Home Reviews Paul Austerlitz, Dr. Merengue

Paul Austerlitz, Dr. Merengue


Paul Austerlitz and the Dominican Ensemble
With Jose Duluc and Julio Figueroa

DR. MERENGUE is an aural reimagining of the book, Merengue: Dominican Music and Identity (Temple University Press, 1997). Also, it is part of a trilogy called Marasa Twa: Vodou-Jazz-Merengue. In the spiritual traditions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Marasa Twa are magical triplets who manifest divine mysteries.

Through extensive interviews and written commentaries, Merengue: Dominican Music and Identity examines the historical and contemporary contexts in which merengue is performed and danced. Also, Austerlitz tells the story of merengue’s political functions, class and racial significance, including how some Dominicans continue to deny its African roots.

Briefly, each piece (track) is dedicated to a great figure in the history of merengue, such as Nico Lora, a singer, accordionist, and innovator from the Cibao region of the country, whose music and lyrics provided social commentary. Legend has it that Lora could instantaneously improvise merengues on any topic. “People would give him tips and say, improvise a merengue about a girl. I’m trying to date her and I want her to like me, and he would do that, and she’d be impressed.”

Other tracks include Los Saxofones (The Saxophones), based on accordionist Francisco Ulloa’s and saxophonist Oscar Pena’s interpretation of the tune.

Santiago was originally composed for solo piano and meant for listening. Austerlitz uses multiple instruments and adds a jazz tinge.

Pri-Pri Electronico combines merengue tipico cibaeno, merengue pri-pri (also known as merengue palo echao and merengue de atabales). Also, Austerlitz adds electronics and jazz elements while keyboardist Juan Valdez mimics the accordion.

Con el alma salutes the alto-saxophonist Tavito Vasquez, who injected be-bop influenced improvisations into the music. Also, it’s reinterpreting saxophonist Juan Colon’s version, which appears on the album the classic recording, Con el Alma de Tavito (Max Music).

Merengue de atabales combines palo or atabales drumming with jazz. Also, it’s a nod to the Afro-inspired sounds of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.

La empaliza is based on the jazz-influenced solos of trumpeter Hector de Leon and the alto saxophonist Choco de Leon.

Naak Out and Two Can are inspired by and dedicated to three great Dominican saxophonists: Mario Rivera, Carlito Estrada, and Sandy Gabriel.

As the title implies, Merengaga fuses Dominican merengue with Haitian Gaga. Both share Congolese influences and blend easily with contemporary jazz.

The Afro Dominican Jazz Suite is inspired by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo’s legendary fusions. Also, it’s Paul’s answer to the Afro-Cuban Suite.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the participation of the Dominican drummer, singer Jose Duluc and the percussionist Julio Figueroa, who tutored Austerlitz during the early stages of his research.

Paul Austerlitz has dedicated the better part of his life to studying world music cultures. His involvement with African-based cultures is motivated by mystical, creative needs and activism (social justice). Over the years he has become a “son” of the Dominican Republic and by extension, Haiti.

Dr. Merengue will introduce the book and the music to new audiences. Also, the Forward by Robert Farris Thompson is a must read. Highly recommended.

Musicians: Paul Austerlitz – Bass Clarinet, tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet, flute; Jose Duluc – percussion and vocals; Julio Figueroa – percussion and vocals; Juan Valdez – piano; Nelson Pimental – bass; Kenia de la Rosa – guira; Angelina Tallaj – piano; Esar Simo – bass; Freddy Valdes – bass; Otoniel Nicola – drum set.


A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.


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