Saturday, November 8, 2008

breaking the pattern

With the exception of the second blog, which jumped ahead to 2004 with the date in Berlin, which by the way is coming out this winter, I have been going chronologically and am up to my 'hit' album Con Alma, 26 weeks on the charts and thanks to an NPR interview with Scott Simon number one on the Jazzweek world chart and number two on the jazz chart for a few weeks after the interview aired on NPR stations nationwide. But I've been listening to one of two and a half albums I recorded last Spring and it is so phenomenal that I have to break the pattern and talk about it.

The picture is of Pedrito Martinez, winner of the Thelonious Monk prize on hand drums, the singer and leader of the drums on Algo Más and the congero on Con Alma, for which he won best Latin Jazz Percussionist on 2007 on the Latin Jazz Corner poll (I won best Latin Jazz Flutist in the same poll). Pedrito is on the ascendent, he plays with everybody and the depth of his knowledge of the tradition is as profound as any drummers, he is lightening fast and has the must advanced rhythmic conception of any drummer I have ever heard. Pedrito surrounds himself with the very best musicians playing on the edge of Latin jazz and his choice of his compadre Mauricio Hererra as the drummer for Con Alma gave me a demonstration of what the young Cuban cats were up to. But that is the Con Alma story, which has another hook that I will get to in another blog.

Marty Cohen is the founder of Latin Percussion (LP), and the greatest friend to the community of hand drummers in NY. He respects them, is respected by them and has given them countless opportunities to perform and document their music. Of course, he made a nice living doing it, and an LP conga drum is in the musical instrument exhibit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, along with the most beautiful and rare instruments in all of human history. No small accomplishment for a Jewish engineer in New Jersey who made a cow bell on a small lathe in his garage for Johnny Pacheco in 1961. Cowbells were as scarce as hen's teeth in NY in the 50's and Pacheco, who had gone to Automotive Trades High School in the Bronx (with Barry Rogers), the magic combination that along with Eddie and Charlie Palmieri invented the musical scene that turned into the Salsa revolution, asked Marty Cohen it he could make a cowbell for him. That became the famed Pacheco bell of the early 60's, the gold standard for timbale players from then on. Fiber glass congos followed and LP is to Latin drums what Coca Cola is to soft drinks.

Anyway, Marty Cohen had a birthday party at his house. I knew Marty since 1961 (two Jewish guys in the middle of the South Bronx as Puerto Ricans took ownership of their musical heritage and transformed it into into one of the major musics of the world (Salsa). When I started to play again, we got back in touch and so he invited me to his party. Marty has a gorgeous house in Northern New Jersey and he laid on more great Cuban food than I have ever seen in one place. The house was so jammed with musicians and friends that you could barely find a place to sit and as Barry Rogers used to say 'grease,' that is eat with total abandon. I managed, stuffing myself like crazy. Their was a big room set up for musicians to play, three sets of congas, piano, drums, amps, timbales. I knew the sax player, Ivan Rentas, and I had my flute with me. But there was nothing happening, everybody was eating, talking and looking at the great recording and photography equipment that Marty had in his studio. Pedrito saw me and came over, and thanked me for using him on Con Alma, which he seemed to think was a big deal. I was soon in the middle of a bunch of musicians I didn't know, lots of people giving me lots of good energy about the recording. I was stuffed beyond belief and really needed to sit down. As I walked away from the musicians, Pedrito said, 'when are we going to do another record?'. I smiled and headed for a empty seat on couch. The musicians started to play in the next room. There were at least 5 drummers playing, with a loud electric piano and electric bass. Ivan had the microphone stuck all the way into the bell of his tenor sax and I could barely hear him. There was no was I could play the flute with the band that loud. I had seriously over-eaten, it was late, the noise level was murderous. I saw Marty, thanked him and left.

The next week I got an email from Juan Wust, the engineer who had recorded Algo Más. His 17 year old son had died in a tragic accident a few years ago, and he was producing a concert to raise money for a scholarship fund for students in his son's high school. Pacquito Rivera was head-lining the band and I knew Juan's son. Of course I would buy a ticket. When I got to St Peters College in Jersey City for the event, the auditorium, was surprisingly empty, instruments on the band stand, but the guys hanging around with friends in the audience. I said hello to Pacquito who was sitting talking to some people a few rows in front of me and I laid my two latest albums on him (one can always hope). Pedrito came over and sat down next to me. He said it again, 'when are we going to do another album?' I said, 'If you can find me a piano player and a bass player who play as good as you do, get two more drummers and we can record.' Pacquito got up to go on the bandstand as did Pedrito. I didn't think anything of his remark, and so was very surprised when a few days later, in mid-March, I got a phone call from Pedrito saying he could get the guys for March 30 and 31st. I was in a bind. I had committed myself to record a Brazilian record with Nilson Matta and Kenny Barron, a very expensive project. And I had given a $1,000 deposit to Argentinian bass player Pablo Aslan so he could bring up an Argentinian piano player from Buenos Aires to record a tango album the first week in April. But to turn Pedrito down was to risk being seen as 'jive.' After all, I had set him a challenge. So I said to myself, 'what the hell.' my house in Glen Ridge was an ATM (the housing market hadn't totally tanked yet) and if I did another album I would just be pulling money out of my home equity line as I had planed to do for the other albums. I said, hire the guys, I'll make sure we can get the studio that I like to record in (I have been working with the same engineer, Phil Ludwig, since Tudo de Bom, and he was an equal partner in editing down the hours of music I recorded in Berlin. With Phil and his partner Larry Gates in my corner, I could relax about the technical aspects of recording). The next day Pedrito called me, the piano player could only record one day since he was leaving for a European tour. 'Can we do the record in one day?' I asked. Pedrito said 'sure.' We were set for March 30th.

I told Pedrito that if the guys brought in originals they would get co-publishing and I pulled out a few of the most standard tunes I could think off just in case. Milestones, Footprints, Caravan and as a sort of joke, Watermelon Man, plus my 60's tune recorded on Cuban Roots and Cuban Roots revisited, Just Another Guajira, for luck.

When I arrived at the studio, the guys where already there (check out the photos on myspace). I was setting up my flutes when the piano player came into my booth. Axel Tosca Laugart, 23 years old, a wildman in appearance and bursting with energy. I told him to be careful not to knock over my flutes, he responded, 'I'm young, but I'm a professional.' Little did I know. Axel went into his booth to try out the piano. I almost fell over, he was playing serious Chopin to warm up. I knew I was in for something special. We started with a piano feature, a Chucho Valdez composition called Ernesto. I was totally knocked out. The piano playing was richer than anything I had ever played with and I have played with great pianists (Chick Corea, Omar Sosa and Mark Levine). He had the rhythmic control of Sosa, moving from gaujeo to gaujeo (the piano vamp that Latin piano players play) in an endless stream of creative improvisation. He had the harmonic complexity and structural stability of Chick Corea, and the easy swing and warmth of Mark Levine, and he had all of the incredible technique that is the hallmark of the great Cuban pianists. Axel has it all! Playing solos with him was literally holding the tiger by the tail, he responded to every move I made, extended the rhythmic concept at every opportunity and he forced me to listen and respond in a manner that stretched me like no other recording I have ever done. And then, no matter how good I played, his solos stole the show. No matter how far I moved, he 'saw me and raised.' It wasn't what we used to call a 'cutting contest,' he wasn't trying to show me up. It was just his natural exuberance and phenomenal musical ability. What ever I did, he integrated it into his playing and transformed it. And the rhythm section was in heaven. At the end of the date Pedrito said to me, 'Thank you for letting me play my music.' I had little choice since his music was what I have been dreaming of ever since I started playing jazz to Cuban music.

And that rhythm section. Almost every tune has drum solos. With Ogduarte Diaz playing bongos and bell, Pedrito and Mauricio Hererra had a totally reliable time keeper. Mauricio played dramatically, using the kit to add colors and suspense and Pedrito pushed the envelope of time like no other conga drummer I have ever played with. The drum solos that Mauricio and Pedrito contributed to Con Alma were exceptional. Their playing on this recording is transcendent. Complex unison drum figures characterizes the tunes that Pedrito contributed, amazingly complex, and so tight you have to listen hard to hear that it is more than one drummer. And everything with great swing. And then we did the standards. We played Milestones way up-tempo, Footprints in 7/4 rather than the usual 6/8, Watermelon Man as a down home blues (and one of the all time greatest conga drum solos in homage to Mongo Santamaria), Just Another Guajira in yet another rendition, Axel after Omar Sosa, after Chick Corea, another piano setting and one that lives up to the versions of the other two piano masters.

And then there is the bass player. Panagiotis Andreou. I have never recorded with an electric bass player before and Panagiotis is no ordinary electric bass player, a classical guitarist originally, he plays with the tips of his fingers. No matter how fast he plays you can barely see his right hand moving, it is all delicacy, all control, with total freedom in the time and a melodic gift. Barry Rogers was the only 'gringo' that was totally respected by the Latin musicians. When Barry said something it mattered. The same goes for Panagiotis, these masters of Cuban drumming accepted his opinions without question. Axel and him were like musical twins, they moved together in some of the most subtle playing behind the drum solos, playing flexible, but superbly tight figures that held the time against the drummers pushing the boundaries. And then came kicker. When I called Caravan as the next tune I thought we would start with a bass solo for contrast. Panagiotis asked for a vocal mike. He played one of the greatest bass solos I have ever heard as an introduction and sang along with every note. I was floored. At the end of the date he asked if we could record a Turkish folk song with bata drums. By this time I was up for anything. He wrote it out for us and I played bass flute in unison with that haunting melody.

That finished the recording. We had been in the studio for 16 hours and we had one hell of a record. If this one doesn't put me over the top, nothing will.

So, you might ask, why do I wrote about this album now? Two reasons, musicians don't go for spit, no matter how good a record is, to get a phone call with a compliment from the 'first call' players that I record with is virtually impossible. I have heard on the grapevine the Romero and Cyro really love our latest album, Lua e Sol, but neither of them would ever call me up to say so. I guess it is not cool to let the leader know how much you enjoyed the record you made for him. Or maybe the top pros that I record with don't give that much energy to their recordings after they come out. After I finished the mix of the date, I sent a copy to Pedrito. Two days later I got an excited phone call, 'the flute sounds great,' Pedrito started off, 'I'm playing the record for the guys now and everyone loves it,' he continued (and then made a few suggestions for refining the drum mix). I was over the moon! If one of the heavy players that record with me, took the time to tell me how great the record sounds, it must be special. Then I sent it to Randy Klein, the owner of Jazzheads, the record label I record for. He sent me an email, 'this is a major album, it should get you a Grammy nomination, let's talk about how we can push it.' And so I'm putting myself out there for those of you who are interested in my music. This album is a ground-breaking contribution to Latin jazz, it breaks the pattern while staying within the genre, simply by being more innovative and more challenging than anything out there, with virtuoso playing by all and tremendous swing. That's right, to all of the Latin jazz fans out there, I'm putting it on the line. This album is killing! Randy hopes to put it out for Summer of 2009. Meanwhile check out myspace for the tracks from my latest Brazilian record, Lua e Sol.


holyworrier said...

Hello, Mark. I visit your website on occasion, and just discovered the blog. I was looking for an email address for you, but this will do just as well.

I used to hang at Trumpets for three years or so, until '02, when I left Jersey. I was always at the bar, smoking American Spirits and drinking Guinness. You'd come in looking to sit in, and it was always a pleasure when I caught you, or should I say when you caught my ear. I had never cared much for jazz flute until I heard your distinctive style and timbre. But I didn't find out you're such a monster until I left town with a coupl'a three of your records, and eventually felt compelled to look you up online and read of your background. Now I own seven or eight of your albums, all Latin, the latest acquisition being Con Alma which is smokin'. Anyway I just wanted to say thanks and all the best to you. Keep puttin' this shit out, my friend. It's incredibly infectious, joyous, fresh, ingenious... Love it.

Larry Davis

PS Ask Christine or Enrico which barfly I was.

mark weinstein, jazz flutist said...

Thanks Larry, I wish I could put a face to the name. Too bad you are not in Jersey, Trumpets could use the business.

If anybody who is reading this is in NJ:


7 :00 to 11:00PM

6 Depot Square, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973 744 2600;

MARK WEINSTEIN, flutes, PAUL MEYERS, guitar and LUIZ SANTOS, percussion.

Playing music from Mark’s new release Lua e Sol as well as music from O Nosso Amor (Best Brazilian Jazz CD 2006, and his classic albums Tudo de Bom and Jazz World Trios

“A magnificent flutist in the world of Brazilian jazz.” David Miele, Jazz Improv.

Check out the music at: