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domingo, 03 julio 2011, 06:19 pm

MARACA ON THE MOVE

Plus: New CDs by Cuban Recording Artists

Dateline Milwaukee Wisconsin, 3 July 2011
Maraca Raises The Bar In Milwaukee
Serves Potent Brew of Timba Nuclear  to Local Dancers

     We had already heard great things from our colleagues on the West Coast about Maraca's new tour and eagerly made the drive up to Milwaukee to catch the band's set at the Wherehouse on the night of July 2 (and the morning of July 3, this was a 2-set show that went into the morning hours).  It turns out that Milwaukee has a performing Rueda dance  group, Salsabrosa,  and a nicely evolving dance scene.  An opening performance by that group followed by Ital Caribe, an AfroCuban dance group with live percussion, an audience ready to burn off some calories and an energetic  dance club atmosphere all provided a setting that inspired Maraca's band to unleash a take-no-prisoners Timba show that was even more intense than we were expecting (and we already had high hopes going in).  No mush here, and this new dance band (which is an actual working band in Cuba and a largely different cast of musicians than performed on the jazz CD Reencuentros ) is putting out the Timba at an intensity level we very seldom get to experience live here.  Even older material like Castigala has been ratcheted up a few notches, and we'll put this band as it is right now up against just about anyone (13 musicos gives you a LOT of firepower, and Maraca unleashed the full fury of the band  on the club).
     Two thumbs up to Milwaukee's dancers as well; they managed to give the lie to the notion that U.S.  audiences can't handle the pace of real Timba.  Oye, Maraca, we know that you'll be  playing at a Festival in a park rather than a dance club when you come to Chicago, but still,  please bring us some of that stuff we heard last night when you come...    Chicago wants to prove it can dance to it as well as Milwaukee can.

Recent CDs by Cuban Recording Artists

     See our last blog entry for our review of Reenceuntros, the just-released Jazz CD by Maraca & His Latin Jazz All Stars.  (Read the full review here .)  It's a great recording with a different set of musicians than the current touring band.   Two other recordings worth checking out are Sonando Ya by Sierra Maestra, which was nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Recording in 2010 (Read the full review here ) and El País de las Maravillas by the Harold López-Nussa Trio, an absolutely brilliant Jazz recording. (Read the full review here )  Maraca and Sierra Maestra are currently touring the United States including Chicago appearances by Maraca on July 10th at Welles Park and by Sierra Maestra on July 14th at Millennium Park and July 15 at the Mayne Stage.  

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domingo, 03 julio 2011, 04:05 pm

REENCUENTROS by Maraca & His Latin Jazz All Stars

CD - DVD Review

In the United States, we sometimes get too fixated upon labels and boundaries when discussing music, partilcularly when it comes to Jazz and Classical; some Americans like to entertain the notion that the two disciplines rarely mix well, and consequently, when strings (other than solo violin) are incorporated into Jazz recordings here, the results are sometimes met with suspicion by casual listeners and critics alike who fear, rationally or not, that the session is a cynical attempt to crack the "easy listening" market.
     Cuban musicians aren't confronted with that issue, at least not to the same degree.  Even in the middle of the last century, Cachao, a key figure in the development of the Mambo as well as the art of the descarga, had a dual career as a classical bassist, and most if not all of the younger generation of Cuban jazz artists has been classically trained as well.  No sane listener would accuse the best of them of a failure to swing as a consequence of their familiarity with classical idioms.
     This brings us to Maraca's latest Jazz recording, Reencuentros , which was recorded live at the Grand Theater of Havana  with a specially-assembled, international all-star cast of jazz musicians including: ...read the full review here

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domingo, 26 junio 2011, 08:58 pm

MEDITATIONS ON TWO DESCARGAS, PART I

Chuchito Sets Fire to Green Mill

No arrests made.......

Yours truly has seen and heard enough that he isn't surprised very often and pleasantly surprised even less so.  Having heard that Chuchito Valdes (who happens to be the son of Chucho Valdes and grandson of Bebo Valdes but plays well enough that he would still be a must-see if he were named Chuchito Jones) was coming up from Cancún for a couple of Chicago dates at the Green Mill, I psyched myself up for something great to share with you -- the start of a new tour with a stellar ensemble maybe? A new CD project about to be unleashed perhaps? --something like that in the news department. 
    No such luck.  No tour, no new CD announcement to share with you.  This was what it was - a 2-night stand at the Green Mill, one of Chicago's best jazz venues with musicians assembled specially for the occasion.    Not only that, but not all of the musicians had even played with each other before (although most of them had).    For better or worse, I was about to check out a couple of true descargas.    When I asked about a set list, a couple of the musicians laughed.  Time to cross the fingers and hope for the best, but considering who this is, maybe we'll get lucky...
     Probably 90+% of the true jam sessions that go down in clubs nowadays aren't really worth writing about even when they are pleasant.    Those of us who are serious listeners persevere in  attending these because the exceptions not only are worth writing about, but the best ones even cook on a level far above anything you'll hear in a studio or a more structured, rehearsed live session.  It all comes down to the musicians,  the material and level of inspiration that descends upon the proceedings. 
     The Friday night set featured Chuchito on piano, Steve Sachse on bass, Frankie Ocasio on congas, Fred Cantu on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jose Diaz on bongo and Rafael Monteagudo on traps.  The second night had Joe Frau on timbales instead of Jose Diaz on bongo and Tim Madden on trombone instead of Fred Cantu on trumpet.  Steve flew in from Washington DC for the occasion; back home he plays with several bands including Sin Miedo, a DC-area based salsa band.  Rafael, originally from Cuba, is now a New Yorker with powerful jazz chops, but he also plays with La Bolá, New York's excellent Timba band.  Frankie is a local who has performed with several groups including Chuchito's earlier group  when the latter haunted Chicago for a time.  Fred Cantu is also a local who plays with several groups including Jose Valdes; Joe Frau is also a local who plays  with other bands including  Orchestra Infraverde, and Jose Diaz is also a local. 
     Although many of the songs had real names, I understood soon enough  while I was listening why a set list wasn't in the picture -- these really were descargas in the grand tradition,  which means that the kitchen sink was frequently quoted in different numbers, with a bit of Almendra here and Satin Doll there popping in for a visit in the middle of a piece.   I also understood why some of them flew in from DC and NY to make this date.  This wasn't just a group of really good musicians backing Chuchito -- these guys were all excellent soloists in their own right and had enough stage sense to turn together on a dime.   The result sounded as tight as any prepared show but with a much higher energy level as the band and the audience all fed off each other.   This was the level of enthusiasm that Panart was trying to capture in the 50s with Cachao, Julio Gutierrez et al in the Cuban Jam Session and Descargas recordings, but Panart didn't have the benefit of a live audience adding to the energy level, and solos were usually much shorter and simpler then than now.

Click this photo for more pictures of the group

     Chuchito himself is a very audiovisual performer; when he is fired up, he makes Jerry Lee Lewis look like a zombie with rigor mortis by comparison, dancing with the piano now, then using it for a percussion instrument, even plucking the innards, the hands a total blur during his faster passages.  If only because he has a larger palette available to paint with than his ancestors had, his technique already stands up well with theirs and will probably clearly surpass it in time barring any misfortunes as he ages.
     But this wasn't all about him.  The rest of the cast turned in great nights as well.  Fred Cantu, Steve Sachse, Tim Madden and Rafael Monteagudo  in particular turned in solo work of a calibre that seldom gets heard live in this genre (which probably explains what motivated Steve and Rafael to make the trip from out East).    Considering that TIm literally passed out his business card to the rest of the musicians when he arrived, that is a particularly noteworthy accomplishment.  We're going to be looking into their other projects in the future to see what's up there.   We suspect that they might not get to stretch out as much in other settings as they did here, but if we're wrong, there are some major finds to be made.   
     Meanwhile, here's the thing.  These were much better nights than we usually get to hear live even when bigger names are involved with rigorous rehearsals beforehand.  So what does that all mean really?  Well, that's why there will be a Part II to this piece eventually.
...To be continued...

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domingo, 19 junio 2011, 04:59 pm

SIERRA MAESTRA BEGINS US TOUR IN CHICAGO JULY 14

...plus more about Maraca...

     Sierra Maestra has been around almost 35 years (a relatively young band compared to Aragon or Septeto Nacional, but they've been around long enough to know a thing or three) and is one of the keepers of the flame of traditional Son. They will be kicking off their US tour in Chicago on Thursday, July 14th at 6:30pm with an outdoor concert in Millennium Park followed by an indoor set on Friday,  July 15th at 9:00pm  at the Mayne Stage in Chicago. 

They were nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2010, and we'll be doing a review of their 2010 CD, Sonando Ya  in the near future. (Photo by Bart Madjeski supplied by City of Chicago)

          Michelle White has posted their tour schedule in the Giras/Tours   section, and we hope to be able to do a live interview with them once they hit town.

     We are also doing some serious listening to a sneak preview of Maraca's new jazz CD Reencuentros,  recorded recently  by Maraca and his Latin Jazz All Stars (and there really is an interesting collection of heavy hitters in the lineup).    We dig it, and in the near future, we'll be telling you all about why.    Stay tuned.  In fact, you should do that literally - Maraca also has a dance CD in the works, and we have a sneak preview of that as well, Preguntale A Mi Mujer , in Timba.com's Radio   section. Check it out, and if you can, catch them live on tour.     

          Kevin Moore turned us on to this review of Maraca's show at the Napa Valley Opera House:
Napa Valley Register review of Maraca

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