After the recent formation of the Cuban quintet El Comité you would be tempted to wonder if another Cuban supergroup was possible. Now that matter can be put to rest after the release of the Cuban Jazz Report quartet disc. This is a band like “no other” – and this is an epithet used with careful consideration, but also one that is well deserved and requiring no qualifications whatsoever.
Writer Abel Alazo perfectly introduces this superb group: “The Cuban Jazz Report is a project by Eliel Lazo (percussion) and Yasser Pino (bass) with the presence of two of Cuban music royalty, the drummer Raúl Pineda and, on the piano, the amazing Javier “Caramelo” Gutiérrez Massó.”
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The quartet is grouped around Eliel Lazo, who produced this album and wrote five of its tracks. Mr Lazo is a Cuban émigré living in Denmark who is a percussionist with a superbly smoky voice, the rasp of which is all over the music of this recording. Having separated himself from the Cuban music scene might easily have been a double-edged sword for Mr Lazo, but it clearly isn’t. While he is a musician and percussionist of considerable standing in Europe and the US, he still enjoys an enviable reputation in Cuba. He’s worked with Cuban artists and ensembles as Chucho Valdés, Carlos Del Puerto, Oscar Valdés and others. In the US he’s recorded with Herbie Hancock, Bob Mintzer and Michel Camilo. He has also recorded with many celebrated European and international artists such as the Danish Radio Big Band, the WDR Big Band and The Savage Rose, to name a few.
Bassist Yasser Morejon Pino, who co-produced this album, was born in Havana, and resides in Copenhagen, Denmark. Pino is graduated as concertist and classical guitar teacher from the Conservatory Amadeo Roldán and is also graduated as contrabass player and teacher from the Rhythmic Conservatory of Copenhagen. In Cuba Pino worked as a bass player with bands such as Aries, Natura, Chucho Valdes Jr, Roberto Fonseca & Temperamento. Currently, he collaborates in multiples projects and bands, playing extensively with renamed musicians. He also teaches contrabass, electric bass, guitar and ensemble.
Eliel Lazo is not simply a percussionist, nor just a singer; he is a fine musician. His music on other recordings as well has a sculpted character to it. Songs are extremely well thought out; melody, harmony and rhythm all work together to serve a narrative that may or may not include a vocal (story), or a recitative. When these devices are used the music soars to a heavenly realm – as in “Havana Chants” and “One Night One Song” The latter song also gives us a detailed view of his gifts as a percussionist. His assumed tutelage under the great Tata Güines set him up for success. Best of all his music seems almost devoid of ego. Gratuitous displays of virtuosity are eschewed as everything is used in the service of the music. This is why he is able to take the music of this supergroup to extraordinary heights. After all his musical compatriots are no ordinary men.
Javier Gutiérrez Massó, to whom one of the greatest cantaores, Enrique Morente, gave his nickname “Caramelo” is a pianist with striking tumbao and the ability to “sing” as he plays and invents around melodic lines. He brings an arresting textural palette with harmonic conceptions that speak volumes about his remarkable pianism. He contributes two tracks on this album. Yasser Pino’s contributions come in the form of astonishing technique of muscularity, something that enables him to create vivid bottom-line textures of his own. He also contributes two tracks on this album. Drummer/percussionist Raúl Pineda, who has been named as one of today’s best and most innovative Latin drummers in the world, raises the level of percussion colour by creating a dazzling rhythmic soundscape.
All of this makes for music which can be enormously powerful as well as – and this speaks to Mr Lazo’s genius – music of intensity, deeply felt emotion and poetry. “One Night One Song” has it all, but so does “Cuban Blues” and other works by Mr Lazo, Yasser Pino and Javier Massó. There is a certain nostalgia in Mr Lazo’s vocals that might lead us to believe that he longs for home (listen to the wordless vocals of “Monday Evening” and the entire musical expression of “Camina y Vé”), but is quite prepared to celebrate his Afro-Cuban-ness in other musical ways too. And this is true for all the members of this amazing group. Perhaps living outside Cuba and remaining Cuban in every way is something we could respect and enjoy (not that anyone may be complaining) in ways that are quite different and yet just as wonderful as what we might be served up by musicians closer to home.
Track list – 1: Havana Chants; 2: Cromason; 3: La Caminadora; 4: Cuban Style Blues; 5: Nuevo Amanecer; 6: Para Luisa; 7: One Night One Song; 8: Monday Evening; 10: Yo Soy
Personnel – Javier Gutiérrez Massó “Caramelo”: piano and chorus; Yasser Morejon Pino: bass and chorus ; Raúl Pineda: drums, bàtá drums and chorus; Eliel Lazo: percussion, vocals and chorus
Released – 2019
Label – Stunt Records
Runtime – 56:33