It turns out that time and again the artist and not the politician or even diplomat is his country’s ambassador. Certainly this is true of culture, but more and more it is becoming obvious that the artists wears the flag of culture much better than even those elected to do so. Gustavo Cortiñas is one such artist. But on Desafío Candente he goes much further than merely waving that cultural flag of the country of his birth – Mexico. The Chicago-based composer, drummer and percussion colourist has created a musical palimpsest that carries the weight of the history of colonialism and neocolonialism of the entire southern part of the Americas. Moreover, with inspirational ideas he plumbs the folkloric traditions or various cultural outposts – not only Mexican – resulting in an epic and heroic narrative of resistance, pathos and triumph of human endeavour.
This is a very impressive score that conjures a vivid history with a cinematic sweep. It fuses recitation, vocals and, of course, an orchestral performance that is interpreted by some of the finest musicians in his growing circle of young creative artists. The music has been deeply interiorised and the songs are idiomatically rendered with inventive harmonic and rhythmic beauty. We come face to face with indigenous cultural beauty that has melded with the culture of west and sub-Saharan Africa that was brought to the Americas by the first European colonialists. Mr Cortiñas masterfully sets the table for his musical feast with a brilliant “Overture” [on disc one] following that up with a musical narrative that weaves elements of history including the heroic revolution of the Incas against the Spanish conquistadors by the legendary Inca King Túpac Amaru.
Difficult subjects – from slavery to the savagery that was [and continues to be] perpetrated upon indigenous populations and Blacks who were forced into slavery – are expertly woven into the narrative. Grim subjects are humanely unraveled and often Mr Cortiñas even employs humour poignantly – especially in the bittersweet “Combustible Humano”. Throughout, the composer reveals not only his virtuosity as a percussionist, but also his astute sense of history. He does not shy away from the flaws of recent history; but the overriding, flaming finger is always pointed on the savagery of colonialism. It also bears mention that there is a masterful melding together of European musical gestures and traditional folkloric ones eminently rooted in the rhythms and poetic melodies that are still alive in South American music and dance. The glue that binds it all is the freedom of expression which is countenanced in the improvisatory discipline of Jazz.
While the history that unfolds is a dark one, Mr Cortiñas lets it be known that humanity has survived for millennia thanks to the ineffable mystery of hope. It is an emotion that burns bright through the lyrics of the songs and echoes in the recitation of the powerful narratives, something he has chosen to end – poignantly with one from his inspirational mother Gabriela Fouilloux, on “Un Mundo Donde Quepan Muchos Mundos” – which translates to “A World Where Many Worlds Fit”, a hopeful and inclusive message if ever there was one. This is a scintillating ensemble cast performance by musicians who the clarity of Mr Cortiñas’ writing while never losing sight of the work’s profound drama and message of resilience which is perfectly described by Mr Cortiñas as Desafío Candente or Incandescent Defiance.
Track list – Disc One – 1: Obertura; 2: Abya Yala; 3: Pachacuti; 4: La Fiebre del Oro; 5: El Jinete y el Caballo; 6: La Nostalgia Peleadora de Túpac Amaru; 7: Combustible Humano. Disc Two – 8: La Ruta de Regreso a Guinea está en el Arcoiris; 9: Pax Britannica; 10: Los Caudillos; 11: La Mano Invisible; 12: El Desarrollo Desarrolla la Desigualdad; 13: Desafío Candente; 14: Un Mundo Donde Quepan Muchos Mundos
Personnel – Drew Hansen: trumpet; Artie Black: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Euan Edmonds: trombone; Joaquín García: piano; Matt Gold: guitar [6, 7, 9, 12]; Kitt Lyles: contrabasse; Gustavo Cortiñas: compositions, lyrics , drum set and percussion. Special Guests – Xavier Quijas Yxayotl: flute and ancestral instruments [2, 14]; Javier Resendiz: piano ; Roy McGrath: tenor saxophone ; Victor Junito González: percussion ; Bobby Delgado: percussion ; Javier Quintana-Ocasio: percussion ; Juan Pastor: percussion ; Gros Ngolle Pokossi: bass ; Yuri Hevia: percussion [9, 13]; Damián Rivero: vocals ; Jeronimo González: jarana ; Victor Goines: clarinet ; Luzius Devoun: vocals ; Edward Carpio: chorus, vocals and huiro . Texts: Eduardo Galeano – except 2 [Angelina Suyul], 3 [anonymous], 10 [Subcomandante Marcos] and 12 [Gustavo Cortiñas]. Spoken Word – Graciela Morales ; Angela Suyul: lyrics and recitation ; Esteban Martínez ; Mercedes Inéz Martínez ; Omar Torres-Kortright ; Carlos Robles ; Maria Allemana ; Stephanie Woods Machado ; Sebastián Valenzuela ; Andrés Cortiñas ; Daniel Castro ; Nancy Pantoja ; Gabriela Fouilloux .
Released – 2020
Label – Woolgathering Records [WR014]
Disc One 52:36 Disc Two 43:47