Thursday, November 15, 2012

Todo Corazon

Well there it is. The tango album, or at least the cover. The album itself will be out early in 2013. I finished mastering yesterday and have to listen to it once more before it is official. But going through all of the tracks, doing a bit of final adjustments to the mix and then balancing the entire CD for volume gave me a chance to really listen to what me and the musicians accomplished. For those of you who don't want to dig through earlier blogs on the project a quick review.

The idea of the tango album goes back a few years when Jochen Becker of Zoho records met me at a conference and in conversation recommended that I think about doing a tango album. I have had a long friendship with Jochen, surprisingly based on his turning down my album Algo Mas, recorded in 2004. I have approached Zoho at the suggestion of Bobby Sanabria who played an important role in that record by suggesting that I contact Pedrito Martinez who ended up co-producing the record with me. I had asked Bobby who was the guy in NYC that knew the most about folkloric Cuban music and who had the most open mind. Bobby told me that Pedrito was the guy, and he couldn't have been more on target. Pedrito organized the drummers, sang and played and picked the toques de santo that constituted half of the album (the other half was rumba).

In any event, when Jochen heard the music he loved it, but felt that with the folkloric vocals is wasn't right for the label. That's when I connected with Jazzheads, forming the productive relationship that has resulted in 8 CD's on the label so far, with more to come. Jochen was very friendly with me ever since, which reflects what a great guy he is and who supportive many of the independent record company's are of each others efforts to survive in the abysmal music market of recent years. I asked Jochen who he knew that could facilitate a tango recording and he suggested one of his recoding artists, bassist Pablo Aslan. Pablo has had a number of successful tango albums, winning nomination in both the Grammy and the Latin Grammy.

Pablo agreed to the project and selected classic tango material including tangos written in the early 1900's. I've discussed the process in earlier posts and included some photos from the session that I hope you will check out. But for now I just want to post the liner notes which give you another perspective on the material. They are by jazz critic and tango historian Fernando Gonzalez.

Mark Weinstein Todo Corazón

Mark Weinstein does things his way.
Even a cursory look at his personal story and professional career suggests a mix of a curious, restless mind and the talent and determination to build on his choices.
Not surprisingly, Todo Corazón is not a conventional tango album.
It is framed by the tango tradition. It features a classic, unimpeachable repertoire and a terrific ensemble comprised of musicians who not only know the vocabulary  of tango but its old ways and backstories. And the settings echo the very beginnings of this music — the first ensembles at the turn of the 20th century featured flute, violin and guitar — but also play to its present, as tango continues to open up to the harmonies and improvisation in jazz.
And then, to all this, Weinstein brings his own vision and his own sound.
“When I play music, I want to feel I have the absolute freedom to put myself into that music, whatever the style,” he explains. “I never try to copy or mimic what other people do. I try to get inside the music and take ownership as an improviser.”
As he once explained to Chip Boaz in an interview: “I don’t play Cuban music; I play jazz to Cuban music. I don’t play Brazilian music; I play jazz to Brazilian music. … I don’t play Jewish music; I play jazz to Jewish music. What I mean is that I keep the form completely intact, but then have the freedom to do whatever I want.”
As for his flute playing, Weinstein, a former bass and trombone player, picked up the instrument at 34, at a time he was transitioning from full-time musician to graduate student for his PhD in Philosophy. He is completely self-taught. 
In those days I was playing the flute to take a break from writing my dissertation,” he says. “I never took a flute lesson. Nobody showed me the fingerings. I just did it.”
He doesn’t have the rounded, tightly focused classical sound or a conventional jazz approach. If anything, his sound is closer to that of Jeremy Steig, one of his role models, than Hubert Laws or James Moody.
“I haven’t been able to get that classical sound. I wish I could — but I can’t,” he says. “But because of it, what I do when I record is play with a range of sounds and a generally warmer sound.”
After years of exploring African, Brazilian and Caribbean music, Weinstein saw an opportunity in tango. Playing and recording drum- and percussion- heavy genres inevitably limits flute players to the high register and takes away the more nuanced, expressive possibilities of the instrument.
On the other hand, playing in a drum-less setting has its own challenges.
It’s not only that there’s a different way of setting the groove and driving the music but, in tango, the melodies and the dancing, true or implied, are often what sets the tempo and its variations.
Still, for Weinstein, recording a tango album was a chance for the flute to be heard.
“For better or for worse, it was an opportunity to put my flute sound for people to hear and approach the songs in different ways, with different sounds.”
As a showcase, bassist, arranger, co-producer and Grammy and Latin Grammy nominee Pablo Aslan chose a rich program.
It includes gems such as “La Viruta,” written by Vicente Greco in 1912, or “Los Mareados,” a 1940s classic by Juan Carlos Cobián and Enrique Cadícamo, but also “Onda Nueve,” a piece by New Tango master Astor Piazzolla composed in 1972.
And, smartly, Weinstein is set here with a mixed approach: some tracks are craftily arranged and some are a la parrilla,  (literally “grilled”), which is tango’s version of a head arrangement and, in the limited way of the traditional style, improvising.
Weinstein plays off his strong supporting cast featuring pianist Abel Rogantini, Latin Grammy winner bandoneonist Raul Jaurena, guitarist Francisco Navarro and Aslan.
Their tango playing sounds grounded, lived-in, and Weinstein lets them account for the tradition, not only when presenting the pieces but in their improvisations. Meanwhile, he takes a personal tack: not quite staying strictly within the boundaries of the tango vocabulary, but not forcing bebop on it either.
He plays it close to idiomatically on the title track and “El Llorón,” taken here with a canyengue feel, a hard-driving approach that goes back to the rough, early tango dance styles. He builds a delicate filigree in “Cristal” and whispers darkly on the bass flute in “Gricel,” a rare love-story-gone-right.
As a whole, his playing is distinct and hard to classify.
What this recording is not is an intellectual exercise.
This is all about the heart. It´s about the permission for “unabashed romance,” as Weinstein puts it, that tango grants. It’s right there in the title.
What you hear, front and center, is Todo Corazón.

Fernando Gonzalez

Fernando Gonzalez is a writer and critic whose work appears regularly in The Miami Herald, JazzTimes and The International Review of Music. He is the translator and annotator of Astor Piazzolla’s autobiography A Memoir (Astor Piazzolla: A manera de memorias) as told to Natalio Gorín.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jazzheads festival

Once again I have to begin by apologizing for the long gap between posts but given my rather bleak post in the last blog, happily, I have moved past my existential funk and am getting back to a more positive attitude. To a great extent that is due to the enormous support I have been getting from Jazzheads records and from my ongoing collaboration with Aruan Oritz who co-produced El Cumbanchero and wrote the amazing arrangements, some of which you can hear at myspace along with complete tracks from Jazz Brasil, Timbasa, Tales From the Earth, Lue e Sol and Straight No Chaser. That's Aruan with his back to the camera at the recent Jazzhead's Festival in New York City at which I got to perform with some amazing musicians, Rashaan Carter on bass, Francisco Mora-Cattlet, drums and Ramon Diaz, congas. We played a number of tunes from my recent albums as well as some new material that signals my next expansion of my musical vocabulary-- playing free jazz but with an underlying Afro-Cuban pulse. More of that in a bit. But before I move on to that exciting venture, a word about Jazzheads. 

Randy Klein, the president of Jazzheads, and a fine pianist and composer, decided to feature some of the artists on the label in a two-day festival. Getting to perform with such great musicians in a beautiful setting and with a warm and appreciative audience was a tonic for my perpetual gripes about not performing. I have been playing more, including at Trumpets jazz club in Montclair and in a series of library concerts. I have been getting help with bookings from a great flutist, Jessica Valiente, who has started a contracting business, 706 Music. She has a great line-up of artists and you should check out the webpage. Here is the flyer for the festival, just so you can see what you missed.

But a lot more has been going on thanks to Jazzheads and Chris DiGirolamo who does the publicity for my Jazzheads recordings. I got a great review in Downbeat magazine, still the most important music publication in jazz.

In addition, I am putting the finishing touches on my next album, to be released this Fall. It is the album of tangos I recorded with multiple Grammy nominee Pablo Aslan and an all star cast of South American musicians. You can read about the details in an earlier blog with the label 'todo corazon,' which will be the title of the CD. It is a totally romantic album, which shows off another side of my playing. It is lush and relies heavily on the sound of the flute rather than the powerful percussion driven music that characterizes so much of my records for Jazzheads. Todo Corazon has no drummers, just bandeleon (the Argentinian button accordian), piano, classical guitar and acoustic bass  

Todo Corazon sets the stage for my next project with Aruan, which will be in the words of Monte Python, 'something completely different.' Todo Corazon, like El Cumbanchero, is a re-imagining of two contrasting but equally romantic traditions in Latin American music, the Argentinian tango and the Cuban charanga. Both of these albums reflect my love for the total lack of embarrassment of those traditions in tugging at the heart strings by sheer romanticism. And getting to play basically diatonic solos as required by the tango genre was both a challenge and a great pleasure. But romantic and diatonic music is not where I was coming from in my original incarnation as a trombonist in the 60's, nor is it typical of a great deal of my playing since. And in my next project with Aruan I am returning to my 60's roots as a free jazz player. 

My notorious album, Cuban Roots, was cutting edge in the late 60's and beyond, to a large extent because it integrated a 'new thing' concept rooted in Charlie Mingus' ensemble writing and the free jazz soloing of that period. I was very much into that scene, playing at the Mingus workshop at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village and playing free jazz with Bill Dixon and with musicians like Pharoah Sanders at East Village jam sessions. I have always wanted to do a record with a free jazz concept and a number of my recordings, particularly, Tales From the Earth, Timbasa and Lua e Sol use aspects of free jazz. Tales From the Earth was recorded with no written music, and all of the improvisations grow organically. But the African elements, particularly the balafone, which is diatonic, kept the music from having the sound and texture of the 60's experiments that had such an influence on my musical development. Similarly, although both Timbasa and Lua e Sol stretched the usual boundaries of Latin and Brazilian jazz, they were constrained by the material and the genre so that free elements did not predominate. But a conversation with Aruan after a photo shoot gave me the impetus of take my music back to my roots in free jazz while taking Latin jazz in a very different direction. Since Aruan's back is to the camera in the photo above, here is a photo of us from the shoot, The photograph is by the wonderful music photographer Michael Weintrob.


We were driving back from the shoot and Aruan started pushing to do another project. El Cumbanchero had won both he and I awards, Best Latin Jazz Arranger and Best Latin Jazz Flautist for 2011 and he was anxious, as was I, to continue our productive relationship. But I was a bit more hesitant. I had the tango album coming out and had recorded an album's worth of music in Jerusalem that I had only begun to deal with. And for a number of personal reasons my finances where a stretched more than usual. So jumping into a project at this point seemed unwise. So my response was basically that I wouldn't record unless he had a compelling concept. Without a moment's hesitation he reminded me that two giants of free jazz, Sam Rivers and Andrew Hill, had recently passed away and that since Sam Rivers was a magnificent flutist and Andrew Hill an equally great pianist, doing a recording in recognition of their music was a natural. He got my attention! Now the problem was one that has been often discussed in Latin jazz circles. How Afro-Cuban music, with its commitment to not only a steady pulse but to the underpinning of the clave, the asymmetric two bar phrase that underlies Cuban music,  could be combined with the free rhythmic conception of free jazz drumming.  Aruan said not to worry he had the guys who could do it. And the band at the Jazzheads Festival were those guys.

So just one week later I was in the studio with Aruan and the other musicians (with Gerald Cleaver on drums, replacing Francisco who had to leave town) recording some of the most difficult music I have ever had to deal with in my life. Aruan, true his classical training, transcribed a number of tunes by Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill and Don Cherry, put in a few originals of his own and with an original of mine put me through my paces. Two days of recording and I think we have squared the circle. Aruan had discovered that behind time signatures like 5/8, 3/8 and even some bars of, believe it of not, 11/8, was the clave, and Ramon Diaz (who recorded Timbasa under his legal name Ogduarte Diaz) was just the musician to find it and keep it, no matter where the melody and drums went. It is a breath-taking combination of musical genres, but yet another indication of the deep roots that forge the common ground for all of the music of the African diaspora.

So although my existential crisis is still with me, as I delve deeper into my confrontation with mortality, religion and the human condition, I keep on making music and expanding my horizons. And to make matters worse I have to work on my revision of a book manuscript in logic and argumentation theory, a task that I have been putting off for an entire semester under a heavier than usual teaching load and that I have to get to complete during my 6 week break before I start teaching summer school. But it keeps me off the streets, so no complaints this blog.