You can take the girl out of Cuba, but you can't take Cuba out of the girl. Pianist Marialy Pacheco
left her homeland for Germany in 2004, and after a few years in Australia, settled once again in Germany. Wherever Pacheco has dropped anchor, however, she has turned to her island's music for inspiration. Nestled amongst her own compositions, albums such as Songs That I Love
(Pinnacles Music, 2012), Introducing
(Neuklang Records, 2014) and Duets
(Neuklang, 2017) have been liberally peppered with classic Cuban songs. With Danzón Cubano
, Pacheco remains true to her roots, though this time her originals and a handful of Cuban tunes are giving an elegant makeover by the WDR Funkhausorchester, in a live recording at the 2017 Internationales Jazzfestival Viersen.
Pacheco shares arranging duties with conductor George Hamilton, and it is with Hamilton's own "Baby Steps First"a highly original reimagining of John Coltrane
's "Giant Steps"that the concert begins. Flute, clarinet, trumpet and violin relay Coltrane's melody over marching pizzicato strings on the elegant intro. Thereafter, a multi-layered drama of symphonic proportions unfolds. The Gershwins and Aaron Copland are perhaps obvious touchstones, while the subtle interjections of cabasa and lightly dancing vibraphone lend a certain air of nostalgia. Sweeping strings alternate with bossing brass, and multiple melodic lines weave in and out as dramatic shifts in mood and color unfold. It's a stunning arrangement that paints Coltrane's modulations in an entirely new light.
For the rest of the programme the WDR Funkhausorchester shares protagonism with Pacheco's trio, which features Juan Camilo Villa
on electric bass and Rodrigo Villalon
on drums. The trio is backed by vibrant strings on a swinging version of Eliseo Grenet's "Ay! Mamá Inéz," with a dazzling solo from Pacheco that exudes rhythmic bounce and Cuban-flavored bop. There are hints of Pacheco's classical background in her impressive two-handed play on Ruben Fuentes joyous Mexican folk song "La Bikina," and another terrific solo of the sort that won Pacheco the Montreux Solo Piano Competition in 2012.
A radical reworking of Oscar Bouffartique's "Burundanga" is an exercise in emotional shading; Villa's ominous ostinato and Pacheco's slow unfurling of the melodywhich hint at the song's dark undertonescontrast with the celebratory release as Pacheco skips lightly over buoyant strings. The pianist is in irresistibly playful form on Antonio Romeu's "Tres Lindas Cubanas," unleashing rapid-fire glissandi and locking with the strings in dashing unison. This is one of several tracks to feature guest trumpeter Joo Kraus
. The balladic "Danzón" reveals a more romantic side to Pacheco, though it's the nuanced orchestral score here that most impresses.
There's a cinematic quality to the orchestral arrangement on "Sale el Sol," while the greater rhythmic urgency of "Metro" provides the backdrop to Kraus' pedal-induced psychedelic effects. Like the river that always finds its way to the sea, Pacheco revels in Moisés Simons classic "El Manisero," saving her most impassioned soloing for this rousing set closer.
When the full range of the orchestra is employed, Danzón Cubano
is orchestral Latin-jazz at its best. Even the more stripped back jazz-with-strings tracks are highly enjoyabletestament to the quality of both the arrangements and the first-rate performances. A highly satisfying offering from a pianist who continues to grow.
Baby Steps First; Ay! Mamá Inéz; La Bikina; Burundanga; Tres Lindas Cubanas; Danzón; Sale el Sol; Metro; El Manisero.
WED Funkhausorchester; Gordon Hamilton: conductor, co-arranger.