Ronnie Cuber – Live at Jazzfest Berlin

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“The power and sassiness of Ronnie Cuber’s playing is captured by the breathtaking manner in which he is able to imbue the notes he plays with such suppleness and elasticity that his phrases billow and flow with unbroken lines of undulating confetti. It is in the celebratory sound of his music that flaunts both diaphanous sheets of sound as well as glorious soulfulness.”

In Norse mythology the sound of the baritone might herald the Götterdämmerung, the proverbial Twilight of the Gods which was like the dawn before they wreaked damnation and destruction on everything in their path. But not when Ronnie Cuber lets his unique embouchure embrace the mouthpiece of his baritone horn. Then is his vision of Götterdämmerung his metaphorical Twilight of the Gods sings in the afterglow of that twilight, when the grace and beauty that preceded that chaos is recaptured in swift and elegant motion. Mr. Cuber`s thundering blitzkrieg of bellows, growls and gliding snorts that accompany his swinging modes is the most memorable aspect of the rearrangement of the world of the baritone saxophone; almost as wonderful as the re-imagination of the new world order of music at the bottom of the registers of all bellowing baritone horns. This is some of the magic that is infused into Mr. Cuber’s majestic playing on Live at Jazzfest Berlin for the baritone saxophonist sounds as if he inhabits the centre of the magisterium that lies at the heart and soul of his big horn.

The power and sassiness of Ronnie Cuber’s playing is captured by the breathtaking manner in which he is able to imbue the notes he plays with such suppleness and elasticity that his phrases billow and flow with unbroken lines of undulating confetti. It is in the celebratory sound of his music that flaunts both diaphanous sheets of sound as well as glorious soulfulness. This is what attracted the great Charles Mingus to Mr. Cuber: his ability to channel not just the joy of man’s desiring, but the axiomatic triumph of human endeavour. Mr. Cuber appears to be acutely conscious of this throughout the set(s) represented on this record and he can be heard to entreat and egg on his quartet to feel the energy of the music that is flowing through all of their collective spirit as he leads them ever onward. And there is ample evidence of this in the charts that grace the entire album. There is also a predominant influence of the Latin tinge in the charts that represent this classic couple of sets.

Horace Silver’s beautiful “Tokyo Blues” announces the arrival of the quartet. There is the haunting memory of when Mr. Cuber shared the stage with Eddie Palmieri on this song, but here, Kenny Drew Jr. is most impressive in his handling of the mounting challenge of this swinging tune. Both Mr. Cuber and his pianist play with wistful honesty as they rocket their way through this chart, melding clave with the water coloured funkiness of Noh. Mr. Drew Jr. also flourishes in the harmonics of the venerable Clare Fischer’s tune, “Coco B”. Mr. Cuber eggs on his rhythm section masterfully although the drummer Ben Perowsky and bassist Rubén Rodríguez need no specific encouragement; both men play in the pocket propelling song forward as well as creating a glorious polyrhythmic backdrop for the chart. The ensemble gets more intricate and beautiful when Mr. Cuber calls “Passion Fruit,” a breathtaking tune written to the changes of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Here Mr. Cuber reveals that he has a sparkling intellect as he rings in the changes with remarkable imagination. But it is in the chart that melds Afro-Cuban rhythms with the sly infusion of samba that Mr. Cuber and the quartet find themselves soaring in the most spirited fashion. “Arroz con pollo” is just that classic chart.

Kenny Drew Jr. shows off his writing and performing skills, and also displays sublime musicianship on his own compositions. “Things Never Were What They Used To Be” and “Perpetuating The Myth” show the pianist to be an astute historian as well as clever at complete harmonization. And in the afterglow of “Tell Me A Bedtime Story” the Quartet achieves a rare cooling down of the otherwise simmering temperature of the music from these classic sets on its European tour. This is a record both for aficionados of Ronnie Cuber’s music as well as true connoisseurs of latter day fusion of bebop with a taste of things Latin.

Tracks: Tokyo Blues; CoCo B; Things Never Were What The Used To Be; Passion Fruit; Tell Me A Bed Time Story; Perpetuating The Myth; Arroz con pollo.

Personnel: Ronnie Cuber: baritone saxophone; Kenny Drew Jr.: piano; Rubén Rodríguez: bass; Ben Perowsky: drums.

Ronnie Cuber on the Web: www.ronniecubermusic.com

Label: SteepleChase | Release date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama