written by Mr Goines and featuring him playing B-flat clarinet. The other highlight is the playing of the young pianist Rodrigo García, who interprets Mr Goines piece with filigreed brilliance and uncommon delicacy.
The performance also features two other pianists: the ever-brilliant Alejandro Falcón and the inimitable Carlos Alberto Gaitán. The contrabassist Omar González contributes mightily to the wall of rhythm. Meanwhile the young alto saxophonist Sergio Jiménez, and tenor saxophonist and eminence gris Bernard Scabela appear on Mr Goines ebullient tribute to Cuba, “Habana”, a song where each of the woodwinds players solo before the pianist Mr Gaitán brings the piece home with a scintillating solo. Once again BisMusic has outdone themselves with a superbly photographed film, also capturing the sound of this performance with great warmth and detail.
Track list – 1: Danzón mi Bella Habana; 2: No Entiendo Nada; 3: Mambo de Concierto; 4: Chivas Cha; 5: Mori; 6: Twilight; 7: Me voy pa’ Guantánamo; 8: Habana
Personnel – Janio Abreu Morcate: clarinet [1, 4], B-flat clarinet , bass clarinet , alto saxophone  and tenor saxophone [5, 8]; Victor Goines: B-flat clarinet [1, 6], tenor saxophone  and soprano saxophone [4, 8]; Alejandro Falcón: piano [2, 3, 5, 7]; Carlos Alberto Gaitán: piano [1, 4, 8]; Rodrigo García: piano ; Omar González Sánchez: contrabass; Hugo Cruz Machado: drums; Raúl Rizo Flores: congas, cajón 7] and percussion; Sergio Jiménez: alto saxophone ; Bernard Scabela: tenor saxophone .
Released – 2020
Label – BisMusic [DVD 1261]
Runtime – 1:06:20