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David Chesky: The New York Descargas featuring Giovanni Hidalgo & John Benitez

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John Benitez, Giovanni Hidalgo, David Chesky
In the recording studio: John Benitez, Giovanni Hidalgo, David Chesky

With this magnificent album – The New York Descargas – the intrepid New York composer and pianist and label co-owner, David Chesky now pays tribute to improvised music stretching Latin-Jazz improvisation to infinity and beyond. He does this by expanding the very definition of the trio with two great Puerto Rican musicians: conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and contrabassist John Benitez. In the USA, Florida, replete with its Cuban Diaspora was hitherto the notional capital of the descarga. Perhaps, that southern US state now has to share the glory of this wonderful musical experience with New York.

The descarga – that classic jam-session – was somewhat similar to, and even perhaps inspired, by the free-wheeling soli that African-American musicians brought to jazz improvisation. However, let’s be clear, it is in its uncommon energy, unique harmonic and – in particular – rhythmic conception, the descarga is singularly Afro-Cuban. No doubt, as the African Diaspora has spread and developed through the islands of the region, the descarga is now Afro-Caribbean. Still, there is no doubt that the legendary Cuban contrabassist, Israel “Cachao” López, may be credited – if not for pioneering its practice, then at least being at the centre of many a descarga that churned with the power of a proverbial musical black-hole.

David Chesky: The New York Descargas [album cover]
David Chesky: The New York Descargas [Artwork: Enrique Saguay]

The uniqueness of Mr Chesky’s genius has long been the subject of discussion. He has had a phenomenal love for South American music, championing the cause of Brasilian music as a label boss, with releases of Brasilian music by Badi Assad, Ana Caram and others. The pinnacle of his achievements might be the recordings of Paquito D’Rivera – in particular, Mr D’Rivera’s spectacular recording Portraits of Cuba, which won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album in 1967. Chesky Records also became known for its unique engineering, something that has now evolved into its pathbreaking Binaural microphone – which is not simply a single microphone. According to Chesky it brings you uncommon fidelity, as if putting you right front of the performing musicians, especially if you have special audiophile equipment.

It is with this, arguably, singular recording technique that Mr Chesky displays his deep understanding of the Afro-Cuban idiom and expresses it through his almost insolent virtuosity. This means plenty of bravura elements combined with eloquence that has made Mr Chesky’s pianism unlike anything you may have experienced before. Perhaps Mr Chesky is comparable only to Chick Corea as he is proficient in all styles of music – classical, jazz and Afro-Cuban – or, as we now say, Afro-Caribbean. His strong left hand that seems to work almost independent of the florid side of his melodicism results in what Cubans call as “killer tumbao”, displayed with uncommon genius just like that of the great Hilario Durán.

Thus, Mr Chesky leaps and pirouettes almost like a ballet dancer en point, drawing himself into an orbit that involves the prodigious Giovanni Hidalgo and John Benitez. Then there is the fact that the descargas presented here are performed not by larger ensembles – as is customary in traditional situations – but in the relatively intimate setting of the trio. And what a treat this is for the senses. Mr Hidalgo, one of the greatest congueros outside Cuba gives wing to each improvised solo. His touch is gorgeous, featherlight and full of mighty acts of virtuosity. Mr Benitez is hardly a slouch on his contrabass. [the choice of the contrabass is inspired as it accentuates the primacy of the Binaural Microphone recording technique]. However, engineering apart, this is plainly a terrific display of virtuoso bass-playing.

Master Percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo
Master Percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo

Perhaps the best part of the recording is that each of the eight descargas is unique and could – in itself – make for a whole album. We are not talking here of different key signatures – although this is almost completely true – but that each descarga is like a mighty river of sound meandering seemingly endlessly. You will be seduced by the whole journey, with its twists and turns its rises and waterfall-like plunges into a whole new world of ideas gushing forth from piano, contrabass and conga. It is almost as if the three musicians share a common, febrile musical brain fueled by onrushing nervous energy that results in a plethora of ideas, themes, and gestures, resulting in wave after wave of improvised ideas making just the most memorable music.

Without doubt the highlight of the album is the fact that each musician draws the other into his inventive interplay. There is a surprise at ever turn – hardly ever falling into dull montuno mode – with melodic contours evocative not only of Mr Chesky’s decidedly classical world, but to the hidden recesses of the world of Afro-Caribbean sound unlocked for us by Mr Hidalgo and Mr Benitez, subtly referencing overtones of folk music. Throughout these descargas, the musicians balance lyricism with warmth and clarity, all of this to superb effect. All of this music is delivered with spacious, lifelike sound, notably in the frequently intricate tones and textures of these disparate harmonic and rhythmic instruments, played with uncommon genius.

Deo gratis

YouTube Playlist – David Chesky: The New York Descargas

Music – 1: Descarga Nº. 4; 2: Descarga Nº 1; 3: Descarga Nº 2; 4: Descarga Nº 5; 5: Descarga Nº 7; 6: Descarga Nº 12; 7: Descarga Nº 6; 8: Descarga Nº 8

Musicians – David Chesky: piano; John Benitez: contrabass; Giovanni Hidalgo: congas.

Released: 2024
Label – Chesky Records
Runtime – 46:31

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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