Originally a classical violinistbefore settling in England in 1997 he was first violin with the Nacional Symphony Orquestra in his native CubaOmar Puente has since focused on modern Cuban music and jazz, exploring the mutalities of the two traditions, and increasingly favoring an electric instrument. From There To Here
is, remarkably given Puente's distinguished guest artist scorecard, his first album as leader. It's a fiery and exuberant set, touching on Africa, Cuba and England as it progresses.
In England, Puente has been active within two communities of jazz musicians: the F-IRE collective of experimentalists and those graduates of the Jazz Warriors who have coalesced around bassist Gary Crosby
's Dune and saxophonist Courtney Pine
's Destin-E labels. On F-IRE, Puente has been a collaborator with From There To Here
pianist Robert Mitchell
, recording the duo album, Bridges
(2006) and guesting on Mitchell's group Panacea's Equinox
(2007). On Dune, his credits include saxophonist Denys Baptiste
's Let Freedom Ring!
(2003), and on Destin-E, Pine's Transition In Tradition (En Homage a Sidney Bechet)
Between guest appearances, Puente founded Raices Cubanas, a collective of immigrant Cuban musicians occasionally guest-led by the late singer Kirsty MacColl, and the sextet, Cubania. He has kept his classical chops in shape, collaborating with the Venezuelan youth orchestra, Orquestra Sinfonica Simon Bolivar, on its 2009 visit to London's Royal Festival Hall, and scattering chillies on the classical tradition with the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra.
From There To Here producer Courtney Pine observes that Puente is "a complete classical virtuoso (and) a complete jazz master" and the album lives up to at least the second half of that assessment. It consists of nine, mainly up-tempo, Puente originals and a cover of Hart & Rodgers' "You Are Too Beautiful," arranged as a bolero. The arrangements are more or less equal parts jazz and Cuban music. Puente is joined by some outstanding players from the F-IRE, Dune and Destin-E stables; along with Mitchell, these include guitarist Cameron Pierre, trombonist Dennis Rollins and Pine, who's heard on flute, bass clarinet and soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones. The percussion section, at the root throughout, is kit drummer Michel Castellano and conga player Oscar Martinez, augmented by bata drummers Babatunde Ayandosu and Rasaq Ayandele on "Talking Bata."
Puente is the chief soloist, with the stellar frontline providing brief solo vignettes and colorful ensembles. Standouts are the exhilarating "My Mrs," which opens, "Rumbiano," which gives a nod to the contributions of Chinese immigrants to Cuban culture, the playful "Swings And Roundabouts," previously heard on the Puente/Mitchell duo's Bridges, and "Talking Bata" and "Motherland Pulse," both channeling Puente's African heritage. Lyrical, forceful and virtuosic, From There To Here is an auspicious debut.
Personnel: Omar Puente: electric and acoustic violin; Robert Mitchell: acoustic piano, organ (10); Jimmy Martinez: double bass (1-4, 7, 10); Darren Taylor: bass (5, 6, 8, 9); Oscar Martinez: congas, bongos, wood blocks, timbales, bata drums; Michel Castellano: drums (1, 3-10); Courtney Pine: flute (2, 10), bass clarinet (3), soprano saxophone (4); tenor and baritone saxophones (8, 9), keyboards (6); Cameron Pierre: acoustic guitar (3, 8); Dennis Rollins: trombone (3, 8, 9); Dorance Lorza: tres (9); Antonio Zapatta: guiro; Helen Correa: violin (3, 10); Natalie Taylor: viola (3, 10); Jenny Adejayan: cello (3, 10); Babatunde Ayandosu: bata drum (8); Rasaq Ayandele Oregarde: omele bata drum (8); Ricardo Pompa: lead vocal (8, 9); Eska Mtungwazi: lead vocal (10).