Wednesday, February 1

Havana International Jazz Festival: Good Cuban jazz moves Havana again | Culture


A group of musicians from New Orleans play in the streets of Havana, in the last edition of the festival on January 15, 2020.
A group of musicians from New Orleans play in the streets of Havana, in the last edition of the festival on January 15, 2020.ALEXANDRE MENEGHINI (Reuters)

Two years have passed since the last International Jazz Festival in Havana, and it seems that it was twice as long. It has been a long pandemic journey, without concerts or downloads, a wild blackout throughout the world but more so in a country like Cuba, where music is food for living and forgetting sorrows, and where there are so many excellent musicians. Certainly, the last edition of Jazz Plaza left its mark, and the large number of North American artists who attended that event had a lot to do with it, more than 80, including figures such as Stanley Jordan and cult saxophonists such as Dave Liebman or Bill Evans, along with prominent New Orleans jazz bands. The confluence of North Americans and Cubans worked then first. The whole of Havana became a great musical party, hundreds of jazz-loving Americans came to enjoy the show (despite Donald Trump’s bad vibes) and a true cultural bridge was built between the two countries.

The face-to-face suspension of the festival in 2021 was a draw due to the pandemic. But the organizers decided this year to keep the call at all costs, yes, keeping the necessary preventive measures (compulsory mask and theaters at half capacity), and circumscribing the presentations to three main stages (the National, Bertold Bretch and America theaters). As a prelude and as an appetizer, on January 16 the Congolese pianist Ray Lema offered a first and exquisite concert with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, directed by the Brazilian director Joao Mauricio Galindo, in which he flew from the African influences of his Congo Raphsody to a danzón by Caturla, with the sensational percussionist Yaroldi Abreu on the congas.

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  Alexis Triana, official from the Cuban Ministry of Culture;  Víctor Rodríguez, president of the International Jazz Plaza Festival;  Bobby Carcassés, one of the founders of the festival;  Indira Fajardo, president of the Cuban Institute of Music;  and the moderator, participate in the presentation of the new edition of the event.
Alexis Triana, official from the Cuban Ministry of Culture; Víctor Rodríguez, president of the International Jazz Plaza Festival; Bobby Carcassés, one of the founders of the festival; Indira Fajardo, president of the Cuban Institute of Music; and the moderator, participate in the presentation of the new edition of the event.Laura Becquer (EFE)

On January 18, the 37th edition of Jazz Plaza officially kicked off with an already classic show starring the founder of the festival, Bobby Carcassés, and special guests. The thing promised, but obviously one was fly. It was known that with omicron dancing and with what was politically rainy last year, the international presence could be reduced, but even so, dozens of good musicians from nine countries attended the event, including the American saxophonist Donald Harrison and Dominic Miller, guitarist for Sting during 30 years old, who offered one of the festival’s great concerts at the Nacional, a virtuous, delicate, suggestive presentation and to frame, who even had the tres player Pancho Amat as a guest on one of the songs.

Notable were the presentations of the visitors, such as the Dutch pianist Mike del Ferro, the Finnish saxophonist Pekka Pylkkanen or the Argentine bassist Javier Malosetti, who played the same night and in the same place as one of the great Cuban trumpet players, Mayquel González. , protagonist of another dazzling performance; And that’s where I wanted to get to: this year the important thing about the festival was Cuban music and musicians. The rest, being good or very good, like Miller, was almost anecdotal.

The strength of Cuban music and the virtuosity of its instrumentalists is such, and jazz is so deeply rooted in the island, that practically nothing else is needed. It is true that many Cuban musicians have left the country, but the talent factory is inexhaustible. It was there to show it confluence of pianos, an initiative convened by the young pianist Rodrigo García, 23 years old and still a student at the Instituto Superior de Arte. Accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra of Havana and two pianos, he invited the great representatives of the Cuban pianist of all genres, from Frank Fernández and José María Vitier, in the most classical, to consolidated jazz players but of different styles such as Roberto Carcassés , Rolando Luna or Alejandro Falcón, and exponents of popular Cuban music such as Manolito Simonet. There were 14 songs, each one by the guest artist (and two by García), who recreated their worlds together with them based on a philosophy “of erasing the boundaries of genres on the piano”, and which will now be released on a double CD – with another disc of a similar format recorded in 2021 for the jazz festival that was suspended due to the pandemic.

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The concerts of the Cuban bands and the downloads that were formed were memorable, impossible to mention them all. Drummer Oliver Valdés presented his first solo album, nasobuco (That’s what the mask is called in Cuba to protect against covid), a major job conceived in these two years of confinement and in which he does an incredible version of Fool (by Silvio Rodríguez) and a tribute to the late percussionist Pancho Terry, king of the check, an instrument played on the day of the presentation at the National Theater by his son Yosvany Terry, a great saxophonist who has lived in New York for years, but who goes and comes.

The trumpeter Carlos Sarduy, also trained in Cuban schools and emigrated a long time ago, starred in several concerts with Rolando Luna on piano, Oliver Valdés himself on drums, and the great bassist Gastón Joya, who for years played with Chucho Valdés, together with other musicians here and there. The group is called Groove Messengers and you have to follow it. Ernan López-Nussa did his thing with a very elegant concert to which he invited the group Raptus Ensamble, an hour or so of fine jazz and concert music woven together by Ernan’s piano. Great concerts were also those of Roberto Carcassés, with a beautiful version of Tony and Jesusito in homage to the great pianist Frank Emilio, with Maraca on the flute, and that of Alaín Pérez, former bassist of Paco de Lucía who returned to the island in 2016, two years after the death of the flamenco guitarist, and who today is one of the greats of Cuban popular music; Alain came on stage with his band of 14 musicians and the rhythm of Benny Moré in his veins to begin with, he spoke about how hard these two years of confinement have been, without meeting the public, and when he put his classics and the songs from his latest album, The tale of the good pipe, the National Theater was completely messed up, everyone dancing as if there were no tomorrow (or pandemic): general catharsis.

Other Cuban musicians from there played here again, like Dayramir, who came to the last festival and then paid tribute to the Los van Van orchestra from the language of jazz, an album that is finally being presented now. The closing ceremony, yesterday, Sunday, had two stellar moments: the presentation of the saxophonist Germán Velazco, with the saxophone quintet and figures such as Maraca and Cesar López as guests, accompanied by Joaquin Betancourt’s Big Band (more than 20 musicians on stage, many of them very young); and the concert by Cuban-American Nachito Herrera, based in Minnesota, who arrived in Havana with a solidarity shipment for the health sector and music schools. He got together with the National Symphony Orchestra and chose a comprehensive program, Rhapsody in Blue a Summertime, by George Gershwin, the Smile, from Charles Chaplin, to recreations from Latin jazz of works by Bach and Chopin, passing through tributes to the Cuban pianist Ernesto Lecuona. A week of good Cuban jazz, no matter where it comes from, that moved Havana, one of the most musical cities in the world. Missing what he did.

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