27th Havana International Jazz Festival: Havana, Cuba, December 15-18, 2011
The third night was specifically a night of youthful piano talent presenting two Cuban pianists, Harold Lopez-Nussa and Aldo Lopez-Gavilan, and the Polish pianist Mateuz Kolakowski. Lopez-Nussa, the nephew of Ernan, started his set playing a medium-tempo Latin beat with his left hand and chiming figures with the right, building intensity by adding a trumpet solo before fading back somewhat in the fashion of Keith Jarrett. Kolakowski played a solo set that showed the influence of Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner. He took fragments from Chopin's "Funeral March" and rebuilt it as something very different, yet similar in intent, an effect filled with left-hand ostinatos and discordant right-hand runs and twelve tone figures. His own composition "Body" was more quiet and contemplative, yet still containing drama, and ended with an agitated interpretation of "Angel Eyes" that had a hint of "'Round Midnight" in it.
Aldo Lopez-Gavilan started his set playing a beautiful rendition of Debussy's "Reflets dans L'eau" from "Images" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee" before being joined by the rest of his quartet, consisting of bass, drums and clarinet for "Pan Con Timba," and finally by the Chamber Orchestra of Havana for his composition "Talking to the Universe." The effect was evocative of some of the work that McCoy Tyner has done with similar groups without being imitative.
The fourth evening and the closing concert at the Teatro Mella featured Joaquin Betancourt and his twenty-piece big band in an ambitious program of original Betancourt arrangements of selections from the classical repertoire. Betancourt is known as one of the most active arrangers in Cuba as well as being active as a violinist, conductor, producer, composer and professor of music. The finale was his arrangement of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with the notable Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez at the piano.
The program started with the third movement of "La Cathedral," a work by Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios Mangoré. Originally written for solo guitar, this arrangement featured Hector Manuel Quintana on electric guitar. "La Bella Cubana," an habanera written by nineteenth-century Afro-Cuban composer José Silvestre White, was a vehicle for an extended tenor saxophone solo. Tenor Yury Hernandez was featured on two selections, an arrangement of Giacamo Puccini's "E Luceven le Stelle," performed in Spanish as "Adios La Vida," and Mexican composer Maria Grever's bolero "Jurame." The big band featured Ignacio Cervantes' contradanza "Los Tres Golpes" and flutist Evelyn Suarez was featured in the second movement of Jacques Ibert's "Concerto for Flute." As an introduction to the Gershwin piece, Fernandez played a beautiful interpretation of Charles Gounod's "Ave Maria." The Gershwin performance was masterful and played as written with the exception of a short blues improvisation by Fernandez in the middle.
Coming up next, a look at several jazz soloists and groups that can be found performing in Havana today.