September 14-18, 2016
The success of the annual Barranquijazz Festival is a tribute to its foundersall of whom are still deeply involved as the event enters its 21st yearand their vision of what and how to present to a growing community of jazz enthusiasts in Barranquilla, Colombia's fourth largest city. Samuel Minski, a successful publisher, Antonio Caballero, a radio personality, and Mingo de la Cruz, a veteran Avianca Airlines pilot, have carefully cultivated a masterful programming formula. And it works to perfection. Virtually always on the schedule of concerts are one or two iconic jazz celebrities from the U.S., an equally notable Brazilian artist, a sprinkling of national and foreign groups that offer a broad range of styles, and a hefty dose of renowned Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban ensembles. And, as the organizers love to proclaim, "mucha salsa!"
The recently-concluded landmark 20th edition of Barranquijazz outdid itself in terms of booking an eclectic and star-laden lineup of talent. Headliners included saxophonist Benny Golson
, trombonist Steve Turre
, Spanish vocalist Buika, Brazilian bossa nova pioneer Roberto Menescal
with vocalist Cris Delanno, Italian trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira
, pianist Hector Martignon
, and a trio of legendary salsa vocalistsRay de la Paz, José Alberto "El Canario," and Issac Delgadoas well as emerging Cuban vocalist Daymé Arocena, among many others.
The opening night, staged in the Teatro Universitario José Consuegra Higgins on the campus of the Simón Bolívar University, featured two of the festival's major revelations; Josean Jacobo & Tumbao, a quintet from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and a group anchored by Martignon, guitarist Greg Diamond
The opening set by Tumbao delighted the audience with a fresh and invigorating spin on Afro-Caribbean styles interpreted with an improvisational spirit in mind. One needed look no further than the broad, magnetic smile leader and keyboardist Josean Jacobo sported throughout the performance to sense that something special was taking place. The group's sound is deceptively simple, relying mostly on polyrhythmic grooves and a torrent of vamps from Jacobo. But that's just a starting point. Both Jacobo and percussionist Edgar Molina employed a variety of native folkloric rhythm instruments to sketch the cadence of performances that ranged far beyond the customary merengue to such lesser known idioms as mangulina
and other folkloric styles, some reflecting Haitian influences. Trap drummer Otoniel Nicolas, upright bassist Daroll Mendez and tenor saxophonist Ronald Agustín Feliz rounded out the combo, responding to the leader's fluctuating whims, which at times reflect the kind of minimalist aesthetic perfected by Cuban keyboardist Omar Sosa. The group's forthcoming release, Balsié
, features such fare as "Navegando con el Viento" (Sailing with the Wind). The arrangement emphasizes the blend of swirling rhythmic intensity and enigmatic melodies that characterize Tumbao's sound. The Latin jazz genre, once built exclusively on Afro-Cuban rhythms, today has exploded in dozens of new and tantalizing directions, with Tumbao among the most compelling of the new generation of Latin jazz explorers.
Second up was the high octane, all-star unit fronted by Martignon, Diamond, and Turre. Keyboardist, composer and arranger Martignon, a longtime resident of New York City known for the breadth of his stylistic interests, and Diamond, a New Yorker whose mother is a native of Colombia, were an ideal pairing. Both relish harmonically-challenging arrangements and odd meters mixed with adroitly selected Latin American rhythmic shadings. Both also excel in post-fusion, avant-garde Latin jazz, funk, post-bop and ballad modes. Martignon's enticing "Gabriela," a ballad with the earmarks of a standard, was an evening highlight. When Turre came onboard, his extroverted trombone style entranced the audience, as did his requisite blowing on his ever-expanding collection of conch shells. Turre demonstrated his sensitive side with a lovely, soulful reading of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." Throughout the set, the meaty tumbaos
(Latin bass lines) and dexterous timekeeping of double bassist Edward Pérez, a Texas native who is a regular member of Martignon's New York group, provided a solid rhythmic underpinning.
The final three evenings of premier concerts were staged in the cavernous Salón Jumbo of the local country club. Drawing well-heeled members of the city's upper class, the scene, with waiters in white shirts and bowties scurrying about delivering bottles of Buchanan's Scotch, a favorite local libation, seemed drawn from a vintage film set in some mythical South American locale.
Before taking to the stage for his much-anticipated set, octogenarian hard bop tenor saxophonist Benny Golson spent several hours conducting a workshop for music students at the Universidade del Norte. Golson answered questions about how he composed such hits as "Along Came Betty" and delighted the young musicians with his stories about playing with many of the most important jazz figures of the 1950s and '60s. His recurring encouragement to the students was to find their own path and not try to emulate the style of a jazz master. Finally, admitting that he knew little of Colombian music, the students quickly organized an ensemble to perform a jazzy version of a famous, decades-old cumbia, "La Piragua." "Now I understand," Golson said graciously, complementing the fledgling musicians for their efforts.
For his set, the saxophonist was backed by a particularly notable rhythm sectionpianist Mike LeDonne
, bassist Buster Williams
and Carl Allen
on drums. They breezed through Golson's hits, including "Whisper Not" and "Killer Joe," as well as John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." and, in the hands of the trio alone, Cedar Walton's "Holy Land." Throughout the evening, Golson impressed with his virile playing and still-keen improvisational skills as well as his knack for adding colorful narration to provide insights about the songs and his long career on the music's front lines.