Spirit of Cuba
There could not be many rich music vaults within the world music realms as EGREM. The legendary recording company has played host to the whos who of Cuban music legends and has become the recording Mecca through which the best musicians and music have passed through for over 60 years.
There are myths flitting around over the contents of the treasure trove in the EGREM studio - this inner sanctum is known to contain
untold musical riches. We are given a peek into them through Warner Musics remastered Jazzcuba - which is essentially the international release for Rumor Records retrospective for the Spanish-speaking world - in May.
The imprints 10 compilation albums trace the origins of the genre and the individuals who helped shape its various guises. The last such "memorable" enterprise was courtesy of Escondida Musics Cuban Essentials (2005) which ostensibly sought to jumpstart fading interest in the Buena Vista Social Club bandwagon.
Sourcing their materials from the EGREM vault (reported to hold in excess of 40,000 tracks), Warner Music claimed to have uncovered considerably more exciting versions of the old classics. EGREM archivist Jorge Rodriguez was roped in to team up with music and film director and producer Jose Luis Ruperez and Cuba jazz artiste Bobby Carsesses for the Jazzcuba project.
Instead of revisiting Escondida Music moments and earlier works, Jazzcuba concentrates on the evolution of the music between the 1950s and 1980s.
There are various stages in the development of Cuban jazz during this period and these are represented by the leading names of the scene: Chucho Valdes, Bebo Valdes, Cachao, Chico OFarril, Los Amigos, Orquestra Cubana de Musica Moderna and the outstandingly familiar Ruben Gonzalez and Omara Portuondo. While jazzs roots in Cuba stretch to the late 19th century, its progress also coincided with that of the American equivalent, which Cuban jazz inherited and innovated to make its own. The change in direction for Cuban music as a whole arrived in 1920s when both strains of jazz interacted - the visits of American orchestras leading to the boom in jazz bands well into the 1950s.
The years between 1940s and 1960s saw the export of Cuban jazz musicians to the United States - principally New York - where the cross-pollination eventually led to the creation of Latin jazz. Back in Cuba, jazz outfits and solo performers continued to
grow as the genre challenged the likes of Quinteto Instrumental de Musica Moderna, Los Amigos and composers and musical arrangers Chico OFarrill and Felipe Dulzaides. The 1970s belonged to Jesus Dionisio "Chucho" Valdes - one of Latin jazzs greatest pianists - and his extraordinary efforts with his celebrated band Irakere.
It is apt that Warner Musics Jazzcuba begins with Valdes. We may think that Valdes is a robust performer with his almost 50 years in the arena until we learn his father Ramon "Bebo" Valdes, 89, himself a pianist of great renown, is still straddling the stage at his golden age. The junior Valdes, who turns 66 on Oct 9, has been compared with Duke Ellington and often cited as a national treasure. The selection in Chucho Valdes Jazzcuba Volumen 1 offers a concise preview of his early work. The selection emphasizes on previously unavailable recordings outside Cuba.
Most of the material for the 15-track Chucho Valdes - dazzling in all its outward simplicity - are drawn from four instrumental pieces composed by Valdes, who contributed four, and a group of outstanding composers and musicians such as Tata Guines, Silvio Rodriguez, the duo of Luis Yanez and Rolando Gomez plus Enrique Hernandez, between the late 1960s and mid-1980s. Chucho Valdes sets the pace for the subsequent albums, the second of which is Bebo & Cachao Jazzcuba Volumen 2.
Ramon "Bebo" Valdes - who won his fifth Grammy in three years early last year - is credited with recording the first descargas (Cuban jazz jam session) and nurturing Cuban jazz in its formative years as the bandleader of the celebrated Tropicana club. Bebos latest shot to global fame was the Latin Grammy Awards win in 2006 for Bebo De Cuba which had him leading a big band. But he had stone-cast his name in pre-Castro Cuba and continued honing his craft in exile in Europe before settling down in Stockholm.
Since his "rediscovery" in the mid-1990s, Bebo - a master of European-Cuban hybrid dance music of danzon and bolero - prompted a succession of albums, aided by another lost generation of Cuban musicians. Bebo & Cachao - comprising 12 numbers - captures him and virtuoso double bassist, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, in a gorgeous jazz setting in the 1950s, playing off each other with the joy of making
music. One cannot really ask for more than these fine introductions.
Another illustrious pianist Pedro "Peruchin" Justiz - passed away 30 years ago - has a whole album, Peruchin Jazzcuba Volumen 8, dedicated to his signature tunes, including the reinterpretations of George Gershwins Rhapsody In Blue and the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein classic All the Things You Are. Peruchin learned his trade under pioneering jazz band director Armando Romeu, the guide to many stellar Cuban musicans. Fortifying Peruchin is undoubtedly the involvement of Buena Vista stalwart Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez and a wise choice of work that range from slow to up-tempo, highlighting both the compact use of the piano and double bass within a clear design.
Guapacha is the first to feature vocals in the Jazzcuba series and they belonged to Amado "Guapacha" Borcela, a scat man widely regarded as a singer of tremendous potential before his death at the age of 32 in 1966. Guapacha has only an album to his name and all nine tracks in that release make up the bulk of Jazzcuba Volumen 4. The highlight in this section of Guapacha is the seminal take on the Valdes standard Indestructible, among other important entries during the brief heady days of Chucho Valdes & Combo, for whom Guapacha was the front man.
The death of Guapacha partly led Valdes to disband his group and join the government endorsed Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna (OCMM) to pursue his innovations. The band was apparently charged with the lofty responsibility of merging big band, symphony and jazz on a distinctive Cuban canvass. Even though almost every musician, composer and conductor of distinction had passed through OCMM, this outfit was not part of the frontline in the revolution of Cuban music.
OCMM regularly changed leadership and the self-titled Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna Jazzcuba Volumen 10 - is helmed by Rafael Somavilla.
Conductor Somavilla has assembled an array of artisan performers for this session. They included Valdes, saxophonist Paquito DRivera and guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales, who would later form Irakere which is featured in Volumen 5. But the end product on Volume 10 veers from the forgettable to the forgivable, with only the evergreen Guantanamera adding any gloss to the project.
If ever there was one compilation in Jazzcuba sequence that deserves a snub, Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna would definitely be that casualty.
Source: By Nantha Kumar, The Star Online.