The spirit of Art Blakey roars in this music as it soars into the heavens. Art is the plainly entitled homage to the towering leader of one of the most influential drummers and bandleaders in Black American music. This is not only because Mr Blakey was – despite his size – a towering presence in music, but also because he employed some of the greatest names in music – Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons, Freddie Hubbard, while Duke Jordan actually led an ensemble that employed Art Blakey, [rather than the other way round].
But Art also best describes the music that Nueva Manteca makes and their readings of these Jazz Messengers classics. The inspiration for this Afro-Cuban ensemble from the Den Haag, in Netherlands was, for many years, its late pianist and guiding spirit: Jens Laurens Hartong – [Hartong] being the other Art referred to in this title – steered this ensemble in its Afro-Cuban direction and shaped its elegant and authentic aesthetic for many years during its nascent period and appears to still be a touchstone for these musicians who have carried on his legacy. And so Art becomes a double-tribute as well as a musical metaphor that unfolds – as always – with uncommon authenticity and reverence to the inspirational rhythms of both Afro-Cuban as well as the Black American Music of the USA.
As with anything influenced by the “African” societal aesthetic, rhythm is central to life. In fact it is so central that if you keep silent anywhere on the African continent the wind itself might echo in harmony with the rhythm of life. Musicians such as Art Blakey [together with his extraordinary stable of composers represented here] was one of the most iconic exponents of this preternatural “African” aesthetic, turning it into a prescient idiom in the music of The Jazz Messengers. To their enormous credit, the arrangers of these Jazz Messengers standards [and ‘standards’ is exactly what they are], and Nueva Manteca have extended this rhythmic “African” volcano to cover its other major sphere of artistic expression: Afro-Cuban music.
“White” bandleaders and musicians have – historically – been less successful at capturing the nuanced subtlety of Afro-Cuban clave patterns because it is music abounding in secret codes and messages exchanged with humour and ribaldry among its practicing musicians. Listening to Cubans play this music is a good way to get lost in these often inside secrets. However, Nils Fischer seems to have cracked that proverbial code and together with Enrique Firpi these two musicians have established a rhythmic “inside” language all their own, together with contrabassist Samuel Ruiz.
The group’s pianist Marc Bischoff has been gifted with magical tumbao and exudes this bass line thunder with sinuous splendour. The horns of Ben van den Dungen and Oscar Cordero are as loud and raucous – and so they should be, playing this music that is aglow with the bluest part of the musical flame. Together, these musicians make for the ideal combustion engine for Art Blakey standards, rendered in the Afro-Cuban idiom. These are classic melodies written by some of the greatest contributors to the Jazz Messengers songbook.
Charts such as “Moanin”, “Dat Dere” and “Blues March”, “Whisper Not” and “This is for Albert” have been refreshed in the Afro-Cuban idiom and played with flawless virtuosity – and almost spiritual reverence to the two dedicatees of this album. This also puts these musicians of Nueva Manteca and their uncompromising musicianship in a rare class of their own. And it makes this album a bejeweled and gleaming work of art that thunders with great Afro-Cuban music all the way from Dan Haag in the Netherlands… think of that for a minute before drinking in the thundering tumbao and clave of the repertoire on Art by Nueva Manteca.
Track list – 1: Moanin’ 2: Blues March; 3: Crisis; 4: Dat Dere; 5: This Is for Albert; 6: No Problem; 7: Whisper Not; 8: Are You Real?
Musicians – Ben van den Dungen: tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone; Oscar Cordero “Chucky”: trumpet; Marc Bischoff: piano; Samuel Ruiz: contrabass; Enrique Firpi: drums; Nils Fischer: congas and percussion
Released – 2022
Label – Timbazo Productions
Runtime – 40:46