Mark Weinstein: Cuban Roots

Tomas Pena By

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AAJ: Aside from the bootleg (Artol) version, Cuban Roots was unavailable to the public for twenty-five years. Any idea why? Is it currently available?

MW: The person who controls the master refused to release it or even license it to me. Although he did license one track for a Masters of Latin Jazz compilation [on Rhino records]. That really blows me away. Here are all these Latin jazz classics by legends who recorded hundreds of hit albums and sold hundreds of thousands and in the middle is Mark Weinstein and a record that sold a few hundred copies at most. Go figure. A benefactor arranged for a limited CD run of a remastered version of Cuban Roots on the best available vinyl. The CD is available through my web page, www.jazzfluteweinstein.com.

AAJ: In addition to Cuban Roots, my copy includes the Orisha Suite. Tell me about the Orisha Suite.

MW: When I heard about the possibility of a CD version of Cuban Roots I asked that it include a never-released recording I made in 1977 when I had just begun to play flute. This is a very different approach to the material. It is a suite of two toques sung by Olympia Alfara, backed by batá and chorus and multi-tracked keyboards played by Eddy Martinez. There is an instrumental introduction with flute, classical guitar, three cellos and me playing a bass line on the marimba. A long interlude which is a free composition for flute and classical guitar with 4 French horns and an instrumental coda with me playing 3 layers of marimba locked in with the batá drums and 3 tracks of flute, two playing very fast and free and a lyrical flute solo on top of all that. Ah, to be young again!

AAJ: Any idea why Cuban Roots came to be known as the "Green Album."

MW: The color of the cover!

AAJ: Let's fast forward to Cuban Roots Revisited, which was recorded 32 years after Cuban Roots. As the story goes, Michael McFadin, the co-founder of Cubop Records, attempted and failed to acquire the rights to Cuban Roots. As an alternative, he commissioned the making of Cuban Roots Revisited. What was your initial reaction when he approached you with the idea of recording Cuban Roots Revisited?

MW: I said a small prayer of thanks. By that time I had recorded two albums on flute including Jazz World Trios, which is still one of my favorite albums and I saw this as a way back into the music. My nephew Dan Weinstein is responsible for doing the leg work getting us all hooked up.

AAJ: As the title implies, you "revisited" your original concept. How did you approach the project and what was your vision for going in?

MW: The revisit was basically the material. We did the same songs, except for the Beatles tune and adding "Ellegua. Dan [Weinstein] orchestrated my trombone solo on "Just Another Guajira for the three bones. Otherwise the concept was very different. Because Dan was involved, I wanted to use trombones. I had written for trombones extensively in the '60s and '70s. I used the trombones as a choir utilizing the bass trombone to get a broad orchestral sound against which the flute could stand out. LA has a great folkloric tradition and Lazara Gallaraga is one of the most important teachers, along with Francisco Aguabella, that induced the best drummers in town to participate in the project.

We rehearsed the horns and then went into the studio. But what really made the date was Omar Sosa. Omar responded immediately to the arrangements, and the two bassists, Carlitos La Puerta and Eddie Resto followed his lead. I had never heard Omar before, and during a break early on the first day when everyone else was eating, Omar and I jammed. That convinced me that I was dealing with a giant and convinced him that my head was as open as his. I consider his playing on the album to be as innovative as Chick's was on the original. The difference being that Omar is a master of Cuban music, having studied all aspects of rumba and being deeply immersed in Santeria. His playing is deeply connected with the drums but never duplicates or gets in the way of the drum conversation.

AAJ: It must have been incredibly gratifying to record your material in a state-of-the-art environment.

MW: It's a good thing we had great equipment and great engineers. By the time we finished two days of recording and a half day of fixing parts, we mixed the whole thing in one of the most intense afternoons of my life. Fortunately the board was completely automated—this was before Pro-Tools—and so we could mix very efficiently, saving moves on the board in a primitive computer so that we could move quickly from mix to mix and tune to tune. We had everything going for us except for time and budget. I had to be back in New Jersey to teach and the budget only paid for 3 days in the studio.

AAJ: How does Cuban Roots compare to Cuban Roots Revisited?

MW: Thirty years later, Cuban Roots Revisited reflects a more mature attitude towards composition and a much more secure relationship to the source material. Everyone there had an understanding of the folkloric elements and an openness to innovation. I was no longer a power player and Cuban Roots Revisited is much more thoughtful. The tempos are slower and the textures rich and evocative. Omar's solos are spectacular and I especially love him and Dan on violin on "Ochún.

AAJ: I understand that percussionist Francisco Aguabella played a major role in the making of the album.

MW: When I came LA a few days before the date, Danny had me meet Francisco in a donut shop over a cup of coffee. I reminded him that we had played together with Eddie Palmieri during one of the many times when Barry was into other projects and I would take over for him. He remembered playing with me and agreed.. Since he was one of the master drummers of the Carnaval in Havana that gave us the depth we needed. The two comparsas on the date are among the best recordings of Carnaval drums ever made in the US. We recorded with 4 drummers and then re-recorded 4 more layers on top. I have to mention John Santos who ended up playing an essential role in keeping things together through his wonderful gentility and sense of humor.

AAJ: All of the musicians hail from the west coast. Was this by choice?

MW: Cubop is a west coast company and Dan did all of the contracting

AAJ: How was Cuban Roots Revisited received?

MW: It got decent play and some good reviews, but it wasn't a working band and so after the first period of interest it faded into the background.

AAJ: Nonetheless, you must have been pleased with the end result. For one thing, it gave you the opportunity to tie up some loose ends. Secondly, the sound quality is superb.

MW: Yes, I'm pleased with the results. The engineers did a wonderful job, given the time pressures we were under. I'd like to do another album like it, that is an orchestral approach to rumba, but this time with strings. I'm just beginning to move in that direction and hope to get Omar involved. Meanwhile I am finishing another project with Omar on marimba and vibes with a baliphone player from the Ivory Coast and African drummers. But that is another free-blowing album. The follow-up to Cuban Roots Revisited will be compositional.

AAJ: I look forward to hearing the results of that project. Any final thoughts on Cuban Roots Revisited?

MW: I don't think the album has reached the audience it deserves and I'm hoping that with my latest album, Algo Más, my work will be seen as a whole. Of course, this interview is evidence that it is already happening.

AAJ: Absolutely. Before we discuss Algo Más, let's talk about your relationship with Barry Rogers. Obviously, Barry had a tremendous impact on you, both personally and professionally.

MW: Barry was my best friend and my mentor. He will always be my model of what it means to be a musician. He had the best and broadest taste in music of anyone I knew. He had the most inventive mind, but was always disciplined and thought about the music, rather than show off. And he could swing a band. When Barry got going and the whistles started blowing and the Palladium was jumping—and I got to play the same damn riff over and over for a million times. Jose Rodriguez was a saint. I had to leave that band and be a jazz musician. Barry stayed tight with me and gave me a lot of gigs. Me, Barry and Jose did all the Tito [Puente] albums during the '60s and he turned Herbie Mann on to me.

AAJ: You stated that Barry Rogers is one of the few people who would have understood the concept of Algo Más. How so?

MW: Barry is in my head when I play, especially when I play Cuban music. After I made the album I missed him like crazy. Not being able to play it for him breaks my heart.

AAJ: A few years ago, I saw you perform at El Taller Latino, a performance space on 104th Street and Broadway [New York]. At the time you were experimenting with the material for Algo Más. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that the performance was produced by Mappy Torres.

MW: That was the third gig that I played with Cuban drummers in preparation for the record date. I had done it twice before with different guys and wasn't quite satisfied. Mappy gave me the best audience and total spiritual support. That gig gave me the courage to do the record.

AAJ: At its core, Algo Más combines jazz, contemporary dance music and Cuban forms in a spiritual and funky context. The sound is very distinctive and radically different. I like to think of it as Chappotin meets [Jimi] Hendrix! How do you think of it?

MW: That's quite a compliment. Barry made listening to Felix Chappotin and Miguelito Cuni a condition for my playing with the band. But the Cuban trumpet players that influenced me the most were La Florecita, a trumpet player who was the master of Comparsa and Conga and Chocolate, who I played with for years in Larry Harlow's Band. To me Algo Más is the elders meet the children. The combination of the deep wisdom of the drums, the range of the vocals, from Africa to dowop and all those vocabularies—jazz, blues, soul, funk that we bring to the table, it's a family reunion over space and time.

AAJ: You stated that you searched high and low to find the right musicians for the project. Tell me about who you chose and why.

MW: The first gig I played at the Knitting Factory [New York], just a free jazz bassist and drummers, then at Cornelia Street with a free guitarist, Bruce Eisenbeil and drummers, and then with Ben Lapidus and Harvie Swartz at Mappy's. Each group taught me something about what I needed. Jean-Paul [Bourelly] had heard Cuban Roots Revisited and asked me if I would put together a date with a similar ensemble. He had gotten a taste of Cuban drums when he recorded two tunes with me and Milton Cardona on Jazz World Trios. But I had him playing twelve-string, cooking like Richie Havens with the subtlety of Monk, but not doing his thing—playing out of Chicago blues guitar, which is his home base.

He was living in Berlin and had a week in town so I asked Bobby Sanabria to recommend a drummer to put the section together for me. Bobby knows my music so he picked the absolute right man for the job, Pedro Martinez. Pedro has the deep knowledge of rumba and bata and a totally open mind. He brought up his main man from Miami, Nani Santiago, and called on two of the best drummers in the idiom, Gene Golden, who goes all the way back to Olatunji, and Skip Burney, another of the African American masters of the tradition. Jean Paul-had turned me on to Santi when I recorded Jazz World Trios and Santi knows drums. And there it is.

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