A CUBAN EMBRACE

_mg_0031ABRAZO: THE HAVANA SESSIONS

A new release of a double CD from Parma Records’s new Ansonica Records http://www.ansonicarecords.com/ Works for big band, small jazz combo, choir, and chamber ensembles by composers Bunny Beck, Roger Bourland, Donald Bowyer, Margaret Brandman, John Carollo, Timothy Miller, Mel Mobley, and Michael Murray performed by members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, the Buena Vista Social Club, Irakere, Vocal Luna  and Schola Cantorum Coralina. Executive Producer: Bob Lord; recording session producers: Dayron Ortega, Juan Manuel Ceruto, Wilma Verrier Quiñones. Recorded November 9 -13, 2015 in Havana, Cuba at the Abdala 1 Studio, Dbega Studio and Bellas Artes Concert Hall.

My review in a few words: A one-of-a-kind sampler of a happy musical marriage between eight American composers and some of Cuba’s finest musicians of today. The all-Cuban ensembles assembled for this recording have a tightly-knit sound ideally suited to the big band arrangements of the first three compositions of CD one. When the twenty or so players break up into smaller groups they make music as intimate, detailed and delicate as any classsical chamber music ensemble in the business. And the vocal groups Schola Cantorum Coralina and Luna are nothing short of spectacular. The recording sound is bright, immediate and cool as the breezes in Havana’s Malecón .

More in detail:

Timothy Lee Miller’s Hot Miami Nights are instrumentally expansive, bold compositions in which American jazz brass gestures meet more than half-way Emilio Morales’ Cuban piano language and the percussion section’s lively rhythmic underpinning with Enrique Plá and Bernardo Bolaños at the helm. Bugs and Gas by Dan Bowyer has the same personnel and attains equally satisfying results.

Bunny Beck’s Jazz Instrumental Suite and Jazz Vocal Suite scale down the players to three brass and a rhythm section in a lean pair of arrangements by Juan Manuel Ceruto, the second featuring fine vocals by Will Daley.

CD2 opens with a set of five gorgeous unaccompanied madrigals that set to the music of Roger Bourland the poetry of the recently-deceased Chicano poet, Francisco Xavier Alarcón. The all-female group that sings them is called Vocal Luna, exemplary in its intonation and floating ethereal above the staff pianissimi.

John A. Carollo’s Burlesque is a tour de force duet for the unlikely pairing of Fadev Sanjudo Rodríguez’ trumpet and Merlyn de la Caridad Corona Pérez’ guitar. The five movement piece begins with a humorous Honolulu Stomp, then sails into the dance-like Baile, baile, mi Hermosa Rosa, then on to the playful Luca has a Cadenza, followed by the thematically-connected Life is a Strange Instrument and Rosa Discovers a Strange Instrument. The composition is immensely original and quite intriguing, all the more so in the context of an album that at first appears to be focusing exclusively on jazz.

Margaret Brandman’s colorful four-part Warm Winds in Havana puts Javier Zalba’s saxophone quartet to create wonders with the composer’s jazz-inflected contrapuntal filigree work, with Andres Coayo on percussion supporting all the intricate cross-rhythmic activity with toe-tapping work on the congas.

Mel Mobley’s Coloring with Water is an inventive jazzy piece of chamber music for a superb brass trio: Maricel González Valdés, trombone, Susana Venereo Martín, French horn, and Fadev Sanjudo Rodriguez, trumpet.

The CD closes with another a capella composition:  Michael Murray’s After the Fall, a three-part setting of a poem by Jodi Kanter. It is an unpredictably somber and profoundly moving lamentation about 9-11 and its aftermath, its idiom highly chromatic, edging into atonality at times. The singers, a group named Schola Cantorum Coralina,  Alina Orraca its conductor are simply stunning in their deeply-felt, utterly musical delivery.

And a bit of background: In December of 2015 I returned for a visit to my place of birth after an absence of 54 years, accompanied by my American wife. Over the period of five days we visited some scenes from my childhood and some completely new sights. What we both found eye-opening and especially moving during that journey of a lifetime was the abundance of music everywhere we went: chamber music at 8 AM in the hotel dining room…sones and guarachas at lunchtime…Lecuona songs while we dined…guaguancós and rumbas in a cabaret floorshow…visits to the Abdala 1 studios in Miramar shortly after this double album was recorded there…a happenchance encounter with a free-lance woodwind trio and another with a Cuban cellist and his German wife and accompanist just arrived in Cuba to record an album of Bach partitas…a conversation with the mother of a young lutenist who had just gotten a brand new instrument from a Canadian source… a half-hour concert given in our honor by a chamber choral ensemble… They were all Cuban musicians whose music-making would not be stopped, even if they had to invest a month’s earnings to get a few reeds for their clarinets, oboes and bassoons or a lifetime savings to buy an instrument.

This recording is more than just a terrific opportunity for Parma Records’s new Ansonica Records to tap into unexplored corners of the Cuban-inspired music that lies waiting to be played by musicians living just 90 miles from our shores. From where I sit and listen, this is a delicious undertaking, one to be savored slowly the way one does when drinking a nice glass of Cuban rum, with which by the way, I’d like to toast Bob Lord and his Parma Records’s new initiative Ansonica Records.

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