From There to Here is the accomplished debut solo album from world-renowned Cuban violin virtuoso, Omar Puente. The album features nine original self-penned jazz compositions and one jazz standard, Hart and Rodgers' You Are Too Beautiful, arranged as a bolero.
Two tracks, Somebody Backstage and Swings and Roundabouts, are reworked recordings, first featured on Bridges, the highly acclaimed 2006 duo release with pianist Robert Mitchell. Each tune holds a special resonance for Omar. His first electric violin was given to him on his birthday in 1996 by his wife, Debbie, and the album's opening track, My Mrs, refers to both the violin and Debbie!
Rumbiando remembers that Chinese immigration to Cuba was a big influence on its culture; on this track the violin is used in a similar way to the Chinese trumpet. The Thelonius Monk-influenced Just like ‘U' draws on the blues and funk to flavour a Cuban beat; Apunta Un Lapiz explores the full potential of the violin, using pedals more usually associated with the guitar; Talking Bata pays homage to the African rhythms Omar heard whilst growing up; Think Carefully channels rumba and guaguanco, essential parts of Cuban culture; and, finally, Motherland Pulse recognises that African rhythm is the heartbeat of Cuban culture.
Omar has assembled a stellar cast of musicians on From There to Here, including Courtney Pine (woodwind), Robert Mitchell (acoustic piano/electric organ), Dennis Rollins (trombone), Cameron Pierre (acoustic/electric guitar), Darren Taylor and Jimmy Martinez (double bass), Oscar Martinez (percussion), Michel Castellano (drums), Antonio Zappata (vocals/percussion), Dorance Lorza (vibraphone/Cuban guitar), Ayobani Thomas (congas), Babatunde Ayandosu (bata drum), Rasaq Ayandele Oregarde (omele bata drum), Jenny Adejayan (cello), Hazel Correa (violin), Natalie Taylor (viola), and Eska Mtungwazi and Ricardo Pompa (vocals).
Omar has chosen to release the album in the 50th anniversary year of the Cuban revolution; he explains why: ‘I often get called an exile and I am not. Although I live with my British wife in the UK, I choose to remain a resident of Cuba and subject to call-up etc. because my education, health, personality, and all the privileges I have received are the result of people younger than I am now, fighting and dying for the revolution. We may have problems in Cuba but we have pride, strength and creativity, and to do less then my best at anything would be disrespectful to those who fought for us 50 years ago this year. My dad's family arrived in Cuba on slave ships; my mum's family was already there, survivors of the massacre of native Cubans. My dad was a big influence on my life, he loved the violin, and playing it had put him through medical school. He was tall and principled and proud to be a Cuban doctor. I grew up in a new world, one that knew education and healthcare were the most important things a child could have; I also valued cultural development, and I made the most of it'.
Omar says he is ‘a classical musician whose heart beats with a Cuban rhythm, whose soul is African, and whose home is Yorkshire'. He first visited Africa in 2008 with the family that is Courtney Pine's band; he found Nigeria a magical place, and was humbled to be in a country that quite possibly gave birth to his father's family. Omar says he felt: ‘more aware of my roots but also more aware of a new belonging than I would have thought possible outside of Cuba'. Omar also acknowledges his adopted homeland by saying: ‘my history began in Africa, it was written in Cuba, and developed in the UK'.
Omar Puente biog:Omar Puente was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1962. Between the ages of 12 and 18 he studied classical music under Russian and Cuban masters at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana. His nights were spent learning Latin jazz at the feet of Chucho Valdez and Arturo Sandoval, and Cuban music from Ruben Gonzalez and Guillermo Rubalcaba in the city's famous music halls. His formal education was completed at Instituto Superior de Arte, Cuba's university for the performing arts. On graduating, Omar toured with the Jose Maria Vitier band and, after a period as soloist with Agrupacion de Concierto, he joined the Nacional Symphony Orquestra de Cuba (NSOC) where he progressed to first violin chair. During this time, he also worked/recorded with, amongst others, Guillermo Rubalcaba, Orquestra Reve, Charanga Habanera, Pablo Milanes, and Silvio Rodriguez. Omar left the NSOC to become a full time member of the Cuban Boys, spending the next few years travelling the world playing modern Cuban music. He moved to the UK in 1997 and formed Raices Cubanas, a collective of immigrant Cuban musicians occasionally guest led by the late Kirsty MacColl. In recent years Omar has toured with Denys Baptiste's Let Freedom Ring project; he's also a member of Courtney Pine's touring band, and is involved with the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to Raices Cubanas, Omar leads the six-piece Cubania.
Omar's performance [is] even more special as it's not gimmicky at all, [it's just] pure virtuoso jazz-folk-CubanGerry Hectic, flyglobalmusic.com
Omar Puente is capable of producing both poised, elegant melodies and vigorously affecting solos from his bowed instrument, interspersed with judiciously positioned plucked passages that impart a welcome textural varietyChris Parker, vortexjazz.co.uk
I saw Omar first with Denys Baptiste's Let Freedom Ring big band, but prior to that I'd heard about him – when I saw him play, I knew I had to work with him. Since working with this great musician, I have found that, not only is he a complete classical virtuoso – and I do mean complete! – he is also a complete jazz master. I don't know why it's taken him so long to make his debut CD but in working on this project I have found a solid all-round, generous musician skilled in arranging, composing, performing and communicating. The record was recorded over four days, in very good spirit and, to my ears, is the work of a mature developing artist with his own sound which comes forth from his Cuban/British cultural backgroundCourtney Pine CBE