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Mark Weinstein: Cuban Roots

By Published: December 22, 2005

AAJ: I understand that percussionist Francisco Aguabella played a major role in the making of the album.

MW: When I came LA a few days before the date, Danny had me meet Francisco in a donut shop over a cup of coffee. I reminded him that we had played together with Eddie Palmieri during one of the many times when Barry was into other projects and I would take over for him. He remembered playing with me and agreed.. Since he was one of the master drummers of the Carnaval in Havana that gave us the depth we needed. The two comparsas on the date are among the best recordings of Carnaval drums ever made in the US. We recorded with 4 drummers and then re-recorded 4 more layers on top. I have to mention John Santos who ended up playing an essential role in keeping things together through his wonderful gentility and sense of humor.

AAJ: All of the musicians hail from the west coast. Was this by choice?

MW: Cubop is a west coast company and Dan did all of the contracting

AAJ: How was Cuban Roots Revisited received?

MW: It got decent play and some good reviews, but it wasn't a working band and so after the first period of interest it faded into the background.

AAJ: Nonetheless, you must have been pleased with the end result. For one thing, it gave you the opportunity to tie up some loose ends. Secondly, the sound quality is superb.

MW: Yes, I'm pleased with the results. The engineers did a wonderful job, given the time pressures we were under. I'd like to do another album like it, that is an orchestral approach to rumba, but this time with strings. I'm just beginning to move in that direction and hope to get Omar involved. Meanwhile I am finishing another project with Omar on marimba and vibes with a baliphone player from the Ivory Coast and African drummers. But that is another free-blowing album. The follow-up to Cuban Roots Revisited will be compositional.

AAJ: I look forward to hearing the results of that project. Any final thoughts on Cuban Roots Revisited?

MW: I don't think the album has reached the audience it deserves and I'm hoping that with my latest album, Algo Más, my work will be seen as a whole. Of course, this interview is evidence that it is already happening.

AAJ: Absolutely. Before we discuss Algo Más, let's talk about your relationship with Barry Rogers. Obviously, Barry had a tremendous impact on you, both personally and professionally.

MW: Barry was my best friend and my mentor. He will always be my model of what it means to be a musician. He had the best and broadest taste in music of anyone I knew. He had the most inventive mind, but was always disciplined and thought about the music, rather than show off. And he could swing a band. When Barry got going and the whistles started blowing and the Palladium was jumping—and I got to play the same damn riff over and over for a million times. Jose Rodriguez was a saint. I had to leave that band and be a jazz musician. Barry stayed tight with me and gave me a lot of gigs. Me, Barry and Jose did all the Tito [Puente] albums during the '60s and he turned Herbie Mann on to me.

AAJ: You stated that Barry Rogers is one of the few people who would have understood the concept of Algo Más. How so?

MW: Barry is in my head when I play, especially when I play Cuban music. After I made the album I missed him like crazy. Not being able to play it for him breaks my heart.

AAJ: A few years ago, I saw you perform at El Taller Latino, a performance space on 104th Street and Broadway [New York]. At the time you were experimenting with the material for Algo Más. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that the performance was produced by Mappy Torres.

MW: That was the third gig that I played with Cuban drummers in preparation for the record date. I had done it twice before with different guys and wasn't quite satisfied. Mappy gave me the best audience and total spiritual support. That gig gave me the courage to do the record.

AAJ: At its core, Algo Más combines jazz, contemporary dance music and Cuban forms in a spiritual and funky context. The sound is very distinctive and radically different. I like to think of it as Chappotin meets [Jimi] Hendrix! How do you think of it?

MW: That's quite a compliment. Barry made listening to Felix Chappotin and Miguelito Cuni a condition for my playing with the band. But the Cuban trumpet players that influenced me the most were La Florecita, a trumpet player who was the master of Comparsa and Conga and Chocolate, who I played with for years in Larry Harlow's Band. To me Algo Más is the elders meet the children. The combination of the deep wisdom of the drums, the range of the vocals, from Africa to dowop and all those vocabularies—jazz, blues, soul, funk that we bring to the table, it's a family reunion over space and time.

AAJ: You stated that you searched high and low to find the right musicians for the project. Tell me about who you chose and why.

MW: The first gig I played at the Knitting Factory [New York], just a free jazz bassist and drummers, then at Cornelia Street with a free guitarist, Bruce Eisenbeil and drummers, and then with Ben Lapidus and Harvie Swartz at Mappy's. Each group taught me something about what I needed. Jean-Paul [Bourelly] had heard Cuban Roots Revisited and asked me if I would put together a date with a similar ensemble. He had gotten a taste of Cuban drums when he recorded two tunes with me and Milton Cardona on Jazz World Trios. But I had him playing twelve-string, cooking like Richie Havens with the subtlety of Monk, but not doing his thing—playing out of Chicago blues guitar, which is his home base.

He was living in Berlin and had a week in town so I asked Bobby Sanabria to recommend a drummer to put the section together for me. Bobby knows my music so he picked the absolute right man for the job, Pedro Martinez. Pedro has the deep knowledge of rumba and bata and a totally open mind. He brought up his main man from Miami, Nani Santiago, and called on two of the best drummers in the idiom, Gene Golden, who goes all the way back to Olatunji, and Skip Burney, another of the African American masters of the tradition. Jean Paul-had turned me on to Santi when I recorded Jazz World Trios and Santi knows drums. And there it is.

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Download jazz mp3 “El Cumbanchero” by Mark Weinstein