Various: Calle 54

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
In an odd twist, Academy Award-winning director Fernando Trueba chose to base the conception of his new movie, Calle 54, with the music. In this case, he investigates Latin jazz. That’s the way music should be presented cinematically . After the germination of his musical thesis, Trueba dramatizes it visually somewhat akin to Disney’s ground-breaking, albeit pedantic, execution with Fantasia. In both cases, the music is the reason for the films’ existences.

A true lover of music, and particularly Latin jazz, Trueba modestly sought a way to communicate to a larger audience through a medium other than the CD the inspirational power of music. The only art form that makes people get up and dance, and that brings them together, and that vanishes as soon as it’s created—music receives duly respectful attention on Calle 54. Exceptional Latin musicians of distinctly different styles simply play the music.

That doesn’t mean that the music is played simply, though. (The placement of an adverb can make all the difference in the world.) Like jazz, the various forms of Latin music, whether orchestral or dance or folk, can be infinitely complex. These forms share the commonalities of polyrhythmic percussiveness and the wordless expression of the Latin experience, whether it’s Cuban, Brazilian, Panamanian, Dominican, Bolivian, Argentinean, Spanish, Chilean, Mexican, Puerto Rican or Venezuelan. The same irresistible spirit prevails throughout Calle 54 in unalloyed purity of energy.

Perhaps because of Trueba’s fascination with the music, the CD, Calle 54, contains almost invariably, and without exaggeration, extraordinary and honest performances. Recorded with careful attention to detail and fidelity at Sony’s studios in New York, the music of Calle 54 is an event unto itself, as it contains sufficient variety and an abundance of remarkable talent.

Would that there were space to analyze each track and describe its strengths. Suffice it to say that, while none of them are repetitive or even of the same style, all of the numbers, averaging six minutes in length, pack a density of ideas and contrasting motifs and movements.

Paquito D’Rivera’s “Panamericana,” which starts the CD, is a perfect example. It consists of shimmering percussion behind a short D’Rivera cadenza; a vocal exhortation inviting the listener into the experience; the development of Afro/Caribbean hand drumming; an assertive brass statement; an evolution into a light tango theme, complete with bandoneon; a bi-metrical enlivening of the tune; an engaging colloquy between D’Rivera on alto sax and vibraphone; a return to the Afro/Caribbean beat under a trumpeted flow; a recombination of all of the preceding threads; and a penultimate, ruminative, spurious fade-out before the final clarineted run. All in seven minutes.

Eliane Elias calms things down as her trio performs “Samba Triste” with taste and the ever-present concentration on the shifting internal harmonies of Brazilian music within the placid exterior melody. But then Spaniard Chano Dominguez raises the temperature, thrilling and challenging listeners with his unconventional fusing of jazz with native flamenco dance and song. Hand-clapping, olé’s and foot-tapping ensue as he embarks on a jazz waltz that gains ever-increasing momentum. Is it jazz? Is it flamenco? Well, it’s both, and masters like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Gil Evans and Chick Corea long ago realized that boundaries are meaningless.

I could go on. Space prevents long-winded description of all of the music.

While each track is a gem unto itself, one of the many striking accomplishments of Calle 54 is Chico O’Farrill’s creation of tensions between brass-led exclamation and pianistic serenity, melodic comfort and percussive alarm, simplicity and elaboration on “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.” Gato Barbieri puts his distinctive saxophone tonality to effective use on “Introccion Llamerito & Tango/Bolivia” by abandoning lyricism and instead developing wordless spiritual expression over an insistent quarter-note-and-two-eighth-note repetitive beat.

Of course, Chucho Valdés cannot be ignored on any recording wherein he appears, as he seems incapable of less than a thrilling performance no matter what the venue. One of the highlights of Calle 54, though, is the final track that reunites Chucho with his father, the once-legendary but all-but-forgotten Bebo Valdés. Moving to Stockholm in the early 1960’s after leaving Cuba, Bebo Valdés is enjoying rediscovery with listeners who wondered what happened to him. More importantly, Bebo Valdés is enjoying reunion with his son on “La Comparasa,” on which one can hear the basis of Chucho’s talent as well as father and son’s deference for the variety of their homeland’s music.

Of course, a tribute to Latin jazz would be incomplete without the participation, unfortunately posthumously, of Tito Puente on “New Arrival.” After he generously allows his band members to offer their own interpretations of this song of joy, Puente comes in with a reminder of his inimitable talent on timbales, not to mention the ability of all of his music to spread happiness.

No doubt, Calle 54 will be a collectible film about Latin music that enthuasiasts will savor. It may spark much discussion in the press (and hopefully, at the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony). But the music stands on its own. Calle 54 is an inspiring CD that, when all is said and done in 2001, will be one of the top Latin releases of the year.


Track Listing: Panamericana, Samba Triste, Oye Como Viene, Earth Dance, From Within, Introccion Llamerito & Tango/Bolivia, New Arrival, Caridad Amaro, Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, Labrimas Negras, Compa Galletano, La Comparasa

Personnel: Paquito D

| Record Label: Blue Note Records | Style: Latin/World


More Articles

Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read The Invariant CD/LP/Track Review The Invariant
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read Akua's Dance CD/LP/Track Review Akua's Dance
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Daylight Ghosts CD/LP/Track Review Daylight Ghosts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Live at PafA" CD/LP/Track Review Live at PafA
by Matthew Aquiline
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "More Than Meets The Ear" CD/LP/Track Review More Than Meets The Ear
by Troy Collins
Published: February 25, 2016
Read "Four Plus Three" CD/LP/Track Review Four Plus Three
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: June 5, 2016
Read "Altered Narratives" CD/LP/Track Review Altered Narratives
by Mark Corroto
Published: March 13, 2016
Read "Two Of A Kind" CD/LP/Track Review Two Of A Kind
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 30, 2016
Read "Reciprocity" CD/LP/Track Review Reciprocity
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 15, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!