While almost no one was looking the bassist Yoser Rodriguez has slipped in his maiden album as leader. Rodriguez is not simply another Cuban musician naturalised in Canada, he is – as this album will attest to – a fine musician first, a bassist second, and making a serious contribution to the music he was brought up to love and to play. Proof of this can be heard on Pollen, a programme of ten songs that surprise and entertain delightfully. The surprise comes from the fact that this is not ‘straight ahead’ music with Cuban motifs, but idiomatically composed music deeply influenced by the Afro-Caribbean musical ethos. And that is heard in the evolutionary nature of Rodriguez’s work. You hear the subtle hint of the bolero, son and danzón, fluttering with clave, but you also hear it expressed in a manner that stretches and expresses the idiom in new ways. ‘El Sueño’ is a fine example of this.
Another interesting aspect of the music on this record is that it offers a profound view of the Cuban expatriate. Musicians tend to romanticise this aspect of migration, often mixing it with clumsy sentimentality especially when it comes to longing for the mother country and comparing it with the new experience of migration. But it takes a musician who is deeply socially conscious to see things as they really are. So as much as it is liberating to feel ‘free’ in a new country, with a new experience, it is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Yoser Rodriguez takes a hard look at all of this and comes up with a dispassionate understanding of what it means to be a Cuban in Canada. ‘Raro Mirar’ deals with discrimination, for instance, and although ‘Gente Que’ could be set anywhere, it is no coincidence that it is set in Canada. However, let’s be clear about one thing: All is not gloom and doom on this disc. Pollen is the music of hope.
Yoser Rodriguez is a musician whose music has imbued the ebullience and joy of what it means to be Afro-Cuban. He is a bringer of jollity and his music is filled with the childlike ecstasy of what it means to be alive. His fingers don’t simply pluck and slap the strings of his bass; they are engaged in an interminable dance. Such an effusion of exuberance is indeed infectious and it spreads exponentially through to the pianist, Jeremy Ledbetter – Yoser Rodriguez’s other ‘employer’ in Canefire – and to the other extraordinary musicians along for the ride. I would be remiss if I did not mention Luis Orbegoso, a musical polymath who is heard here not only on his battery of percussion, but also on trombone. The ineffable Eliana Cuevas is also heard on an exquisite ‘Te Le Escapas a Los Años’ and other Canadian stars make cameo appearances, not the least of whom are, wonderful singer-songwriter and bandleader Adonis Puentes, exceptional drummers, percussionists Amhed Mitchel, Chendy Leon and Marito Marques, the great electric guitarist Elmer Ferrer and Roberto Riveron, marvellous bassist who plays masterfully on ‘Entendimiento’.
All of this is exquisitely engineered by Toronto’s own John ‘Beetle’ Bailey at his legendary Drive Shed studio. Most heartening of all is the fact that the Lula Lounge, Toronto’s hottest venue for everything from Jazz, to Afro-Latin, Brasilian and a world of other music has released this on its own imprint, LulaWorld Records. Will the Americans now sit up and take notice again of the Canadian scene, not simply because ‘it exists’, but because some of the finest, most exciting music in the world is made here?
Track List: El Sueño; Raro Mirar; Muchacha; Posible Tus Desos; Pollen; Gente Que; Mi Libertad; Mojito Song; Te Le Escapas a Los Años; Entendimiento.
Personnel: Yoser Rodriguez: bass, acoustic guitar, lead vocals; Jeremy Ledbetter: piano, keyboards, melodica, percussion, kazoo, vocals; Luis Orbegoso: percussion, vocals, trombone (4); Adonis Puentes: vocals (1, 7), vocals (2, 4, 6); Eliana Cuevas: vocals (9); Chendy Leon: drums (1, 10), percussion (2); Marito Marques: drums (6, 7, 9), percussion (5, 6), kalimba (5); Amhed Mitchel: drums (2), vocals (9); Roberto Riveron: bass melody (10); Elmer Ferrer: electric guitar; Christian Overton: trombone; Braxton Hicks: saxophone, clarinet; Aleksander Gajic: violin, viola; Naomi Barton cello; Diego Las Heras: moog synthesizer (6, 9).
Label: LulaWorld Records
Release date: June 2015
Running time: 45:18
Buy Yoser Rodriguez music: amazon