From the earliest times of its existence—certainly during the 1700’s and the baroque era of Johann Sebastian Bach—the organ has been the principle instrument played in sacred music. Its capacity for glorious polyphony has been largely responsible for its use in praise of God’s creation of the heavens and earth. So to call upon God to recall his great works was not unusual. Hundreds of years later in Africa and the Caribbean it is not really a stretch if it is used to call upon the Orishas, to praise them for the existence of man and to ask for a shower of blessings on his works. But is a bold move to employ this instrument in the practice of Afro-Cuban music, a leap that one of Cuba’s émigré guitarists felt inspired to employ in his pursuit of his own sacred and secular art. That guitarist, Benjamin Lapidus has created what he calls a large programme of music dedicated to his roots, which apparently also include (also not a stretch) a filial root from Europe and the Middle East, for Mr. Lapidus is a part of the ancient Jewish Diaspora as well. And together with his Afro-Cuban ones this makes Ochosi Blues not merely interesting, but bold and wonderful as well. Of course, Mr. Lapidus does not play the organ—Jared Gold does—but Mr. Lapidus is, nevertheless, the high priest, concelebrating the cry for the Orishas, with the ineffable Pedrito Martinez, one of the pre-eminent Santeria practitioners. The drums—congas—come from the magical hands of Candido Camero and also from the mighty Bobby Sanabria and so the proverbial choir is now complete.
All this would have come to naught, had Benjamin Lapidus not taken the high road, while producing the music on this album. He integrates a myriad of idioms and still manages to keep it all in the realm of the concrete. And because cultures clash, rather than co-mingle like water and wine, the result is raw and visceral. It is now up to the guitar and the organ to rise above the tumult of the orchestral production. Jared Gold is masterful on organ in his pliant appeal to the Orishas on “Ochosi Blues.” But wait a minute. A shout and chant to the Orishas and a secular chant of the blues? These are, in any recitative, strange bedfellows. But wait another minute and the elegant and primordial hands of Candido Camero enter the proceedings and the glue that binds it all together is now putting the finishing mould to the chants—sacred and secular. That and the mighty placating of the high-priest of the soul sacrifice: Pedrito Martinez. That Mr. Martinez must make his appeals malleable and ductile in order to ring in the changes is also heard on the bookend to “Ochosi Blues, ‘and that is “Yemaya’s Changes.” But all is not said and done until Benjamin Lapidus and his remarkable conceptual ensemble ring in the changes.
Matching challenge with conquest, Mr. Lapidus uses his formidable axe to chop and chomp into familiar pieces—whether from Tin Pan Alley or the Great American Songbook, such as “But Beautiful,” “Here’s That Rainy Day” and “Stella By Starlight,” altering the changes, bringing in familiar and unfamiliar ones to clash with the original changes and to produce a wondrous new sound of surprise. Mr. Lapidus is also a formidable tres player and when he picks up that particularly Afro-Cuban instrument the music is fast and furiously elegant. Note his playing on these tracks and the chances are seduction of the heart and of the mind will be de rigueur. But Mr. Lapidus’ playing is nowhere near as full of trickery as it is on “Ochosi Blues,” and is born of Miles Davis’ exquisite changes on “All Blues,” something that comes to be the standard bearer for this album, packaged with riotous graphics and an exquisite folk art that only would make sense in the case of such a wide explosion of musical colour. Ochosi Blues is an album of lasting beauty.
Track List: Ochosi Blues; I’ll See You on Moonday, Wendell; But Beautiful; Bilongo; The Sweeter the Lovin’ the darker the Roux; Tu Mi delirio/Here’s that Rainy Day; The Latin Side of your Mama; Guajira Organica; Habla Candido; El Manisero; Have you met Ms. Jones; Como Fue; The Five Year Plan; Stella by Starlight; Yemaya’s Changes.
Personnel: Frank Anderson: organ (3, 4, 6, 8, 11 – 14); Candido Camero: congas (2, 4 – 9, 11 – 14); Paul Carlon: tenor saxophone (2, 5, 7) and baritone saxophone (5); T. J. English: lyricist (5); Greg Glassman: trumpet (2, 5, 7); Jared Gold: organ (1, 2, 5, 7, 15); Bobby Harden: vocals (5); Gene Jefferson: alto saxophone (4, 6, 11, 13) and flute (8); Benjamin Lapidus: guitar (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 15) and tres (8, 11, 14); Enid Lowe: vocals (3, 6, 14); Pedrito Martinez: vocals and batá drums (1, 15); Hiram Ramon: vocals (6) and güiro: (11); Bobby Sanabria: drums (1, 2, 4 – 9, 11 – 15); Charlie Sepúlveda: trumpet (10); Elizabeth Frescosia: trombone (5); Aaron Wesitrop: guitar (5).
Label: Tresero Productions | Release date: August 2014
About Benjamin Lapidus
For the last 19 years, Benjamin Lapidus has performed and recorded Cuban tres and guitar on film soundtracks, video games, television commercials, and albums with some of the most notable musicians in Latin music and jazz such as Ibrahim Ferrer and Pío Leyva (Buena Vista Social Club), Orlando “CachaÍto” López, Juan Pablo Torres, Paquito D’Rivera, Cándido Camero, Larry Harlow, Ruben Blades, Típica 73, Pedrito Martínez, Roman Díaz, Adonis Puentes, Pablo Menendez, Bobby Sanabria, Ralph Irizarry, Charlie Sepulveda, Luis Marin, Humberto Ramírez, Harvie S. , Brian Lynch, Mark Weinstein, Chico Álvarez, Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, Emilio Barretto, Eddie Zervigón, José Fajardo, Rudy Calzado, Jose Conde, Kaori Fujii, Roberto Rodríguez, Maurice El Medioni, and many others. Read more…