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Ignacio Berroa Trio: Straight Ahead From Havana

James Nadal By

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While it appears normal to perform Cuban music in its natural rhythmic state, in a reversal of the rules of engagement, drummer Ignacio Berroa has re-imagined the popular songbook of his homeland, into Straight Ahead From Havana, shaking up established traditional elements to form a new jazz perspective. Joining Berroa in the trio are Martin Bejerano on piano, and Josh Allen on bass. Bejerano hails from Miami, where he is piano jazz director at the University of Miami, Allen attended this same school, has performed with Berenjena, and they both prove to be the perfect choice for this project.

Though the selections may not be familiar to the average jazz listener, they encompass the vast spectrum that is Cuban popular music, drawing heavily from the bolero, danzón, and son Cubano musical styles that dominated radio airplay and record sales, during the pre-Castro era of the 1950's. This is recognized as the Golden Age of Cuban music, and the songs were chosen by Berroa from memories of hearing them in his youth. "Alma Con Alma," by Juanito Marquez is totally reworked from its sentimental bolero arrangement, into an accelerated bop adventure, whereas another classic bolero, Sindo Garay's "La Tarde," is given a swinging blues makeover. Two selections associated with legendary pianist/vocalist Bola de Nieve, "Drume Negrita" and "Si Me Pudieras Querer," are accentuated by aggressive bass patterns and a fierce drumming attack, discharging an explosive tour de force.

"No Te Importe Saber," and "Nuestras Vidas," though altered, maintain the intended lush romantic mood of the originals, and the tranquility allows Bejerano ample room for pianistic expression. The great Cuban band Casino de la Playa and their vocalist Miguelito Valdés are revisited with "Negro De Sociedad," noted salsa singer Rubén Blades stepping in to do the vocals. This interpretation glides with a shuffling jazz vibe, finishing with Afro-Cuban rumba flourishes. Guest percussionist Conrado Garcia establishes the pace of "Los Tres Golpes," an animated Berroa displaying his renowned technical wizardry, expanding upon the music he grew up with. Delving into the Cuban filin (feeling) movement which was an off-shoot of the popular trova style "Deja Que Siga Solo," brings in bassist Lowell Ringel to capture the subtle intonations and variances in tempo, as Bejerano takes an impressive improvised solo. Ringel returns on the completely revamped "Me Recordarás," which is just as the record title declares, straight ahead from Havana.

This record is a textbook example of jazz improvisation based on a theme. Though Berroa may have chosen the material, the other musicians shine in their participation and contribution. They have successfully deconstructed these complex vocal arrangements, renovating them through cross-cultural exploration, accomplished by applying dominant jazz sensibilities, with astonishing results.

Track Listing: Alma Con Alma; La Tarde; Drume Negrita; No Te Importa Saber; Negro De Sociedad; Deja Que Siga Solo; Los Tres Golpes; Si Me Pudieras Querer; Nuestras Vidas; Me Recordaras.

Personnel: Ignacio Berroa: drums; Martin Bejerano: piano; John Allen: upright bass; Lowell Ringel: upright bass (6, 10); Conrado “Coky” Garcia: percussion (5, 7); Ruben Blades: vocal (5).

Title: Straight Ahead From Havana | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Codes Drum Music

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