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Interviews

Mark Weinstein: Cuban Roots

By Published: December 22, 2005

AAJ: One of the most notable differences between Algo Más and Cuban Roots, is the addition of the electric guitar. It adds another dimension to the music.

MW: Jean-Paul is a monster. We did the toques the first day and rumba the second. The studio was very tight and we were isolated. Pedro went into Jean-Paul's booth and sung "Ellegua. Santi came in when Jean-Paul had the changes and picked them up. I told Jean-Paul to put something in front. He played some really wild Hendrix and Pedro just shook his head. I went in a told him to "stop show boating and play some music. I thought he was going to punch me out or leave, but it worked. He then played that magic introduction and Pedro comes in on the one note that is in the key, but that Jean-Paul had never played. Jean-Paul was playing in E major with an F natural and C natural—sort of Flamenco blues and Pedro's first note is C#. Man oh man. Every tune was the same routine. Pedro singing it to Jean-Paul, who comes up with something completely different from the vast bag of African-American music. That's the magic, he finds a different vocabulary for each of songs that complements the drums but never competes with them. And those solos...

AAJ: Let's go through the tracks. "Ellegua Abierto (Open Ellegua) is obviously a nod to the Yoruban deity and gatekeeper...

MW: I always start with "Ellegua out of respect. Plus they are always great melodies. I had never heard the one that Pedro used but it had a rough beauty that fit the sound I get on alto flute. That was the first tune that I worked on with the overdubbed flutes. I'm trying to get an Eddie Palmieri bone feel in the background flutes, but using the texture of the two alto flutes to give it almost an Andean vibe. It worked great with the fairly "tipico solo I take on soprano flute.

AAJ: You penned "Mis Consuelos (My Consolations) . This is your interpretation of a popular rumba, "Consuelate Como Yo ...

MW: That's my favorite cut. My entrance is where I expect Barry to crack up the way he did when he heard something that really tickled him. And the way Jean-Paul answers me. That's why I play "Ellegua. The whole thing is pure magic. I really like the sound of the vamp with the bass and alto flutes, simple and kicking. I play with the melody, laying it in the clavé in all sorts of odd ways, but the miracle is that when I overdubbed the coro flutes later it fit together as if I had written it out.

AAJ: "Aguas De Ochun (Ochun's Waters) fuses modern rock and traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms...

MW: Right, but it is the melody that is pure '50s rock and roll. The tune ends up being a '50s grind with two bars of the 6/8 turning into a slow 4/4 with triplets. I try to keep the '50s bag with the background flutes like a do wop chorus and a very romantic style in the solo flute. Jean-Paul changes the bag in the montuno and the background flutes build to Jean-Paul's solo, blues guitar with Pedro singing coro and response.

AAJ: "Mamita Baila (Mamita Dances) sounds more traditional and danceable. I love the flute chorus and Pedro Martinez's chants. This track took me away. "Jete Dlo (Pure Waters), pure percussion and electric guitar. Rumba and merengue?

MW: Pedro whistled the melody to me and told me that people love the tune. That was good enough for me. That track has gotten the most radio play. Santi takes a great solo and the flutes screw around with the minor 7th on the bottom while the solo flute plays major 7th. It is just modern enough without losing the happy rumba feel.

AAJ: "Cantando con Agayu has a French Caribbean feel...

MW: Jean-Paul is of Haitian descent and he plays with African musicians in Germany. I believe you can find a whole lot of different elements in his playing that complement the Cuban drums by showing their connection to all sorts of other music from the Caribbean. That was part of what playing the gig at Mappy's showed me. That a Cuban feel on the guitar and bass actually detracted from the drums since it echoes their patterns. Jean-Paul plays across the patterns and brings out a whole new dimension in the rhythms. Santi also stays away from covering the tumbador which the standard salsa bass does since it replaces a missing conga drum.

AAJ: "Fantasia Malanga is your third take on the tune "Malanga. "Malanga also appears on Cuban Roots and Cuban Roots Revisited.

MW: The first version is pure balls. Fast and furious. The second version is mellower, bringing out the meaning of the melody, which is after all about the death of Malanga, one of the all time great congeros. On Algo Más I have my cake and eat it. The drums are playing a fast columbia and I play the melody twice as slow so that the funeral dirge is emphasized. There is a musical joke. After I play the melody twice as slow, we play one coro (with three flutes) up to tempo and then I play the second coro even slower laying a two bar phrase against 8 bars of rhythm with bass and alto flute. That's jazz, brother.

The solos move us back into the columbia and we go for broke. The drums are so full that Santi gets out the bow and just drives the basic rhythm, no point in playing a tumbao with so much fundamental in the tumbador. The alto and bass flute play the coro and me and Jean-Paul just go off.



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