Editor’s Pick · Album of the Month ·
One of the greatest aspects of art is that it has never been restricted by geography. It is just that we have a hard time looking beyond the horizons that we know. But a restless spirit would always roam where few of us have ventured to discover something we never really knew existed. Take Cuba, for instance. Until Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer dug deep in Cuba, we had not really ‘discovered’ the treasure trove of Cuban musicians playing jazz with such bristling ingenuity. But the tropical heat of Cuba has also housed the world’s finest conservatoires of music. These repositories of learning have consistently produced generations of exceptional graduates. Some of the most glorious writers, arrangers and instrumentalists have come out of the fabled music schools of Havana and Santiago de Cuba. It is us listeners who have been slow to catch on.
This outstanding two-disc set, Abrazo: The Havana Sessions may not be the first of its kind, where a foreign producer has gone to Cuban with the intention of documenting Cuba’s talent. However, there is something unique about it. It is the first time a foreign producer has brought with him music by living composers of contemporary music from outside Cuba to be embraced and performed by Cuban musicians, who it was expected, would bring a unique dimension to these newly commissioned works. And what a memorable journey it has turned out to be. The Havana Sessions is a wonderful celebration of the classical culture that pervades a Cuba that few of us have really experienced. In a year when many nearly excellent recordings have been produced by a slew of well-known producers, Bob Lord’s production Abrazo: The Havana Sessions stands out as something truly excellent in every respect.
We have come to take for granted the phenomenal technique of Cuban musicians, but their playing here of these new thorough-composed works is exceptional even by the highest standards of music – with eloquent and heartfelt instrumental and choral performances throughout. The pieces for brass, reeds and woodwinds, which are on Disc 1 are performed with exceptional facility by musicians, some of whom have already made a name for themselves elsewhere – in the realm of Jazz, for instance. It is not just the nobility and imperiousness of these works that the musicians have captured so well. Pieces such as ‘Hot Miami Nights’ and ‘Jazz Instrumental Suite, Jazz Vocal Suite’ are aglow with a range of colour, light and shade that is expertly modulated by these outstanding musicians. The instrumentalists reach out to the limits of known territory here, and inhabit everything – both written and improvised with the kind of sophistication that conveys the profound beauty of each composition.
On the vocal side of things – on Disc 2 – there is no mistaking the musical qualities either: the superb choir Vocal Luna, under the baton of Willmia Verrier Quiñones sing with judicious weight and solemnity in Roger Bourland’s ‘Alarcón Madrigals, Book 3’. The tender voices soar in both serene and sumptuous passages. Later the warmly sensual brass and woodwinds make lovely contributions to the long orchestral ritornello; once the choir re-enter later, small instrumental details are sensitively enunciated. Both Vocal Luna and Schola Cantorum Coralina conducted by Alina Orraca acquit themselves with full honours in ‘Alarcón Madrigals, Book 3’ as well as ‘After the Fall’. Bob Lord’s supremely accomplished production is a classic of its kind and could well open the musical floodgates to Cuba all over again.
Track List: Disc 1 – Hot Miami Nights (Timothy Lee Miller); On an Autumn Day (Timothy Lee Miller); Bugs & Gas (Don Bowyer); Jazz Instrumental Suite, Jazz Vocal Suite (Bunny Beck – arr. Juan Manuel Ceruto, SGAE). Disc 2 – Alarcón Madrigals, Book 3 (Roger Bourland); Burlesque (John A. Carollo); Warm Winds in Havana (Margaret Brandman); Coloring with Water (Mel Mobley); After the Fall (Michael Murray).
Personnel: Disc 1 – (Track 1, 2, 3): Joaquín Betancourt: conductor; Yuniet Lombido Prieto, Javier Zalba: alto saxophones, flutes; Michel Herrera, Osmel Cuellar: tenor saxophones; Evaristo Denis: baritone saxophone; Lázaro Oviedo, Tommy Laurent Garcia, Alberto Mesa, Julio Rigal: trumpets; Yoandy Argudín, Diana Saíz, Osley Patridge, Ivanovi Garzón “El Pipi”: trombones; Raúl Verdecia “El Chino”: guitar, classical guitar; Lázaro Rivero “El Fino”: bass, acoustic bass; Emilio Morales: piano; Enrique Plá: drums, bell; Bernardo Boloños: congas, miscellaneous percussion. (Track 4): Carlos Miyares: tenor saxophone; Yasek Manzano: trumpet; Yoandy Argudin: trombone; Lazaro Rivero: bass; Rolando Luna: piano; Oliver Valdez: drums; Mary Paz: congas. Disc 2 (Track 1) Vocal Luna – Willmia Verrier Quiñones: conductor; (Track 2) Fadev Sanjudo Rodríguez: trumpet; Merlyn de la Caridad Corona Pérez: guitar; (Track 3) Leonardo Jiménez: soprano saxophone; Yuniet Lombido Prieto: alto saxophone; Aliet Gonzales: tenor saxophone; Javier Zalba: baritone saxophone; Andres Coayo: percussion; (Track 4) Maricel Gonzales Valdés: trombone; Susana Venereo Marlin: French horn; Fadev Sanjudo Rodríguez: trumpet; (Track 5) Schola Cantorum Coralina, Alina Orraca: conductor; Poem by Jodo Kanter. Executive Producer: Bob Lord.