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27th Havana International Jazz Festival: Havana, Cuba, December 15-18, 2011

27th Havana International Jazz Festival: Havana, Cuba, December 15-18, 2011
Louis Heckheimer By

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27th Havana International Jazz Festival
Havana International Jazz Festival Plaza
Havana, Cuba
December 15-18, 2011
[Note: This is the second of a series of articles reporting on concerts and other activities that took place, as well as profiles of Cuban musicians who took part.]
The Havana International Jazz Festival originated in 1979 when Cuban trumpet player Bobby Carcasses and others held a jazz festival at the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana. Although it has hosted international jazz stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Haden and Steve Coleman, the festival has served as a showcase to present the richness and variety of Cuban jazz talent. This year the festival took place at several locations around Havana, but the main stage was the Teatro Mella, a major center for the performing arts. The theme of this year's festival was the relationship between jazz and classical music, and was explored through the participation of musicians who are associated with the classical world, using classical music as a source of improvisation and instruments more often associated with the classical world than jazz. This theme was explored intermittently throughout the festival but was highlighted at the final closing gala at the Teatro Mella, which featured the festival big band led by Joaquin Betancourt with pianist Frank Fernandez in a performance of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," as well as jazz arrangements of other pieces from the classical repertoire. This year's special guests were Cuban-American pianists Arturo O'Farrill and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
If one were to believe Cuban jazz is the same as Latin jazz, one would be ignoring the range of styles which interest Cuban musicians and that the two terms, at most, partially intersect. Cuban musicians are fully aware of non-Latin styles of jazz and this broadness was on display at the festival; in fact, most of the performances this year did not have Latin percussion on the stage.

The first concert on the evening of the 15th started with the choral group Entre Voces led by Digna Guerra. Guerra, who is the leading exponent of choral music in Cuba, serves as director of the National Chorus of Cuba and is a professor at the Superior Institute of Art, as well as director of her own twenty member chorale, Entre Voces. Her group's repertoire includes a mixture of classical and Cuban music as well as jazz. Their set included "Waltz for Debbie," "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square" and "I Got Rhythm." The chorus sang the songs straight and sonorously but they did have a good sense of swing that you don't usually associate with chorale music, especially with "I Got Rhythm."



William Roblejo is a young violinist who is currently active in many classical, jazz, Cuban and pop musical projects, and is also professor of violin at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory. At the festival he performed with his trio the first night and with the String Quartet of the Roldan Conservatory the following evening. His influences include the American violinist Mark O'Connor, Jean-Luc Ponty and Didier Lockwood. The two numbers he played with the trio were an unnamed original based on a repeated fiddle pattern, followed by the standard "Beautiful Love," with himself on violin, Julio Cesar Gonzalez on bass and Roberto Gomez on steel string guitar, sounding similar to the Ponty, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke Rites of Strings Trio and the String Trio of New York. He combined virtuoso technique with a country/jazz violin approach rather than with a bebop style.

Cuban-American pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba performed "Derivado #2" from his recent solo CD Fe Faith (5Passion, 2011), which is a collection of short piano works. Known for technical flash early in his career, in recent times he has taken the opposite tack and showed thoughtfulness through the use of slowness and restraint, using the twelve-tone row and tone clusters to build his composition and improvisation.

Arturo O'Farrill who appeared with his big band last year, performed in a trio with Carlo Derosa on bass and Vince Cherico on drums. His group played four numbers: Ernesto Lecuona's "Siboney," "Crazy Chicken" and "One Adam 12 Mambo" from O'Farrill's Risa Negra (Zoho, 2009), plus Duke Ellington's "Warm Valley." "Siboney" began with a beautiful solo piano introduction, while the frenetic "Crazy Chicken" reflected its title. "Warm Valley'' was played somewhat percussively with Monkish runs on his left hand, and "One Adam 12 Mambo" ended the concert with DeRosa taking the first solo, cooling things down while O'Farrill ramped up the energy in his solo, with Cherico propelling it all along.

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