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

Louis Heckheimer By

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The second night of the festival the concert at the Teatro Mella featured five groups, Ernan Lopez-Nussa's Proyectos Sacreligios (Cuba), The Berklee Jazz Faculty Quartet (USA), Cuarteto De Cuerdas Del Conservatorio Roldan (Cuba), Roberto Fonseca y Temperamento (Cuba) and the Bobby Carcasses ensemble (Cuba).

The evening started with the music of Ernan Lopez-Nussa. Lopez-Nussa, a member of a large musical family in a household where he was exposed to both classical music and jazz, started studying classical piano at the age of six and jazz at the age of eleven. His current group, "Proyectos Sacrilegios," which features bassist Gaston Joya and drummer Enrique Platas, uses the classical repertoire as a source of jazz improvisation.

Lopez-Nussa's set started with "Bocetto #1" by contemporary Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, a composition which clearly showed the influence of Chick Corea. Selections from Domenico Scarlatti's "Sonata in B minor" and "Sonata in D Minor" were featured as the second and fourth numbers, and Ernesto Lecuona's "A La Antigua" came between them. The beginning of each piece was played as originally written, and then segued so subtly into the improvised sections that it took a few moments to notice the change. The pianist didn't resort to clichés such as blue notes and witticisms, but showed through his development a clear relation between jazz and Cuban concepts with the original composition. The influences of Red Garland and Wynton Kelly were evident. Joya kept a deft rhythmic bass pattern going and soloed lyrically while Pla accompanied subtly with the brushes. Frederic Chopin's "Valse in F" with guest vocalists, including a flamenco singer, closed the set and transformed the languorous original into a lively samba.

The Berklee Jazz Faculty Quartet consisting of Neil Leonard on alto sax, JoAnne Brackeen piano, John Lockwood bass and Yoron Israel on drums, presented two numbers from Neil Leonard's recent CD Marcel's Window (GASP, 2011), "Alice in the Atrium" and the title number, "Marcel's Window." The songs, which are reflective of specific sites in Philadelphia, Leonard's home town, were angular in structure and clearly executed. Joanne Brackeen played masterfully, as always.

The Cuarteto de Cuerdas del Conservatorio Amdeo Roldan performed two unannounced pieces much in the style of the Turtle Island String Quartet. The ensemble playing was tight and rhythmically crisp, with violinist William Roblejo taking most of the solo responsibilities.

Pianist Roberto Fonseca and his group Temperamento have certainly achieved a reputation of being one of the most exciting groups in Cuban jazz today. Featuring saxophonist Javier Zalba, drummer Ramses Rodriguez and bassist Omar Gonzalez, the music ranged from furiously percussive and complex to quiet and mysterious. They performed three selections, beginning with "Fragmento de Misa" and "Cuando Uno Crece," a danzon from the recent album Akokan (Justin Time Records, 2010). Fonseca weaved a haunting percussive thread with his right hand, building up in intensity to the ensemble section which featured Zalba embroidering an arabesque phrygian modal improvisation on clarinet. The third number was another slow, mysterious piece in which Fonseca's haunting vocoder-modulated singing was the centerpiece. The last number was a hard-edged funk outing with Fonseca riffing on the organ and Rodriguez beating a funky but polyrhythmic pattern, while Zalba and other guest horn players soloed.

Bobby Carcasses, multi-instrumentalist, singer, dancer, producer, educator—one could go on with this list—is considered to be one of the authorities on Cuban jazz. His set featured a large ensemble which included singing, dancing and jazz solos, all in one big show. Some purists might sneer at this style of showmanship but the audience loved it. His show-stopper was a long, extended work called "Tata Guines Es Su Tambor." Carcasses began with a scatted invocation of the spirit of the late master percussionist Tata Guines, followed by a drum solo and an extended piano solo by Tito Cambio, a flute solo by Evelyn Suarez, and a flugelhorn solo by Carcasses. A dancer named Atocha hobbled onstage like an old man and ended his dance by doing back flips and Pancho Garay, a shakere player, juggled his instrument flamboyantly as he played it, All of this built up along with other soloists to a finale where everybody was playing and having one big party on the stage.

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