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FRONT PAGE - PRIMERA PLANA
Gotham Gets Her Groove Back, Part I:
The Odyssey of Alexander Abreu
Article and Photos by Bill Tilford -- All Rights Reserved
I’m going to bend a journalistic rule and write parts of this in the first person because it will be easier to read that way. Permit me to begin by saluting the people of New York and New Jersey for keeping your spirits high after the recent damage from superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. I was inspired - moved, even - by how well and how quickly you got your spring back in your step.
I also need to perform a brief reality check with some of my trash-talking friends in the Bay Area about the metro New York music scene. New York is a big place with a lot of music, and New Yorkers have choices. In addition to the five performances that I enjoyed in New York and New Jersey, there were a few others, including Yoruba Andabo at Carnegie Hall and Pedrito Martinez at Guantanamera, which I could have taken in as well if I could have figured out how to be at two places at once. (As I’m typing this, Los Papines are scheduled to perform in New York tonight.) Don’t get me wrong, the Bay Area is a wonderfully loving and supportive host and audience for touring bands, and it has some extremely talented musicians of its own as well, so keep doing what you’re doing. But remember: when you go to that Pedrito Martinez concert that you love to rave about, Pedrito plays regularly in his home city, which is New York. There is also an entire platoon of New York musicians (such as Manuel Valera, Yosvany Terry and Rafael Monteagudo to name just a few examples) who could be melting your ears by playing Timba but have chosen instead to spend most of their time blowing the minds of those of us who also listen to Jazz. It may possibly have a short supply of writers who are both able and willing to cover that scene, but the scene is very much there.
So why call this The Odyssey of Alexander Abreu? Well, in the original Greek epic poem, Odysseus spent ten years attempting to return home after the Trojan War. He was delayed and obstructed by sirens, a Cyclops, witches, storms, captivity and monsters among other things. Alexander’s voyage to New York was closer to ten months than ten years, but he faced his own versions of sirens (in the form of multiple promoters involved in a scramble over terms), a Cyclops (in the form of a venue which was ultimately cancelled after it appeared that the operating terms and conditions would have almost guaranteed a failure), captivity (his wonderful cd Pasaporte was pulled from distribution in the middle of his US tour for a couple of track substitutions at the very time when US sales would have peaked if the cd had remained available) and even Scylla and Charybdis in the form of superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. The storms knocked one of the venues (S.O.B.s) out of action for eight days and took another venue (The Park Theater in New Jersey) out of the game for the duration. For a time, it seemed as if the gods themselves were determined that Alexander Abreu and Havana d’Primera would not be permitted to perform in New York.
But - he finally made it and played and sang his heart out when he arrived (in more ways than one, as you will read as the story unfolds). One good thing about the need to reschedule after the storms was that a lot of other Cuban music hit town at the same time, and the end results for the fans were wonderful.
In Part II, I’ll begin sharing what it was like when the music started. That's a phenomenal story in itself.
Coming Next: Part II: Havana d’Primera at S.O.B.s and El Tosco’s Revenge
More on HdP with Tirso and Mayito
Okay, here's the scoop on Queens. Havana d'Primera backed Tirso on four songs: Te molesta que sea feliz, Eso que me pides, Un mal sueño and Déjala que corra. Tirso also played piano while Alexander sat in on one of Tirso's songs.
Mayito has his own US band under the direction of Osiris Martínez founding member of both Manolito y su Trabuco and Pupy y Los Que Son Son, now living in the US. Jhair Sala of the Pedrito Martínez Group was on congas. Mayito sang De igual a igual, Voy a publicar tu foto and Si no te quieres tú.
And of course the three singers traded guías.
Don't forget Rosy's Charanga Report. Next big show is Charanga Habanera in Orlando.
Updated: Charanga Report
Bill loved both the Friday show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Queens extravaganza with Tirso and Mayito and both came off without problems. He highly recommends the second round tonight. He was able to see all of both shows easily.
After the BAM show he made it Queens with plenty of time to spare. The Queens show went from 1:00 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. Mayito opened with a band that included at least some NY musicians; then HdP played its normal set; then Tirso played with HdP. There was a lot of interaction with all combinations of musicians and singers on stage. Bill would not part with any more details so we'll have to wait for his reports. If you were at either show, please email us.
TIPS FOR TONIGHT: When you get to Maunaloa (click here for google map), keep in mind that the building says The Nile Restaurant, not Maunaloa, which is in fact the upstairs room of the NIle Restaurant (see photo below). The doors open at 8:00 and the show will probably start at about 12:00 or 1:00 again. That's all I could get. I still don't know if Mayito will be at Maunaloa but Tirso definitely will be and anyone lucky enough to be in the NY area should not fail to miss this historic opportunity. [Kevin Moore]
CHARANGA HABANERA UPDATE: You can't keep a good band down. After being used and abused in New York, Charanga Habanera played to a sold-out house in Washington DC and has 8 more shows in December, starting on the 8th in Orlando, then 5 more FL shows, one in Vegas and one in Puerto Rico. Click here for Rosy's DC report.
Mayito + Tirso + HdP in Queens Tonight
I spoke with Tirso and he confirms that the show at La Boom in Queens (718-204-2069) will indeed happen. Also, tomorrow, Tirso (not sure about Mayito) will also be with HdP in Bergen NJ at Maunaloa (888-584-3070). The caveat is that both shows are likely to start very late, so be prepared. It will be worth it. Call the clubs for updates.
Unlike many ill-advised all-star combinations that wind up being musically inferior to a straight show by a rehearsed band, Tirso and Mayito are ideally suited for this kind of situation. Think of Tirso's legendary appearance with Issac on Dec. 31, 1999 at Casa de la Música, or Mayito's equally brilliant cameo on the legendary live version of Solar de la California in April of 2000 at Marina Hemingway (that's Bombón on drums). Add to this the fact that at the beginning of his career Tirso's voice was compared to Mayito's leading to the famous line on Pupy's version of La bomba soy yo.
yo canto con mi garganta
[I sing with my throat - it sounds much more poetic in Spanish!]
tengo limpia mi conciencia
[I have a clean conscience]
y si hay cualquier semejanza
[and if there's some resemblance]
eso es pura coincidencia
[it's pure coincidence] [audio example]
The combination of these two on the same stage has the potentional to rival the legendary "Controversia" performance of Cándido Fabré and Paulito FG.
I hear the backup band is pretty good too. [Kevin Moore]