Guitarist, composer and leader Homero Alvarez calls his ensemble “some of the best musicians in Stockholm playing new Latin jazz.” This is no lie. His combo has just released its self-named EP where the musical intelligence is strong, the sound is imaginative and the vibe is spirited. There are only three songs but they pack… Continue Reading →
Guitarist, composer and leader Homero Alvarez calls his ensemble “some of the best musicians in Stockholm playing new Latin jazz.”
This is no lie. His combo has just released its self-named EP where the musical intelligence is strong, the sound is imaginative and the vibe is spirited.
There are only three songs but they pack a punch (and more is promised this fall). “Blanca” is light and fizzy, inviting feet to dance without self-consciousness. It has a definitive Latin vibe while breaking ranks with a thick-and-kickin’ keyboard solo. Digging deeper, the assertive rhythm of “Life Hack” flirts with a minor mode, adds unexpected chord changes, and emerges into horn-driven brilliance, but deceptive cadences abound and more modulations bubble up; maybe the “hack” here is taking new routes. “Sӧdermalm” (an island in central Stockholm) is cohesive, bubbly and fun.
The group consists of:
Homero Alvarez on guitar; Karl Olandersson – trumpet; Karin Hammar – trombone; Arnold Rodriguez – piano; Juan Patricio Mendoza – bass; Ola Bothzén – drums and Andreas Ekstedt – percussion.
How does the Latin jazz vibe go so well in the Swedish market?
We are just about to see!
Latin jazz is more considered to be a mix of jazz and rhythms from Cuba or Puerto Rico. Our thing is more general – the whole continent. We’ve done a lot of Brazilian music thoughout the years, samba, Baião and mixes with rhythms from Colombia and Uruguay (Cumbia & Candombe), everything blended with our compositions and improvisations.. So how will it work in Sweden?
Sweden has an open heart to South America since the 70s, at least. Musically Sweden also has many famous artists like Cornelis Vreeswijk and Lill Lindfors who’ve had important collaborations with Latin American musicians in the 1960s. I believe I follow this tradition and will probably make some genuine stuff of it.
What’s the biggest challenge of running a jazz club?
Mornington LIVE is situated in the great Mornington Hotel. I handle the programming, choose the bands and keep it alive in every way. We’ve been presenting shows for six years now and I would easily say that it is the second biggest in Stockholm. The biggest challenge in the beginning was simply to get people there and I would say that we managed it all through social media and friends.
However, due to the pandemic, we shut down in the middle of March and plan to open again in September, which would be wonderful.
What’s the first song you wrote for the new EP? What emotions do you want to communicate?
I think “Blanca” was the first one. It’s my first daughter’s middle name. I wrote the song many years ago but did the arrangement for the septet just before entering the studio.
I wanted to create an up-tempo feeling for all three songs.
What was the production process like?
Not tough at all. The recordings went well. We recorded first as a quartet with guitar, keys, bass and drums. Then we added the horns and percussion. But they all played so well that it’s been more a pleasure than anything else.
Your favorite thing about being a composer, band leader and guitarist?
Being in strong contact with music is my ultimate top. It’s the best thing there is. And the combination of all these roles is the best.
I’m just miss playing live. That’s what we all are longing for. Our first planned gig will be at the Stockholm Jazz festival in October.
How did the musicians help you achieve the right sound?
I’ve worked for many years with a quartet called Latin the Mood that had a similar approach. There we had alto saxophone and we added trombone and trumpet to the combo.
It’s important to choose people you’ve worked with for many years.
We are struggling to reach out. As an independent label during this pandemic period it’s very much about the internet. We are just now recording four new songs which we plan to release in September or October.
My idea is one more digital release digital and after that a full length vinyl to offer the audiences when we go live.
The final part of our Afro-Cuban Jazz primer, looks at five more of the music’s legends. We talk about what is the clave and preview one of the hottest Latin groups in the Carolinas – Orquesta K’Che.
The clave (/ˈklɑːveɪ, kleɪv/; Spanish: [ˈklaβe]) – a rhythmic pattern used as a tool for temporal organization in Afro-Cuban music. It is present in a variety of genres such as Abakuá music, rumba, conga, son, mambo, salsa, songo, timba and Afro-Cuban jazz. The five-stroke clave pattern represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms (From Wikipedia)
Got it now? The clave, is the heartbeat of great Afro-Cuban
music. You can fill your stage with world class musicians but without the clave,
you’ve got nothing. You can bring in all the explanations you want but you’ve
got to have the heartbeat.
I’m going to stop trying to describe it now because I am woefully unqualified to do so. Percussionist Dafnis Prieto, is very qualified and I’ll let him do so, briefly, in the clip below:
Also more than qualified; clave wise; are Orquesta K’Che; one of the best Latin Jazz bands in the Carolinas. They will be with us in JazzArts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM on April 24 & 25, as we pay tribute to The Music of Cuba. A sample of their remarkable artistry is below:
So come out and join us THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. And before or after the show, check out the history of the music by checking out the last five of our Afro-Cuban Jazz pioneers:
Chano Pozo (1915 – 1948) Luciano Pozo González contributions to the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz during his short life are incalculable. A dark-skinned Cuban, who was a devotee of the Santería religion, he scuffled his entire life to survive. His talents as a drummer were discovered at a very early age. However, the bandleaders, who admired his work, would not hire him, because of his skin color. He immigrated to the U.S., in 1947, in search of a better life. Dizzy Gillespie wanted to add Cuban percussion to his big band. His friend, Mario Bauzá suggested his newly arrived friend, Pozo. The rest is history. Diz and Chano’s collaboration lasted only 14 months but during that time Chano’s innovative style on the congas, melded with the sound of Dizzy’s brash bop based big band, to create a sound like nothing jazz had ever heard before. This was the beginning “Cubop”. It was a thrill for audiences to see the muscular, shirtless, Chano; strutting around the stage, chanting in Yoruba as his rhythm drove the band. He and Gillespie collaborated on writing the standards, “Tin Tin Deo” and “Manteca”. They also created an unforgettable version of “Cubana Be; Cubana Bop”. Sadly, their amazing collaboration was cut short, as Chano Pozo was shot dead, in a Harlem bar argument at age 33.
Arsenio Rodríguez (1911 – 1970) – A musician, composer and bandleader, Rodríguez played the tres (Cuban guitar), as well as the conga. Born in Cuba and blinded at the age of seven, when kicked in the head by a mule, Rodríguez was considered a master of the son Cubano, son montuno and rumba. He also established the modern Cuban conjunto, adding piano, horns and congas to the traditional Cuban sextet or septet. This format became the standard for most Afro-Cuban music that was not being performed by a big band. Several of his former musicians, including pianist Rubén Gonzalez, saw a late career revival, due to the Buena Vista Social Club album and film, which drew heavily on Rodríguez’s style. Rodríguez was a prolific composer, who wrote over 200 songs. He was unable to musically transition, when interest in the mambo waned, by the mid-60’s. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, in 1970.
Mongo Santamaría (1917 – 2003) Influential Cuban conga player, bandleader and composer who pioneered the marriage between Afro-Cuban rhythms and R&B. He heard Herbie Hancock play “Watermelon Man”, while Herbie was working as a fill-in pianist in Mongo’s band. He got Herbie’s permission to record it, it became a smash pop hit and thereby helped spawn the boogaloo (bugalú) craze. His most famous composition, “Afro Blue,” became a jazz standard in and was recorded by John Coltrane and Cal Tjader, among many others. Mongo is a legend in jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B and pop music. Arguably, he is the musician with the widest influence in this grouping.
Carlos “Patato” Valdés (1926 – 2007) Once called “The greatest conguero alive”, by Tito Puente, Patato invented (and patented) the tuneable conga drum. Traditional nail-head conga drums used nails to secure the skin to the wooden drum, which could be ‘tuned’ somewhat by using a candle or Sterno under the head of the drum. A visonary, Patato had long been experimenting with securing the skin to the drum-head with a metal ring which could be adjusted with a square box wrench, allowing a conga player to tune his instrument as would a violinist or pianist. After emigrating to the U.S. from Cuba in 1954, Patato’s first album in the US was Kenny Dorham’s classic Afro-Cuban. During his illustrious career, he worked with virtually every legend of Afro-Cuban and jazz music, including Art Blakey, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría; Willie Bobo; Grant Green and many more.
Chucho Valdés (1941 – ) Arguably the greatest Cuban pianist ever, Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, is a true living legend. The son of Bebo Valdés, who was also a pianist (1918 – 2013) as well as the leader of the orchestra at Havana’s famed Tropicana club; Chucho has been instrumental in the spread of the influence of Afro-Cuban Jazz, into the 21st Century. Chucho first garnered attention outside of Cuba, when he formed Irakere, in 1973, with some of his bandmates from Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, a Cuban big band. Irakere blended Afro-Cuban, jazz and influences from modern rock, funk and pop, into their sound. Though some of the early members of Irakere, such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, defected to the U.S., Valdés remained in his homeland. However, as tensions between the U.S. and Cuba began to thaw in the 90’s, Chucho became a frequent presence in the U.S., for recordings and concerts. He has won six Grammy Awards and although he yielded the piano/director chair of Irakere to his son, Chuchito, he continues to work and garner acclaim, with his current band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.
The second part of our Afro Cuban Jazz primer, features five more legendary Afro Cuban artists and a brief explanation of some of the most popular Cuban musical styles.
Cuba has produced a rich catalog of musical styles, especially since the beginning of the 20th Century. We will briefly describe some of these styles, shortly. However, one thing that you should not do, is refer to these styles as “Salsa”.
The reason was explained by Afro-Cuban jazz legend, Mario Bauzá, during a 1992 television interview. Said Bauzá: “After the [Cuban] Revolution…they started calling everything ‘Salsa’. That’s why I don’t like it. Because ‘Salsa’ don’t mean nothing. There’s no rhythm that you can say is a ‘Salsa’ rhythm…Any Cuban music, they called ‘Salsa'”.
Ever since I heard those strong words from Dr. Bauzá, I have tried very hard, to avoid using that term, except when speaking of what I like on my tortilla chips (though I have occasionally slipped). So before we get to five more great names in Afro-Cuban Jazz, let’s briefly describe some of the more well-known Cuban musical styles:
Cha-Cha-Cha – A style that developed out of the Danzon-Mambo, in the 1950’s. According to Enrique Jorrín, one of the acknowledged creators of the style, he noticed that most of the dancers had some trouble following the highly syncopated rhythms of one of his compositions. He then simplified the musical texture, using as little syncopation as possible. When the dance was coupled to the rhythm of the music, it became evident that the dancer’s feet were making a peculiar sound as they grazed the floor on three successive beats. “Cha-cha-cha”, described this sound.
Descarga – An improvised jam session consisting of variations on Cuban music themes, primarily son montuno, but also guajira, bolero, guaracha and rumba. The genre is strongly influenced by jazz and it was developed in Havana, during the 1950s.
Guaguancó – A subgenre of Cuban rumba, combining percussion, voices, and dance. There are two main styles: Havana and Matanzas.
Mambo – a genre of Cuban dance music pioneered in the late 1930s and later popularized in the big band style by Pérez Prado. It originated as a syncopated form of the danzón, known as danzón-mambo. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, mambo had become a “dance craze” in the United States. Mambo continued to enjoy some degree of popularity into the 1960s and new derivative styles appeared, such as dengue.
Rumba – a secular genre of Cuban music involving dance, percussion, and song. It originated in the northern regions of Cuba, mainly in urban Havana and Matanzas, during the late 19th century. It is based on African music and dance traditions. Traditionally performed by poor workers of African descent in streets and solares (courtyards), rumba remains one of Cuba’s most characteristic forms of music and dance. Vocal improvisation, elaborate dancing and poly-rhythmic drumming are the key components of all rumba styles.
Son Cubano – a genre of music and dance that originated in the highlands of eastern Cuba during the late 19th century. It is a genre that blends elements of Spanish and African origin. Among its fundamental Hispanic components are the vocal style, lyrical meter and the primacy of the “tres”, derived from the Spanish guitar. Its characteristic clave rhythm, call and response structure and percussion section are all rooted in traditions of Bantu origin.
We’re going to stop at six styles, with the full knowledge that we are leaving out others, such as Bolero, Charanga, Guaracha, Montuno, etc. To keep this post from becoming book length, we had to quit while we were ahead. Feel free to continue the research on your own. And whatever you do, don’t call it “Salsa”
Here are five more names, in our list of fifteen notable pioneers of Afro-Cuban music, along with a currently available, representative album, to use as an introduction to their music.
Graciela (1915 – 2010) – Graciela Pérez Gutiérrez, was a female vocalist, who like Celia Cruz, insistently made her way in that male dominated field. Graciela was known for her big voice and risqué stage presence. She first came to prominence in the big band led by her adoptive brother Frank “Machito” Grillo. She emigrated to New York in 1943 to help Mario Bauzá front Machito’s band after Machito was drafted during WWII. Upon her brother’s return, Machito, Bauzá and Graciela were a force that dominated the Palladium, for the next twenty years, until the legendary ballroom shut down.
Irakere (1973 – present) – The legendary Cuban band, that was an incubator for living legends such as Paquito D’Rivera; Arturo Sandoval and Chucho Valdés. Irakere, was founded at the height of the cold-war tensions, in 1973, and out of it grew musical ideas that influenced jazz, Cuban pop, rock dance and Afro-Cuban music. Despite jazz being literally outlawed in Cuba, at the time when the group came into being, Valdés (the musical director), Sandoval and D’Rivera found creative ways to bring the jazz that influenced them, into their performances and get around their government censors. In doing so, they discovered some remarkable new ideas.
Machito (1908 – 1984) – “Machito” was the nickname given to Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, a bandleader, who played a major role, along with Dizzy Gillespie and Mario Bauzá, in the development of Cubop and other Afro-Cuban jazz styles. Under Bauzá’s musical direction, and with his younger sister Graciela, on vocals, Machito’s big band, the Afro Cuban’s, became extremely influential. Jazz greats such as Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton, all listed Machito’s band as a musical inspiration. George Shearing pointed to Machito as someone who helped him understand what “Latin music was about”. A teenaged Tito Puente made some of his first recordings, with Machito and a young Willie Bobo, acted as a roadie for Machito, just to be near the band, in the hopes of eventually getting to play; he did, which gave Bobo his start.
Benny Moré (1919 – 1963) – Bartolomé Maximiliano (Benny) Moré, possessed one of the most beautiful and expressive voices to ever grace Afro-Cuban music. Known as “El Bárbaro del Ritmo” (The Master of Rhythm), Moré was considered a master of numerous Cuban musical styles, including mambo, son, guaracha, son montuno, bolero and cha cha cha. From 1953, until his death, he led one of the most popular big bands in Cuba, “La Banda Gigante”. Although he could not read music, Moré would compose and arrange music by singing each part to his arrangers. He had become extremely popular, throughout Mexico, the Caribbean region and even in the U.S. (he sang at the 1957 Oscars), by the late 1950’s. Had he chosen to leave during the Cuban Revolution, his fame would have likely increased. However, Benny Moré chose to remain among what he called, “mi gente” (my people). An alcoholic, he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1963.
Chico O’Farrill (1921 – 2001) – Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill was born in Havana to an Irish father and German mother. He rejected his family’s desire that he go into the family law practice. Instead, Chico gravitated to the jazz that he loved. His family was scandalized by Arturo’s desire to hang out with the local black musicians but Arturo would not be dissuaded. A Julliard educated trumpet player, he had done some arranging and composing for among others, Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, who gave O’Farrill his nickname, because he had trouble pronouncing “Arturo”. An acolyte of Dizzy Gillespie, O’Farrill was there at the beginning of “Cubop”, along with Diz, Bauzá and Machito. His conservatory training caused O’Farrill to fully voice the Cuban rhythms, while also providing robust big band charts as well. His “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite”, for Machito’s Orchestra, featuring Charlie Parker, stands as one of the great Afro-Cuban jazz works of all time.
In the third and final part of this primer, we will touch on five more great Cuban musicians with many more rare video clips.
In or near Charlotte and want to hear some great Afro-Cuban Jazz, live? Then join us in Jazz Arts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM, on Friday and Saturday, April 26 & 27; as we will be en fuego, with the authentic sounds of Cuba. For tickets and info, visit the Jazz Arts Charlotte Website www.thejazzarts.com.