Welcome to the second installment of BEHIND THE MUSIC, where I share my thoughts on music, literature, and New York City events.
ARTEMIS – IN REAL TIME (Blue Note, 2023)
Three years after the release of ARTEMIS’ critically acclaimed self-titled debut album, the ensemble returns with an impressive follow-up highlighting its members’ improvisational strengths and gifts as composers. In Real Time also showcases a new lineup with founding members pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Allison Miller, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and bassist Noriko Ueda joined by newcomers tenor saxophonist Nicole Grover and multi-reedist Alexa Tarantino. The 8- song repertoire presents compelling new band member originals and choice covers of pieces such as Lyle Mays’s (“Slink”) and Wayne Shorter’s (“Penelope”). The band and the repertoire are as impressive as they are compelling.
DAVID VIRELLES – CARTA with BEN STREET and ERIC MCPHERSON (INTAKT, 2023)
David Virelles presents an eagerly awaited debut album with his trio on Intakt Records. Born in Santiago de Cuba, the pianist and composer established himself on the international jazz scene with his keyboard artistry and collaborations with Henry Threadgill, Andrew Cyrille, Chris Potter, Wadada Leo Smith, Tom Harrell, Milford Graves, Ravi Coltrane, and Jane Bunnett among others. Eight of the nine compositions are penned by Virelles and open doors to free interpretation and development. Oscillating between composition and improvisation, the trio brings together three of the most influential voices in contemporary Jazz. Instead of liner notes, poet Malik Crumpler contributes a poem inspired by the music and conversations with the musicians. Thus far, I have only heard the intriguing single “NYCChepinson.”
I look forward to hearing the entire album.
HENRY THREADGILL AND BRENT HAYES EDWARDS – EASILY SLIP INTO ANOTHER WORLD A LIFE IN MUSIC(KNOPF, 2023)
To enjoy HENRY THREADGILL’S Biography, you don’t have to be an enthusiast. His encompassing vision and adventurous spirit of inquiry have influenced generations of composers and musicians, including David Virelles, Dafnis Prieto, Jason Moran, Roman Filiu, Liberty Ellman, and Luis Perdomo. Essentially, Threadgill recollects the music scene in Chicago in the 60s, where he and his friends and schoolmates formed the core of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Also, he recounts his military service in Vietnam, which reveals an under-recognized aspect of jazz history, the number of musicians in Threadgill’s generation who served in the armed forces. After his discharge in 1969, Threadgill participated in one revolutionary act after another, from Air to Zooid, to playing with Sun Ra, James White and the Blacks, John Cale, and Cecil Taylor and Mario Bauza, and absorbing lessons from—while avoiding imitating—the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The author is encouraging and stern as he counsels, “If you haven’t had a love affair with the music, I don’t know what you’re doing in it,” and urges readers to “innovate, improvise, and broaden their horizons.” Threadgill’s music is, by no means, “easy listening.” Still, he explains, “The listener gets more when the stimulation is not explained. Then you must take it in as you listen, letting the language resonate with how you hear music. When you don’t know what it means or where it comes from, its full implications come into play.”
DANIEL NINA – EL NAZARENO (NOVELA, SPANISH EDITION, PASILLO DEL SUR EDITORES)
EL NAZARENO is part fact, part magic realism. The premise is simple, clever, and well-executed. Ismael Rivera’s spirit returns to earth and revisits the moments, places, and people that brought him joy. “I go back to my memories, to Las Caras Lindas, those of my black people, those who lived in La Perla (Puerto Rico) and Portobelo (Panama). I never failed my mission. I am, and always will be,El Nazareno.” El Nazareno provides an exciting and informative overview if you are unfamiliar with El Sonero Mayor’s life and legacy. On a personal note, when I visited Puerto Rico earlier this year, Rivera’s image and Cortijo y su Combo’s music were everywhere. El Nazareno is only available in paperback and at select bookstores in Puerto Rico, such as Libreria Magica in Santurce. I highly recommend it.
DANIEL NINA – CORTIJO (SPANISH EDITION, PASSILLO DEL SUR EDITORES)
CORTIJO is a homage to the unheralded composer, musical director, and innovator RAFAEL CORTIJO and the municipality of Santurce and El Barrio Obrero in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The book opens with, “Today I tell my story. Many years have passed since I left. But my absence is still remembered by many. In the life that I have had to live, I lived like that second man who is not spoken of, is not mentioned. That man who is black and distinct. History always forgets the second black man. Always. Today, I return to tell my story, dance and have a good time at the corner rumba. But, above all, to say the things I didn’t say in life. Things I kept silent. Things that I regret. Because a man born free should speak his mind.”
In life, Ismael Rivera was Rafael Cortijo’s disciple. When Nina writes, “history always forgets the second black man,” he is referring to the fact that even though Cortijo and his Combo elevated Puerto Rican folkloric music to previously unimaginable international heights. Despite that, Cortijo, the man, and his impressive achievements are mostly forgotten, particularly outside of Puerto Rico. It is telling that, to date, except for a street in Santurce’s Barrio Obrero, no monument bears Cortijo’s name. In 2000, Cortijo was posthumously inducted into the Latin Music Hall of Fame. Like, El Nazareno, Cortijo is only available in paperback in select bookstores in Puerto Rico (see link above).
Nina is also the author of Rompe Saraguey, which tells the story of a particular moment in the life of Puerto Rican salsa singer Héctor Lavoe and the trombonist Willie Colon. Full disclosure: I have yet to read Rompe Saraguey, but I am all in if it’s anything like El Nazareno and Cortijo.
WILLIE ROSARIO – El REY DEL RITMO (AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, SPANISH EDITION) ROBERT TELLEZ MORENO (UNOSOTROS, 2019)
Robert Tellez Moreno’s Willie Rosario – El Rey Del Ritmo gives readers an insightful and informative look into the world of percussionist, composer, arranger, innovator, and consummate bandleader Willie Rosario.
Through meticulous research and testimonies by Rosario, Bobby Valentin, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Tony Vega, and Humberto Ramirez, among others, Tellez Moreno documents Willie Rosario’s life and music and provides insight into the development of “Mr. Afinque’s” distinctive sound, and provides readers with a comprehensive discography and the stories behind many of Rosario’s acclaimed recordings.
Interesting Fact: Willie Rosario’s orchestra initially emulated Machito, Tito Puente, and Tito Rodriguez. Later, he experimented with different configurations but could not put his finger on the sound he sought. That changed when Rosario visited the Blue Note (NYC) and saw the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and his Quintet. Mulligan played a passage with the bass and piano (similar to a mambo), which inspired Rosario to pair the baritone saxophone with four trumpets. At the time, the baritone sax was not commonly used in ensembles, so in addition to creating a distinctive sound, Rosario set a precedent.
El Rey Del Ritmo documents Willie Rosario’s life and music from his humble beginnings to the present day and gives credit where it is due. Kudos to Robert Tellez Moreno for immortalizing “Mr. Afinque,” a gentleman, consummate professional, taskmaster, and teacher whose contributions to developing Salsa “Dura” and Latin Jazz are far-reaching. Willie Rosario recently celebrated his 99th birthday. Felicidades, Maestro!
I just listened to an advance copy of Puerto Rican saxophonist Jonathan Suazo’s “RICANO,” due on August 4. Suazo describes the project as “an original Afro-Caribbean experience” that deals with “exploration, integration, community, education, and self-acceptance.” The title tips its hat to Suazo’s dual heritage and fuses the words Puertorriqueño and Dominicano. Suazo is a name to watch!
Grammy Award-Winning Producer, Trombonist, Composer, and Arranger Doug Beavers is in top form on ‘LUNA,’ due out June 30,, 2023,, via Circle 9 Records.
Direct from Puerto Rico, Trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda and the Turnaround will appear at Dizzy’s from June 30 to July 2, 2023.
Pianist, Composer, and Arranger Luis Perdomo will appear at Brush Culture in Teaneck, New Jersey, on July 1.
Vocalist and WBGO Radio Host Lezlie Harrison’s Birthday Celebration at Brush Culture, Teaneck, New Jersey, July 7.
AFRO-ANDEAN FUNKreturns with their second album, FLOWER ON FIRE, continuing their multi-cultural, genre-bending style that fuses Andean roots music with American funk, rock, and electronica. Vocalist Araceli Poma and bassist/composer Matt Geraghty explore social struggle, shamanic rituals, and the healing power of ayahuasca. “The new music s a blend of modern musical styles with heart-felt deep lyricism, memorable melodies, funky grooves, and rich harmonies,” says Geraghty. Poma adds, “The world needs to know about the injustices against our people in Peru and South America that have taken place for years against indigenous communities. I will not stay silent about the atrocities against them, and through our song ‘Somos LatinoAmerica’, we wanted to show unity with them in their fight for justice and equality.”
Stay tuned for another installment of “Que Pasa?” in mid-July.