Jorge Sylvester's distinctive alto saxophone sound is imbued with the volatility of Caribbean basin's complex mosaic, transformed and focused by the probing musical linguistics pioneered by the great saxophonists of modern jazz.
Born in Colon, Panama attended the Panama Conservatory of Music and
the University of Panama. He received a Bachelor of Science in Music
from the State University of New York College at New Paltz in 1981. A
unique innovator in the idiom of creative music, Sylvester sound
is reminiscent of another time in jazz history when artists like
Dolphy and Ornette were exploding on the scene and experimenting with
concepts that would ultimately revolutionize music at large.
A throwback to the future, Mr. Sylvester has been on the cutting edge
of that scene since 1980 when he first came to New York City. His
blend of African-Caribbean Rhythms with new music is what gives
Sylvester his distinguished voice. An impressive composer and
arranger,his music moves, entices and stirs the imagination, as visual
as it is physical, his ability to transform colors into sounds and
sounds into textures place him in the company of the great
By age 14, Jorge was fronting his own Caribbean dance band and writing
his own arrangements and compositions. He studied privately with
saxophonist,Euclides Hall, who took him along on gigs to observe from
the bandstand in the old school style. When Jorge professor
at the conservatory, Efrain Castro, sent him to sub for him in a band
led by the great Panamanian pianist Victor Boa, Jorge was taken on as
Heading for Europe in his early twenties, Sylvester spent ten years
touring and recording with his ensembles and as a freelancer. Upon
his arrival to New York, he studied with Dave Holland, Oliver Lake,
Steve Lacy, Ramsey Ameen, Marion Brown and many others at vibraphonist
Karl Berger's Creative Music Studio in Woodstock. Since that time,
Sylvester has performed with such notables as Stefon Harris, Rodney
Kendrick, Karl Berger, David Murray Big Band, Sekou Sundiata, the
Black Rock Coalition Orchestra, the Oliver Lake Big Band, Kuumba Frank
Lacy's Vibe Tribe, the Next Legacy Orchestra, Joe Bowie's Defunkt Big
Band and most recently with Nora McCarthy with whom he co-leads
several groups, namely: The ConceptualMotion Orchestra, A Small Dream
In Red (voice and saxophone duet) and The ACE(Afro-Caribbean
Experimental) Collective all of which also include spoken word and
poetry contributed by McCarthy. The ConceptualMotion
Orchestra,conducted and orchestrated by Sylvester,is a 20-piece all
original music orchestra with compositions contributed by both he and
McCarthy,opened the renowned avant garde VISION FESTIVAL X in New York
City,June, 2005. Also in 2005, a CD entitled A Small Dream In Red,
was released on the Sundown label and is a live performance of the
voice and saxophone duo recorded in March, 2003 at Cleveland State
University Drinko Hall
In the Spring of 2006, Jorge Sylvester toured Europe and Israel with
the World Saxophone Quartet filling the chair formerly occupied by
founding father Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, James Spaulding, Eric
Person, John Purcell and Bruce Williams. Mr. Sylvester performed
alongside luminaries David Murray, Oliver Lake and Hammiet Bluiett.
In January, 2007, Mr. Sylvester returned to his native Panama as a
member of the Panamanian All-Stars led and directed by Danilo Perez at
the fourth annual Panama Jazz Festival performing with Carlos Garnett,
Santi Debriano, Billy Cobham and Renato Thoms. Later on April 23, of
the same year he performs at the Jazz and Workshops Festival in
Podgorica, Montenegro with the Voice and Saxophone Duo, A Small Dream
In December 2010, Jorge Sylvester ACE Collective performed in concert
for an enthusiastic capacity filled audience the illustrious,
Brucknerhaus in Linz, Austria.
Mr. Sylvester performs frequently and conducts workshops throughout
New York and elsewhere in the United States teaching his unique
approach to composition using Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
NEW RELEASES - March 2013
• Spirit Driven, double CD on foUR (friends of UNSEEN RAIN RECORDS)
with Jorge Sylvester ACE Collective:
Jorge Sylvester - Band Leader, Alto Saxophone and Compositions
Nora McCarthy – voice, poetry; Waldron Ricks—trpt; Pablo Vergara—pno;
Donald Nicks—elec. bs; Kenny Grohowski—drums, percussion.
This CD is a continuation of the ACE Trio CD In the Ear of the
BeholderAn exploration from within of the Afro Caribbean Rhythms as a
rhythmic and melodic vehicle to create new forms of extended
compositions using the Voice, the Trumpet and the Piano as 3
independent textures to the ACE Trio.
Spirit Driven is a highly rhythmic and spiritually motivated
compositional journey through the various cultures that make up the
Caribbean Islands encompassing their significance and contribution to
the present day advanced musical concepts in jazz and avant-garde/free
music. The music is original, modern, imaginative and experimental.
The use of language, “word,” in the form of poetry and lyrics is
throughout and used to convey each song’s spiritual and historical
The CD includes a composition dedicated to Haiti.
• In the language of dreams - a tribute to Ornette Coleman and Wassily
Kandinsky with A Small Dream In Red, minimalist innovative voice and
saxophone duo, Nora McCarthy—voice, Bodhran; Jorge Sylvester—alto
A powerfully artistic CD comprised of original compositions, poetry
and improvisation as well interpretations of five of Kandinsky's
masterpieces graphically and spontaneously composed in the moment.
There are also several covers of choice music which includes two
Ornette Coleman compositions with lyrics written by McCarthy. The duo
employs various techniques they discovered working in this format as
well as other techniques employed by all art forms. Deconstruction,
diminution, expansion, elaboration, symbolism, line and design among
others. Intuitive and symbiotic, the two altos enter into each work
with absolute freedom from preconception and create within and outside
the form the textural content of each piece.
• May, 2011, Toward The Hill of Joy, with trombonist, composer George
Brandon's Blue Unity Ensemble featuring Nora McCarthy.
New Double CD just released on Sylvester label Lizoka Music: Following
The Line/ Live in New York City is the documentation of his 1999
quartet featuring Monte Croft on vibraphone, Jeff Carney on bass,
Terreon Gully on drums, and a special appearance by pianist
James Hurt on the Bud Powell composition Willow Grove.
2008 release Waldron Ricks with trumpeter, composer Waldron Ricks,
Danny Grissett, Jaleel Shaw, Nashiet Waits and Vicente Archer,
featuring Jorge's Quintet version of his composition Playground. Co-
leader of the quartet Asymmetry with pianist, Lucian Ban, Sylvester
recorded a CD for Jazzaway records which was released in December,
2005 entitled Playground which is also the name of the title track
a composition written by Sylvester.
In The Ear of the Beholder, 2001 (Billboard's Spotlight, Feb. 2001)
Jazz Magnet Records, features: Donald Nicks on electric bass and Bobby
Sanabria on drums and is Sylvester's second release as a leader since
the critically acclaimed MusiCollage (Postcards, 1996, re-released on
Arkadia Records featured Claudio Roditi - trumpet, Marvin Sewell -
guitar, Monte Croft - vibraphone, Gene Jackson - drums, Santi
Debriano - acoustic bass and Bobby Sanabria - percussion. It received
a **** rating from Downbeat Magazine and won a Billboard Critics
In 1999 Jorge Sylvester appeared on BET Jazz Live From the Knitting
Factory with his group, The ACE Trio.
• Magic Night (Jazz Stop Records, Madrid Spain, 1989) with the
• Viriato Blue (Jazz Stop Records, Madrid Spain, 1983.)
• The Mass (Palmetto Records, 2000) with the Collective Identity
Saxophone Quartet featuring Sam Newsome, Aaron Stewart and Alex
• Another Side (CIMP Records, 2000) with tenor saxophone Ken Simon
Quartet featuring drummer Barry Altschul.
• The Blue Oneness of Dreams (Mouth Almighty Records, 1997) with Poet
• The Essence All Stars featuring Doug Carn, Idris Muhammed and Josh
Roseman (Hip Hop Records, 1997.)
Jorge Sylvester Ace Collective: Spirit Driven
By FLORENCE WETZEL,
Published: November 28, 2013
In a 1967 interview with Jazz & Pop magazine, John Coltrane stated:
I know that there are bad forces, forces put here that bring
suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the
force which is truly for the good. In his lifetime and beyond,
Coltrane has inspired artists to infuse their work with this mission,
and certainly alto saxophonist and composer Jorge Sylvester can be
counted as one of Coltrane's heirs. Spirit Driven is an 86-minute
sonic feast by Sylvester and his ACE Collective that shows just how
music and spirituality can intertwine. This is music that invokes
forces for the good, played by people who feel these forces—and it
also offers a cautionary tale about what happens to the world when
these forces are absent.
The ACE (Afro-Caribbean Experimental) Collective is breaking new
territory with its musical amalgamation of the Afro-Caribbean
diaspora, the jazz tradition, and free music art-forms. Artists such
as Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Dizzy Gillespie used Afro-
Caribbean rhythms in their compositions, but their work didn't
experiment with the pulses in these rhythms; part of what sets the ACE
Collective apart is their expansion and reconfiguration of these
pulses. In addition, the Collective includes poetry and storytelling
in many of its pieces, and they also bring to light traditional songs
from the Afro-Caribbean tradition. Clearly this music goes deep and
wide, and the result is a multi-layered, multi-cultural aural banquet.
There's probably no nobler way to spend one's life than in the pursuit
of making spirit manifest, to search for the good and then share it.
Coltrane certainly felt this way, and it's clearly the right—perhaps
the only—direction for the musicians who make up the groundbreaking
ACE Collective. The music on Spirit Driven does in fact have an
incredible spirit, something truly uplifting and life-affirming that's
a potent layering of musical influences, cultural knowledge, and
spiritual intention. The ACE Collective has brought utmost sincerity
and musical skill to this recording, and the result is a multi-
cultural explosion that is not to be missed.
October 4, 2013 Jazz Inside Magazine REVIEWS
Jorge Sylvester ACE Collective
SPIRIT DRIVEN— Four 001. UnseenRainRecords.com
Construction No.2; Masouc; Paulina’s Prayer; The Light of Truth’s High
Noon Is Not for Tender Leaves; Obeahman; Construction No.1;
To Be With You; Remember Haiti;
Cycle of Life
PERSONNEL: Jorge Sylvester, alto saxophone, producer, arrangements;
Nora McCarthy, vocals, producer, graphic design; Waldron Mahdi Ricks,
trumpet;Pablo Vergara, acoustic piano; DonaldNicks, electric bass;
Kenny Grohowski, drums.
David Stoller, engineer; Ramsey Ameen, liner notes; Steve Vavagiakis,
By Alex Henderson
Alto saxophonist Jorge Sylvester and singer Nora McCarthy have been
collaborating musically for at least 12 years, and their collaboration
continues to yield excellent results on Spirit Driven.
This two-CD set (which contains about 87 minutes worth of music)
underscores the unpredictable, risk-taking nature of the Jorge
Sylvester ACE Collective, which includes not only Sylvester and
McCarthy, but also, trumpeter Waldron Mahdi Ricks, pianist Pablo
Vergara, electric bassist Donald Nicks and drummer Kenny Grohowski.
The music ranges from avant-garde jazz to post-bop, and Sylvester’s
alto playing is soulful, heartfelt and convincing whether he is
playing inside or outside.
McCarthy’s contributions to Spirit Driven are extensive. In addition
to producing Spirit Driven with Sylvester, she wrote all of the lyrics
and poetry. She also composed “The Light of Truth’s High Noon Is Not
for Tender Leaves,” and did the arrangement on “To Be With You.”
Sylvester composed the bulk of the music on the CD—“Construction No.2”
and “Paulina’s Prayer” “Masouc,” “Construction No.1,” “Remember Haiti”
and “Cycle of Life” by himself.
On Spirit Driven, McCarthy’s vocals can be divided into three main
categories: (1) singing with lyrics, (2) wordless scat singing, and
(3) spoken word poetry. And in all three, McCarthy has no problem
getting her points across emotionally.
It’s easy to understand why this double-disc is titled Spirit Driven:
the ACE Collective’s performances have a very spiritual quality. That
spiritual outlook is as evident on “Cycle of Life,” “Masouc” and
“Obeahman” as it is on “The Light of Truth’s High Noon Is Not For
Tender Leaves.” The latter has a spirituality that recalls the late
Abbey Lincoln, and McCarthy really soars with that Lincoln-ish mood.
“Remember Haiti,” one of the more avant garde offerings on Spirit
Driven, is a gem. Sylvester and McCarthy wrote that piece in
remembrance of the victims of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-
Prince, Haiti in January 2010, and McCarthy expresses herself with a
combination of spoken word poetry and wordless scatting.
One of the appealing things about Sylvester’s albums is his ability to
incorporate a variety of world music and make it all fit together.
Sylvester, who is originally from Panama but now lives in New York
City (also the home of Cleveland native McCarthy) has had no problem
showing audiences the relationship between African, Caribbean and
Latin music. And he does exactly that on the exuberant “Obeahman,”
which is full of world music vitality.
Another one of Sylvester’s strong points is his determination to be
consistently musical no matter how outside a particular song might
become.“Masouc,” “Remember Haiti” and“Construction No.2” are among the
more outside offerings on Spirit Driven, yet all of those selections
are quite musical. Some free jazz favors atonality for the sake of
atonality: instead of venturing outside, the musicians stay outside.
But that isn’t the approach that Sylvester is going for on this album.
Sylvester, even on the most abstract parts of this album, thrives on
musicality, melody and composition. He also thrives on rhythm,
savoring the rhythmic traditions of the Caribbean, Latin America and
Africa while maintaining his improvisatory jazz focus.
Jorge Sylvester ACE Collective
Brucknerhaus Linz, December 6, 2010 ******
Those who were expecting Calypso-singing Harry Belafonte clones must
have been disappointed. The pieces composed by the Panamanian
saxophonist use the rhythmic tradition as a basis for extended forays
into the world of the contemporary. The young drummer Kenneth
Grohowski juggled the odd meters with exquisite ease. Sylvester's
compositions are solid ground for exciting, improvisational excursions
particularly by the singer and poet Nora McCarthy and the trumpeter
Waldron Mahdi Ricks.
Ace Collective enthusiastically received in Linz
Christoph Haunschmid, OONachrichten Kultur Medien
“...Jorge Sylvester's distinctive alto saxophone sound is imbued with
the volatility of Caribbean basin's complex mosaic, transformed and
focused by the probing musical linguistics pioneered by the great
saxophonists of modern jazz. Jorge's composer's imagination is the
matchless structural coherence of his improvisational work.”
Ramsey Ameen, 12/2005
“...If Ornette Coleman had be born and reared in Nassau, his music
would have sounded like this.”
C. Michael Bailey - All about Jazz
“ Sylvester's alto work is deeply rooted in bebop but fluent in the
most modern of horn vocabularies. With this album, (In The Ear Of The
Beholder) he makes his mark as one of the more advanced, imaginative
voices in Afro-Caribbean jazz.”
David R. Adler – All Music Guide
“...Panamanian-born, New York-honed alto saxophonist Jorge Sylvester
has produced a set of challenging island-accented jazz with his aptly
named, Afro-Caribbean Experimental Trio.
‘In The Ear Of The Beholder’, bespeaks variety in the form, with each
track opening up a different vista.
Billboard Spotlight, February 24, 2001.
“...There are no clichéd romantic notions of breezy island music on
this bold adventure led by Panamanian alto saxophonist Jorge
Sylvester. With his edgy rhythmic pulse and diamond-hard tone,
Sylvester has crafted an album that boasts the same sort of Herculean,
calypso-driven improvisations of Sonny Rollins and the lofty
intentions of Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake's 1970s Arista Freedom
John Murph, Jazz Times Magazine Review of
In The Ear of The Beholder“.
..As for Sylvester, he’s one the most capable soloists holding an alto
today–Por la Clave, for instance, is full of outright Ornette-ish
inflections with ample support once again from the rhythm section.
There are several gutbucket textures here that evoke the wailing
harmonic breadth of some of jazz’s best improvisers, from Eric Dolphy
to Sonny Simmons. It’s a restrained but flawless stream of emotive
improvising and it heralds one of the greater under looked talents of
the day. Jorge we never knew ye!”
Joe S. Harrington – New York Press.
“...Sylvester chose McCarthy’s voice because of its similarity in
sound and spirit to the horn and for her versatility within the
context of the instrumentation of the Collective as well as for her
unique improvisational and interpretative abilities.”
Ramsey Ameen, A Gathering of the Tribes Magazine