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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

With or without a Grammy, the vital legacy of Afro-Cuban jazz is reinvented

by: La Jiribilla, Cuba

What is not transmitted, does not exist. The Grammy privileges the most commercial media categories: album, recording, revelation, pop, rock, Bruno Mars in stardom and the sinking of Despacito. The rest are for consumption by specialised amateurs or become mere record references. They do not qualify for the red carpet show.

It is necessary to delve carefully into the lists -not in the newspapers, nor in the television reports, nor in the headlines of social media- to know that something good happened in the category Best Instrumental Composition: Afro-Cuban jazz; through the encounter between the Mexican of Cuban origin, based in the United States, Arturo O 'Farrrill and the Cuban Chucho Valdés; they won the award when up against four other candidates of excellence.

The merit is greater when you actually listen to Choros #3 of Vince Mendoza, with the orchestra of the German television station WDR; Alkaline by Pascal Le Boeuf, with his group the Jack Quartet; Home free by percussionist Nate Smith, from Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere and Warped Cowboy by director and arranger Chuck Owen with his band The Surge Jazz. They are all North American composers who, using jazz language, experiment with new structures and timbral possibilities in their works.

Arturo and Chucho hit the bull's eye with Three Revolutions, the second cut of the first album from the double album Familia, by the independent label Motema, based in the New York suburb of Harlem, where they met up at the end of 2016 to make this record for September 2017.
The tracks conceived for this production, especially on record number one, pay tribute to the parents of both musicians: Chico O 'Farrill (1921 - 2001) and Bebo Valdés (1918 - 2013), essential figures in the development of Afro-Cuban jazz. One was born in Havana, the other in Quivicán, a small town near the Cuban capital.

Chico developed most of his career in the United States, although between 1955 and 1965 he settled in Mexico. His talent as an orchestrator was tested by clarinetist Benny Goodman who used it in the late 40s. But when producer Norman Granz induced him to create the Afro Cuban Jazz Suite in 1950, he made a spectacular leap in articulating Cuban rhythms with the jazz mainstream - which Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo and Mario Bauzá had been doing - and add the long breath of the morphological and harmonic conventions of western matrix concert music.

While in Mexico Dámaso Pérez Prado made revolution with the mambo; Chico, who also assimilated the ways of the mambo, gave another order to that revolution. This can be seen in his works such as Suite Manteca (1954) and Oro, incense and myrrh (1975) for Dizzy Gillespie; Aztec Suite (1959) for Art Farmer; Three Afro Cuban Jazz Moods (1970) for Clark Terry; Suite Tanga (1992) for Mario Bauzá and Trumpet Fantasy (1995) for Wynton Marsalis.

Bebo was rediscovered by music lovers for their concerts and the album ‘Lágrimas negras', with flamenco singer Diego el Cigala, but it was a legend long ago, forged in the heat of the Havana nights, the recording studios, the Tropicana cabaret, their work with Benny Moré and Lucho Gatica, the creation of the Sabor de Cuba orchestra and the invention of the batanga rhythm.

How not to join Chico and Bebo, when their children have also been and are pillars of one of the most internationalized aspects of Cuban popular music? Chucho is the most important pianist of Cuban jazz, the founder of Irakere and The Afro Cuban Messengers, the author of contemporary classics such as Misa negra, Juana 1600, Mambo influenced and many innovative themes at the same time. Arturo, trained at the Manhattan School of Music, gave new impetus to the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra which he inherited in 2001.

This grouping is the basis of the first of the Family discs. Any of the six pieces contained in that session could have been nominated or awarded but the one that caught the attention was Three Revolutions, written by Arturo O 'Farrilll for the band (four trumpets, four saxophones, three trombones and a percussion section) and Chucho as a soloist on the piano.

The composer assimilates in the introduction procedures close to the Stravinsky of the Ebony Concerto more certain friction with the atonalism, but later he decanted, rooted in a rhythmic groove concept, for the tracing of a contrapuntal fabric of pure Latin flavor. It is a work for Chucho to show his powerful pianism, both in the most intricate passages and in those that demand the virtuosity that distinguishes him.

I am sure that neither Arturo nor Chucho, like their children, protagonists of the third generation and the other album on the double album, agreed with a Grammy. The prize came and it's fine. If it hadn't come it would have made no difference. Familia, with its Three Revolutions is important because it honors a lineage and opens a channel to the future: Afro-Cuban jazz continues to expand with this sound and verifies its unbeatable state of health.

link to original review in La Jiribilla in spanish

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