Friday, January 3, 2014

a new year

This is my first post in a long time and as usual it marks an event. My next record, Latin Jazz Underground, is coming out in May. The photo is of the guys at the session. Left to right, Aruán Ortiz, who co-produced, arranged the date and, of course, played piano, Rashaan Carter, bass, Gerald Cleaver, drums and Román Diaz, percussion. This record is a landmark in many ways and it reflects the complexity of my relationship to music on many different levels. On a musical level it is a radically departure from my recent albums, starting with Jazz Brasil my records have been increasingly lyrical. Jazz Brasil is a more mainstream album than the Brazilian jazz albums the I had already recorded and El Cumbanchero was a luscious transformation of my Cuban recordings, from percussion heavy quintets to the lush string quartet settings of charanga melodies. This lyrical phase reached a climax with Todo Corazon, a romantic offering to my sweet wife Dasha (more of that in a minute). I really loved Todo Corazon, a poured my heart in soul into unabashed romanticism and it was well received as you can see from one of its many reviews.

But although I had been moving up in the world, making the Downbeat Rising Star list, I felt that I needed to make a stronger statement if I was to get the attention of the reviewers who write for the major jazz periodicals. Aruán had a suggestion. If I did something completely different that extended my records in a more provocative dimension people might see me as more than a flute player who makes lovely Latin jazz recordings. His idea was prompted by his own interest in the avant grade of the 70's and the potential, rarely explored, to marry free jazz attitudes with deep Afro-Cuban roots. I had tried that in 1967 with the original Cuban Roots. As a trombone player in the 60's I was part of the developing free jazz movement, playing with Bill Dixon, among the freest of the free jazz musicians and playing at jam sessions with some of the giants experimenting in New York at the time. I had always loved Sam Rivers, and his recent passing, along with the passing of Andrew Hill, for whom Aruán had deep respect, suggested to both Aruán and myself that an album moving Latin jazz into a free harmonic and rhythmic environment might be worth doing at this point in my career.

The result, Latin Jazz Underground, is a radical departure from everything I have recorded so far, and it is unique as far as I know, the first real attempt to merge free jazz with clave. The music on the album includes tunes by Sam Rivers, Don Cherry, Andrew Hill, two originals by Aruán, one of my tunes and a standard. It contrasts complex unison melodies with free improvisation, changing time signatures that somehow get reconciled with Afro-Cuban patterns and virtuoso performances by all of the guys. The album is coming out on Zoho records who captured the concept of the album perfectly with the album cover.

I had originally offered Algo Mas to Zoho in 2004 and they turned it down. Jochen Becker, the owner of Zoho records liked it at first and offered to release it. But then he called back and asked me whether it was possible to remove Pedrito's vocals. I said I couldn't. The vocals were prayers and were crucial to the concept behind the project. I sent the recording to Jazzheads and that became the first of 9 albums I recorded for the company. I kept running into Jochen at various music happenings and he know about my recent recordings. In fact it was his suggestion that I record a tango album, which turned out to be my 2013 release, Todo Corazon. And he suggested that I contact Pablo Aslan who records for Zoho; Pablo co-produced and arranged the album for me. I was worried about how Jazzheads would respond to the record of experimental Latin jazz after my last three records. And in any event I felt I needed a different level of exposure than I was getting with Jazzheads. I wanted more of a focus on press and less on radio and I especially wanted strong exposure in Europe, where Zoho had very strong market presence. And then there was my perennial battle with my lack of a performing career, the reality of my age (73) and the pressing professional and academic commitments that constituted my other life.

If you have been following my blog my ambivalence about not being a working musician has been an undercurrent throughout the ongoing saga of my 'dream' to make a contribution as a jazz flutist. This culminated with my last post, where I exposed my other life and admitted to the strong attraction to academic work that my recent book represented. Since my book was published I have cut way back on my psychological involvement with music. I have been practicing a lot less and writing philosophy with real engagement. I have written a number of papers and a chapter for a book on the periodic table that is being offered to Oxford University Press. I was invited to submit the chapter and was both surprised and pleased at the invitation from two exceptionally gifted scholars who are editing the volume. Writing academic papers has a strong attraction to me and has a calming effect, contrary to music which is always a source of strong anxiety and often even stronger regret as I face the reality of all that I have missed by not being a working musician. The camaraderie, sheer joy of performing and the shared sense of sacrifice makes jazz musicians one of the strongest psychical communities I have ever been a member of. Being a musician among musicians is one of the great joys of life and being a jazz musician is a great gift, whatever the price that jazz musicians have to pay for the privilege of playing the music. The taste of it that I get when I record is just enough to make my ache for what I'm missing, and going to Zoho offers me the hope that I may yet get a chance to perform, since, among other things, Zoho expects it of me. But I'll have to see how the record is received and if my relationship with Aruán can develop into performance opportunities. Although I am happy to just put out the record and enjoy life, since my life has recently become exceptionally enjoyable.

Last April my sweetheart Dasha came back from Mongolia and decided to stay with me in the US. We were married August 28th.

So things are looking bright for the New Year.