Benjamin Lapidus: New Album

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Benjamin Lapidus
World-renowned Cuban tres and guitar virtuoso Benjamin Lapidus and his new group Kari-B3 release his long awaited 7th Latin jazz recording and 8th as a bandleader. The album features heavyweights from the Latin and jazz worlds such as Pedrito Martínez, NEA Jazzmaster Cándido Camero, 7-time Grammy nominee Bobby Sanabria, Jared Gold (organ), Frank Anderson (organ), saxophonist Paul Carlon, NYTimes bestselling author T.J. English, trumpet sensation Greg Glassman, vocalist Bobby Harden, organist Frank Anderson, reed legend Walter “Gene” Jefferson, vocalists Enid Lowe and Hiram Remón, Latin-Grammy nominee Charlie Sepúlveda (trumpet), trombonist and vocalist Elizabeth Frascoia, and Chicago R&B session guitar ace Aaron Weistrop.

“This project was born out of everything that I love in music (Caribbean rhythms, folklore, Jazz, and the inspired imaginings of musicians in conversation with each other) and of my obsession with the Hammond B3 organ, which included hours of listening to Jazz organ combo recordings. Often, these recordings feature a great conga player who is confined to playing a tumbao on a backbeat. I love the sound of the Hammond B3, but the conga drum on the backbeat only hinted at the possibilities of these two worlds meeting. What would it sound like if that conga in the organ combo was front and center? More practical questions followed: What would the repertoire be? Who would play it? What would it sound like? Wouldn’t it be great to have the concept turned inside out with the organist playing the bass tumbao and the whole band swinging in clave? Shirley Scott and the Latin Quintet got into some of this and the great Panamanian organist, Avelino Muñoz did as well, but could we push the envelope? If jazz drummers play mambo patterns in their solos to “get house” in straight-ahead performances, why not play Latin standards in swing? Kari-B3 and “Ochosi Blues” are the result of these musings and truly, we are only beginning to answer the questions above.” – Benjamin Lapidus

Latin music’s cutting-edge musician/scholar returns with Ochosi Blues, a swinging and ear-pleasing recording that is inspired by the vast musical traditions of the Spanish Caribbean and the equally deep tradition of the jazz organ combo with a sprinkling of West Indian flavor. The result is a powerful and joyous listening experience that offers a truly unique take on the organ combo. When asked to label Benjamin Lapidus’ music, critics and fans agree that it is Latin Jazz in the truest sense of the term, as Lapidus continues to explore different ways of mixing Jazz and Spanish-Caribbean music, while making the music accessible, organic, and logical. This is the direct result of the New York musicians involved, who are completely bi-and even tri-cultural, a benefit of being residents of the largest Caribbean city in the United States. Active in the New York Latin scene since 1995, Lapidus has made a name for himself among the elders as the go to player for long-established bands and new live and recording projects such as The Buena Vista Social Club, Jerry and Andy González, Típica 73, Larry Harlow, and many more.

Ochosi Blues, the Album

Benjamin Lapidus - Ochosi BluesCritics and fans agree that Benjamin Lapidus’ music is unique in its cutting-edge approach without sacrificing accessibility or the traditions of Spanish-Caribbean music. With Ochosi Blues, Lapidus continues his dynamic vision of bringing Spanish-Caribbean music and jazz together as equals while charting new ground and creatively altering conventions of both worlds. He started on this path in his previous five releases (1998-2005) as the leader of the world-renowned Latin jazz phenomenon Sonido Isleño, and continued with his pan-Latin jazz interpretation of the Brazilian songbook with Kaori Fujii on Garota de Ipanema for RCA Victor Japan (2007). In 2008, he released Herencia Judía a critically acclaimed Afro-Latin Jewish recording project.

For Ochosi Blues, Lapidus assembled an A-list of performers and friends with whom he has frequently toured and recorded: Pedrito Martínez, charismatic percussionist, vocalist, and bandleader, Cándido Camero NEA Jazzmaster and conga legend, Bobby Sanabria 7-time Grammy nominee, bandleader and educator, rising organ star Jared Gold, Hammond organ elder and legend of studio and Broadway orchestras Frank Anderson, Elder statesman of reeds and Caribbean music Gene Jefferson, as well as tough tenor Paul Carlon and trumpeter Greg Glassman. Special guests include: two-time Latin Grammy nominee trumpeter Charlie Sepúlveda (Eddie Palmieri and Batacumbele), Veteran big band singer Enid Lowe (Jan Garber). Original Blues Brothers vocalist Bobby Harden, Colombian vocalist Hiram Remón, Trombonist Elizabeth Frascoia, Chicago session ace, Gospel and R&B guitarist Aaron Weistrop, and a songwriting contribution by New York Times bestselling author T.J. English (Savage City and Paddywhacked). Lapidus joins them on guitar and tres, the quintessential Cuban instrument with three pairs of strings on its small guitar-like body. Its unique tuning provides the skilled player with infinite range while its playing technique is at once percussive, harmonic, and melodic.

Pedrito Martínez opens the album singing and playing batá drums for Ochosi, the Yoruba god of the hunt and swift justice on Ochosi Blues (1), and closes it by singing and drumming for Yemayá, the goddess of the sea on Yemayá’s Changes (15). These two pieces serve as bookends for the project and they offer two possiblilities of marrying Cuban folklore with jazz in the organ combo context. Lapidus and Martínez have collaborated on numerous recordings and live performances since Martínez’s arrival in New York in the late 1990s most recently on Paul Carlon’s La Rumba is a Lovesome Thing. Organist Jared Gold is comfortable in a variety of musical settings and he adds a solid jazz and blues feel to these two prayers, which are traditionally sung only with drum accompaniment. I’ll see you on Moonday, Wendell (2) is dedicated to the late Dr. Wendell Logan, who was Lapidus’ advisor, mentor and role model at Oberlin College. He taught and inspired many musicians at Oberlin who have subsequently spread his teachings and philosophy through their own teaching, writing, and playing. Wendell did not believe in hierarchies that separated musical styles and he drew from the blues, whether writing for symphonic orchestras or for big bands. Trumpeter Greg Glassman, another Oberlin alum and student of Wendell’s, plays the first solo on the track. A collaborator and friend for the last 16 years, saxophonist Paul Carlon is also featured on this track.

But Beautiful (3) features Frank Anderson and Enid Lowe, two wonderful Panamanian musicians that have been collaborating together for many years in Panama and New York. Lapidus first met Enid, Frank, and Gene Jefferson through Bobby Sanabria. Bobby is a complete musician, a showman, a scholar, and a friend and frequent collaborator of Lapidus’ who has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He has spent over 30 years working with Gene, Enid, and Frank. Historically, Panamanian musicians have been fluent in Spanish and English Caribbean music as well as jazz due to their geographic location at the crossroads of the Americas. For Lapidus, these are the perfect musicians to explore the Caribbean organ combo concept because they can do it all and have done it all. Enid worked regularly at the El Panama Hotel and with artists like Jan Garber and others in the 1950s. Here in New York, she and her husband Gene Jefferson, along with Frank, continue to perform throughout the city.

Frank Anderson is a virtuoso pianist and organist who has recorded and performed with the best of the best in Panama, New York and the world. Historically, Anderson is one of the only people who has played Hammond organ within this context and he brings to the studio his years of playing with Vicentico Valdés, Marcelino Guerra, Arsenio Rodríguez, his own Pan-American big band, and countless Broadway shows since the 1940s. Frank shows his swing chops on Bilongo (4), which also features Gene Jefferson and Cándido Camero as the band swings a Cuban standard. Cándido Camero is perhaps the most recorded conga player in history, having arrived in NYC in 1946. Besides playing tres in Arsenio Rodríguez’s second band in Cuba and working as a bassist in the son genre, he worked with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie among so many others. Check out Candido’s straight ahead conga solo on Bilongo! When the power supply went out on the mixing board during the recording sessions, he asked Enid and Frank to play and sing standards to pass the time. After each one, he would talk about how he had recorded and performed with the singers that made each song famous, like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and more. Bobby Sanabria and Cándido are the rhythmic anchors of this project. Gene Jefferson recorded and toured with many important artists including Tito Rodríguez, Arsenio Rodríguez, and many others both in his native Panama, New York and abroad. He was also in the house band of the Apollo Theater for many years and he brings a positive feeling to the session as well as the ability to swing in calypso, jazz, guaracha, and anything else!

T.J. English is a New York Times bestselling author, a good friend, and a regular dinner guest in Lapidus’ home. During one of these dinners, after dessert had been served and too much rum had been imbibed, the guests were discussing the color of roux and how it darkens depending on how long it cooks. This led to Lapidus and English collaborating on The Sweeter the Lovin’, The Darker the Roux (5). Bobby Harden, who has sung with the Original Blues Brothers Band, and Aaron Weistrop, a close friend of Lapidus’ for 23 years and a guitar player who is at home with jazz, gospel, r&b, blues, and rock, bring the Roux recipe to life. Often, one meets the right people at the right time, and such serendipity led Lapidus to the multi-talented Elizabeth Frascoia, who plays an appropriately greasy trombone on the Roux song right when it was needed.

Tú, mi delirio/Here’s That Rainy Day (6) features Enid Lowe with Colombian vocalist, Hiram Remón, who brings his extensive experience and repertoire, beautiful vocal renditions, and virtuosic maraca playing with him. The Latin Side of Your Mama (7), a boogaloo meant to poke fun at jazz albums that try on the “Latin side”, features Jared Gold. Guajira Orgánica (8) pairs Lapidus’ tres with Frank Anderson’s organ in a guaracha context. Habla Cándido (9) is a snippet of the master with his drum; what a treasure to have on this record! Charlie Sepúlveda, a prolific trumpeter based in Puerto Rico, joins Lapidus on this duo version of the Cuban classic El Manisero (10), capturing a deep feeling of simpático. Close your eyes and imagine sitting on the beach every time it plays. The groove was so intense, that nobody wanted to stop playing Have You Met Ms. Jones? (11), which features Frank Anderson, Gene Jefferson, Bobby Sanabria, Cándido, and Lapidus on tres. Ernesto Duarte’s Como Fue (12) is Lapidus’ wedding song and is dedicated to his wife, Teresita Levy on their tenth wedding anniversary. No Brooklyn-based recording would be complete without recognizing the vibrant West Indian community and its musical contributions to the soundtrack of New York City. Frank Anderson and Gene Jefferson have been playing The Five Year Plan (13), a calypso song sung by Atila the Hun, for ages but calling it “Workers,” which is why you hear Gene’s whistle and shout to get back to work. Stella by Starlight (14) features Enid’s vocals and another tres/organ pairing that travels between funk, bolero, swing, and chachachá.

Finally, Dennis Mario, an award-winning visual artist and musician based in Puerto Rico, generously contributed his incredible painting, “Congo Blue y Changó” (1995), to reflect the musical duality and beauty of this record. Check out his art at dennismario.com and stay tuned for the forthcoming recording, Dueto Libre by Lapidus and Mario.

In addition to Ochosi Blues, Lapidus has been busy performing on tres with Típica 73, the legendary salsa band co-led by Sonny Bravo and Johnny “Dandy” Rodríguez. He is also performing with Larry Harlow and Michael Stuart at Lincoln Center for the salsa opera, Hommy. Lapidus sings and plays on Paul Carlon’s album, La Rumba is a Lovesome Thing: A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn. This exciting nonet has been performing throughout New York City before and after the release of the album and regularly at the Zinc Bar. In addition, Lapidus’ catalogue of compositions is being championed by Cuban jazz innovator Pablo Menéndez and Mezcla as his 1998 piece “¿Quién Tiene Ritmo?” appears on the band’s 30th anniversary DVD. Singer songwriter José Conde also recorded Lapidus’ “Bizcocho” for his forthcoming release. In 2014, Lapidus performed and recorded with master musician, Andy González in support of the forthcoming Truth Revolution Records album to be released in December 2014.

Benjamin Lapidus

Born in Hershey, PA in 1972 to first-generation Brooklynites, Lapidus moved almost 15 times before returning to New York City at the age of 14. Trained in piano from a young age, he moved through a variety of instruments including trumpet and bass before concentrating on the guitar. Lapidus was exposed to music by his grandmother and his father, who played in Latin and jazz bands in the Catskills in the 1950’s. Through his father’s record collection and stories of his father’s visits with his Latin American relatives, the seeds of Latin music were planted. Yet it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the youngest Lapidus became immersed in Latin music, when he moved to a predominantly Latin neighborhood in New York City, where numerous important musicians also resided. Living a block away from Mikel’s jazz club, Lapidus still has vivid memories of practicing in Mario Rivera’s house or seeing Mario Bauzá walk down the street. Deciding he needed a complete musical education, Lapidus earned two degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and Oberlin College, becoming one of the program’s first jazz guitar graduates. In 1994, Lapidus started to play the Puerto Rican cuatro and Cuban tres. After leading his own quartet at festivals and clubs throughout Europe and winning a grant to study briefly with Steve Lacy in Paris, he returned to the U.S. and worked with Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Tani Tabal, Thomas Workman, and other creative improvisers.

At the same time, Lapidus began performing with Larry Harlow, Alex Torres, and other Latin music luminaries in New York and Puerto Rico. Lapidus earned a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2002. His travels to Cuba acquainted him with distant relatives and grounded him in the music of Eastern Cuba. He has taught popular music of the Caribbean, Latin music in New York, and world music at Queens College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY where he is a tenured associate professor in the department of art and music. In 2008, Lapidus published the first-ever book on the Eastern Cuban musical genre changüí called Origins of Cuban Music and Dance: Changüí (Scarecrow Press). In addition to having published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and reading papers at international conferences, he has written liner notes and served as scholar-in-residence with the Jewish Museum and the New York Center for Jungian Studies during humanitarian missions to the Jewish communities of Cuba. In 2013, Lapidus won a prestigious NEH fellowship for his forthcoming book Nueva York: The History of Spanish Caribbean Music in New York City and the Shaping of an International Sound, 1940-1990.

For the last eighteen years, Lapidus has performed and recorded tres and guitar on film soundtracks, video games, television commercials, and albums with notable musicians such as Juan Pablo Torres, Ibrahim Ferrer (Buena Vista Social Club), Pío Leyva (Buena Vista Social Club), Orlando “Cachaíto” López, Paquito D’Rivera, Cándido Camero, Ruben Blades, Larry Harlow, Bobby Sanabria, Jerry González, Ralph Irizarry, Humberto Ramírez, Harvie S., Dick Hyman, Brian Lynch, Mark Weinstein, Chico Álvarez, Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, Emilio Barretto, Eddie Zervigón, José Fajardo, Rudy Calzado, and many others.

Source: Scott Thompson PR