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.