Thirty years ago the composer and pianist Michele Rosewoman consummated her deep love for the great island of Cuba and its glorious music with her seminal African-Cuban American ensemble New You-Uba, a group that featured among others the master folklorist, percussionist and vocalist Orlando “Puntilla” Ríos. The band founded in 1983 continued to perform together until Mr. Ríos’ death in 2008. Five years later Ms. Rosewoman re-constitute this monumental ensemble with a new cast of characters, including folklorists, percussionists and vocalists Pedrito Martinez and Román Diaz and a host of other stellar musicians who under Ms. Rosewoman’s sterling leadership not only re-created the old grandeur of the group, but also put a new halo of sound around their new disc: 30 Years – A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America. It is as much of a look into the musical past of the composer’s proclivities as it is a journey deep into the interior landscape of African-Cuban music and into the esprits anima of the composer and musician. Neither chronological nor governed by either national origins’ it is a most creative exploration of sources of musical inspiration and their metamorphoses, in fact the musician (herself) is transformed into the music by placating the Orishas in a dramatic, 2-CD long Santeria worship through music.
We also hear on both CDs, often quite virtuoso, works inspired by musical worship that goes back several centuries that illustrates placating of the communion of saints and resident spirits with the rolling thunder of batá drums (principally on tracks 1 – 5 on CD1 and tracks 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on CD2); fugal, canonic and variations the music is informed by folklore and virtually symphonic sweep that is rhapsodic and melismatic. Here Michele Rosewoman leads the charge ahead of her drummers with piano and almost hushed vocalastics, joined in by Pedrito Martinez and Román Diaz, and Abraham Rodriguez (on tracks 1, 3, and 4 on CD1 and on tracks 1 – 6 on CD2). The members of New-Yor-Uba take as their mission of reinvigorating our experience of African-Cuban music. Their interpretations are lively and stirring, imaginative and alert to opportunities for taking time and adding ornamentation. Their own dazzling contributions on an array of tracks on both CDs that have been assembled to showcase their individual talents confirm their skill and command of idiom. And no one is more proficient in this regard that the pianist and composer herself.
Among other diverse highlights are the arrangements of this wonderful music on both discs that has been intimately scored for voices, brass, reeds and woodwinds, bass and percussion, and the fourteen tracks on both discs are brilliantly conceived, with the brass, reeds and winds weaving in and out of the voices to create a magical tapestry of sound. Equally memorable are the contributions of the bass (Yunior Terry) and drums (Adam Cruz) that consistently hold fast to the pulse of the music, often creating interesting melismas of their own. All of this is of course overridden by simple, evocative performances of the worshipful Santeria songs themselves. There is extraordinary verve and energy in the work of the percussionists, But I also rate Michele Rosewoman’s performance highly. Her playing, always thoughtful and imaginative, casts an individual light on this complex, endlessly enthralling work.
Track List: CD1 – Divine Passage, Dance for Agayu, Natural Light, Por Ahora y Para Siempre, Vamp for Ochún, Old Calabar, Rezo a Ochún; CD2 – In praise of Spiritual Guides, Perdón, Obalube, Where Water Meets Sky, Agua Dulce del Posque, Warrior, Earth Secrets.
Personnel: Freddie Hendrix: trumpet, flugelhorn; Oliver Lake: soprano and alto saxophones, flute; Mike Lee: tenor saxophone, flute; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone, tuba; Michele Rosewoman: piano, Rhodes, vocals (all tracks); Yunior Terry: double bass; Adam Cruz: drums; Pedrito Martinez: lead vocals, batá, congas; Román Diaz: batá, congas, vocals (5); Abraham Rodriguez: batá (CD1: 1, 3, 4; CD2: 1, 6), vocals, clave; Daniel Carbonell: batá (CD1: 2, 5; CD2: 3, 4, 5), shaker; Nina Rodriguez: additional vocals (CD1: 1, 3, 5; CD2: 1, 3, 4, 6, 7); Chanell Crichlow: tuba (CD2: 4).
About Michele Rosewoman and New Yor-Uba : Michele Rosewoman, a vanguard and pioneering artist in her field, mines acoustic modern jazz, sophisticated funk, dynamic electric fusion and elements of Cuban folkloric music, to create a distinct musical experience. Her command and rich vocabulary elegantly expands the horizons and boundaries of jazz while remaining firmly rooted in tradition. With a more than 30-year history, Rosewoman stands out in her class as a visionary pianist, composer bandleader and gifted performer. Read more…