Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Los Van Van US Tour 2010: Everything We Expected and More!

Singers (l to r) Lele, Yenny and Mayito.

Once we received confirmation that Los Van Van were in fact cleared to come to the United States, I made plans with my family and friends to go to Yoshi's on Friday Dec. 10th - and of course ended up going back Sunday night for more! The re-vamped 16-piece (yes, 16!) band barely fit on the uncomfortable and oddly shaped stage, yet their sardine-like formation in no way diminished the power-packed set, to which we danced, swayed and sang-along collectively being the faithful "vanvaneros" we are. Words simply cannot describe the live Los Van Van experience, and even with the absence of iconic figures such as Pedrito Calvo (the one with the hat) and Pupy (César Pedroso, pianist and co-founder who now fronts his own band), the "train" as they are known in Cuba did not disappoint.

Mara Fox and Wayne Wallace sitting in!
Tearing into a 75-minute set of recent tunes as well as their classic "oldies" medley of hits from the 70s and 80s, the powerhouse band of founders and young lions gave the crowd what they wanted: non-stop hip-churning grooves. Anyone who knows this band will tell you that their particular brand of "songo" is founded on one principle: to make people dance. Yet the jam-packed crowd was content to soak up the energy emanating from the stage without the need for stylized salsa moves, as is the norm in the Bay Area; folks here love to show off their dancing chops, but a Van Van experience is more like a rock show in that the crowd functions as a living, breathing and pulsating organism that feeds off the band. The front row of four singers (Mayito, Roberto, Yenny and Lele) take turns in the lead role, and director Juan Formell - now more of a musical director/conductor - seems to relish his revamped role now that he has fresh "reinforcements" in the bass chair with Pavel Molina Ruiz. The sound of this band is relentless, the tempo mostly up-beat and the volume loud; there is certainly subtlety and nuance, but the priority with Los Van Van is to keep everyone moving, period.
Rebeca with Samuel and Maestro Juan Formell

This being the Bay Area, we also have a number of musicians who - in addition to being die-hard LVV fans - have a deep and long-time relationship with the band. A number (including yours truly) were asked to sit in, including trombonist Wayne Wallace (nominated this year for a Grammy in the Latin Jazz category - congrats!!), trombonist Mara Fox and flautist John Calloway. I myself was pulled up onto the stage at the bequest of Mayito Sunday night for a solo on "Tim Pop con Birdland," and had the time of my life! (See video below.) I heard from Kevin Moore of Timba.com that every late show set was different from the first. To be sure the restrictive nature of Yoshi's 2-show format really doesn't work for Los Van Van's aesthetic. Like I said, their shows are more like rock shows, and a typical set is at least 2 hours! That said, it was still a musical high that the Bay Area won't long forget. Just can't wait to see them again...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Los Van Van come to Yoshi's San Francisco

I won't believe it until I see it - with the cancellation earlier this year of Los Van Van in the midst of a booking snafu, we "vanvaneros y vanvaneras" were slightly pessimistic. But word is the U.S. tour is on, with stops in LA and NYC before a four-day stint at Yoshi's in San Francisco. The format of the band may have changed over the years, and yes - Pedrito Calvo is not scheduled to appear with them after all - but no matter: el tren always delivers. Any of you naysayers out there will be in for a post-modern Cuban shock; nothing like this 15-piece+ band playing live to knock your socks off!

Get your dancing shoes on - ¡que pronto empieza la fiesta!

UPDATE 12/2/10 @ 1pm ~
As of today 3 of Los Van Van's band members - including director Juan Formell - have not received their U.S. visas. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens. Here is a link to the LA Times article.

UPDATE 12/3/10 ~ Looks like the visa snafu has been solved. We shall see...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chico & Rita Premiere in the U.K.

So the U.S. release of Fernando Trueba's animated film Chico & Rita will have to wait, but at least UK audiences are already in the know as they were treated to the release over the weekend. Here is the UK Trailer of the film:

For all you jazz and Cuban music fans, you will love this film.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers @ SF Jazz

Rebeca with Chucho Valdés
There are few musicians in the world today who command such international respect and admiration as Chucho Valdés. His extraordinary career is a testament to all things that are good in the world of music: talent, virtuosity, endless creativity and a willingness to reinvent oneself, just to name a few. Last Monday, October 11th I witnessed a performance by the Maestro in his latest incarnation of ensembles, the Afro-Cuban Messengers, on the first stint of several U.S. tour dates - his first appearance here in over seven years.

The sell-out crowd at San Francisco's Herbst Theater was exuberant and giddy with anticipation, partly because our San Francisco Giants had just clinched their division and the smart-phone-crazy audience spontaneously erupted in applause even before the show began. Once Chucho and his band took the stage, we were in for a remarkable yet totally expected roller coaster ride of musical excellence. I say "expected" because with Chucho, we expect nothing less from a man who so truly has embodied the sound of Cuba for nearly half a century; he IS the absolute representation of what Cuban musicianship is all about. The product of classical training, the indelible influence of his father Bebo Valdés and a total command of American jazz, Chucho tore into a two-hour plus set of unimaginable depth and diversity and had people on the edge of their seats with his extraordinary Irakere-era pieces, newly transformed for smaller ensemble, along with his take on jazz standards combined with the African-infused textures of his homeland. From references to Brubeck, Ellington and Zawinul, Chucho demonstrated why he is regarded as one of the most compelling musicians of any generation as he paid tribute to these and other musical masters. And for those of us die-hard Irakere fans, we were treated to familiar repertoire in a different light, while we got to revel in the largely acoustic format of this smaller incarnation. In fact, the first several numbers featured Chucho and rhythm section only, minus any horns and vocals - a lovely way to start the program.

Chucho with Giants Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda
The band includes some mighty talent in Yaroldy Abreu on congas, who resembles Giovanni Hidalgo in his lightning-fast chops and power, Juan Carlos Rojas on drums, Reynaldo Melián on trumpet (of Gonzalo Rubalcaba fame), saxophonist Carlos Miyares, batá percussionist and vocalist Dreiser Durruthy, and Lázaro Rivero on bass. A last-minute addition to the program was Chucho's sister Mayra Caridad, who sang only one number. There were a few uncomfortable moments, many of them technical as the increasing intensity of the percussion tended to drown out the piano, but overall the extraordinary music and musicianship made up for any minor production issues. A seemingly more daring rhythmic approach in Chucho's writing is evident in this project with his frequent use of odd meter; although we know Cuban music to be inherently danceable, this music is clearly about listening, period. And for all the technical prowess of the man and his music, I sensed something new in him - a more tender, sensitive side than in previous concerts. Perhaps he has tapped into a more spiritual side - there was certainly no shortage of Yoruban liturgical chants and rhythms in the set, yet that repertoire was always a part of the aforementioned Irakere. But his stance at the piano struck many of us - he sat miraculously still for someone playing with so much speed and agility on his instrument, and at times he seemed to sit back and let the band go. Those familiar with his many musical incarnations have to wonder what will come next for Chucho Valdés, and we revel in the possibilities because we know we will be in for a treat, no matter what.

Click here to read my recent review of Chucho's Steps in JazzTimes Magazine.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Issac Delgado receives Latin Grammy nomination

Many congratulations to Issac Delgado on his Latin Grammy nomination for "L-O-V-E" - a truly magnificent album. I had the pleasure of seeing the live show at Yoshi's Oakland last weekend - Freddy Cole (Nat King Cole's brother) was truly soulful, Issac suave and gracious, and sitting in was trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval!

Here is a nice article on the Grammy nod.

The top photo (left) was taken after the show - L to R: Rene Luis Toledo, Arturo Sandoval, Rebeca, Issac Delgado (kneeling), John Di Martino, John Belzaguy, Jimmy Branly and Ken Peplowski.

 On the left is a shot taken during Arturo Sandoval's guest appearance on an impromptu blues. I can't say enough how happy I am for Issac - this is a wonderful new direction for him as an artist, and I know new doors will open for him. My review of "L-O-V-E" will be out soon on JazzTimes Magazine - I'll be sure to post.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Issac Delgado with Freddy Cole at Yoshi's Oakland in September

In this follow-up to my previous blog, Issac Delgado will bring this entirely new concept to the stage at Yoshi's Oakland September 10-12th as he and Freddy Cole (brother of the late, great Nat King Cole) perform from the new album "L-O-V-E." Here is a sweet video of "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas" to give you an idea - quite a departure from Issac's usually timba-infused repertoire, but lovely nevertheless.

Here is a nice article in the San Jose Mercury News.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Issac Delgado will release "L-O-V-E" this August

I can't begin to express how beautiful this project is...the audio quality on this video does not do justice to the exquisite sound captured on the up-coming release by Issac Delgado, L-O-V-E.

The latest production by Nat Chediak for Calle 54 Records (co-produced with Delgado), this stunning tribute to Nat King Cole features songs Nat had recorded in Cuba and México, and features as a special guest Freddy Cole, Nat's brother. Issac's voice is, as always, magnificently subtle, nuanced and oh so tasty.

Look for my forthcoming review in JazzTimes soon, but don't hesitate to pick up this CD when it comes out August 31st.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Real Cuban Rumba & The Next Generation

Came across this video on YouTube and had to immediately post on FB and here on GotClave. It is heartening to know that the younger generations in Cuba have not only retained their cultural wealth, but they continue to evolve and redefine it. This is Cuban rumba at its most authentic, raw and unadulterated, with some hints of modernity. It sure makes me want to go back!

You can't get much more real than this!

Here is a link to the website of the production company behind the film, Attic Independent Production.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Heads up: AfroCubism is coming this fall

Be on the lookout for the newest project from World Circuit, the team behind Buena Vista Social Club. AfroCubism mixes the country musics of Cuba and Mali. Lovely.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Orquesta Revé 2.0 - this weekend at Yoshi's San Francisco

Review (Opening night 7/9/10) ~
In a nutshell, Orquesta Revé is a fun band to dance to. Not necessarily the most musically subtle or diverse - it's pretty much one tempo and one volume the entire show, but certainly tight. However, I would say that Bay Area audiences are very discriminating and are well-aware of the enormous talent that continues to flow from the island of Cuba, so we can hope that future groups that tour the U.S. will keep the bar as high as possible. -RM

In the wave of Cuban bands coming to the US, there are a few who are completely re-vamped versions of their original formations. Such is the case with Orquesta Revé, founded in 1956 by Elio Revé and re-made following his tragic death in 1996. I met Elio in London in 1989 and enjoyed his unusual blending of charanga instrumentation with tres and trombones, which he coined "charangón" (translation: big-ass charanga band!). Despite Elio's on-stage antics and farmer-John overalls, the group featured a relentless groove that combined stylistic elements of the Cuban changüí (a predecessor of the son) with innovative instrumentation.

Well, the Bay Area will welcome the new version of the group (under the direction of Elio's son Elito) this weekend at Yoshi's in San Francisco. I'll be there to soak in the Cuban groove-churning, dance-inducing atmosphere.

Here is a behind-the-scenes view of the band playing in Havana in 2008 just to give you a glimpse of this funky, no-frills group:

Here is another live performance in Havana that shows off their trombone section along with pianist Juan Carlos Alfonso:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pupy y Los Que Son Son - dance music Cuban style, Yoshi's 6-14-10

Dancing last night to Pupy y Los Que Son Son reminded me why I fell in love with Cuban music in the first place: it's all about making the dancers happy. No frills, no self-involved solos or see-who-can-play-more attitudes with this band. Pupy makes people feel good with rock-solid grooves, a trio of singers who take turns at the lead vocal role, and a solid group of young musicians with an absolutely positive vibe. Hanging out with Pupy the day after the first SF Yoshi's show reaffirmed my belief that he is one of the biggest sweethearts in all of Cuba. So humble, so genuine. Oh the stories we heard today...if the walls of that restaurant could talk we would have enough material for several books on a Who's Who of Cuban music...:-)

 Here is Yoshi's clip from opening night (Monday, June 14th) at the SF venue.

Here is a brief clip of yours truly jamming with the band - big fun!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: Silvio Rodriguez @ Paramount Theater, June 12th, 2010

While it had been over three decades since Silvio Rodriguez' last U.S. appearance, he had never visited the San Francisco Bay Area. We knew this was going to be special - we just never knew HOW special. At first the 3,000+ seat Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA seemed marginally full, and we wondered if the house would fill up given the steep ticket prices ($65 being the lowest). However, at 15 minutes past showtime one could sense the near-capacity crowd's excitement.

The show began with Silvio's 5-piece group performing a beautiful instrumental number, and when he took the stage the audience erupted for a near five-minute standing welcome as the band held on to a repeated refrain, waiting for the crowd to settle down so Silvio could begin singing. Once he did, the two and a half-hour set did not disappoint as Silvio intertwined well-known classics with selections from his new album. As is typical for a Silvio concert, the audience sang along the moment they recognized the familiar tunes such as "Sueno con serpientes," "La gota de rocio," "Ojalá," "La maza," "Canto arena," "Pequena serenata diurna" and many others.

What struck me the most was the extraordinary transformation of much of his well-known repertoire. Given the instrumentation (tres, two guitars, flute/clarinet, bass and drums/percussion), Silvio's music seemed to shine on an entirely new level with intricate arrangements, at times twisting Cuban country music with reggae, Bach-infused guitar riffs with Brazilian samba - this was Silvio Rodriguez in a musical make-over. His voice was as fresh as I've ever heard - he was truly in top form and clearly relishing the exquisite and expert accompaniment from his top-notch ensemble. The primary difference between this show and performances of decades past was the glow of countless cell phone cameras, all eager to capture a moment of this historic appearance; imagine a group of Latin-style "Dead-Heads," only instead of audio recorders, everyone is fiddling with some type of digital gadget - tweeting and blogging while singing along to the quintessential Latin American troubadour.

With each of the four standing ovations Silvio gave the crowd one beloved song after another, with shouts of "Viva Cuba libre!" and a humorous "I love you Silvio" in a heavy Spanish accent emanating from the balcony.

I can only imagine how moved he must have felt being in our beautiful Bay Area for the first time, surrounded by a largely 40-and-over multi-cultural (mostly Spanish-speaking) crowd without the slightest hint of "controversy" nor any semblance of negativity. Next he moves on to So Cal (Universal City) and winds up in Orlando (??????). I don't think anything will top Carnegie Hall and the Paramount, but that remains to be seen (and heard). I can only say that this is a tour not to be missed.

Tonight...Pupy y Los Que Son Son at Yoshi's!! The Cubans are certainly back!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sneak Peak: Silvio at Carnegie Hall June 4th

A preview of Silvio's show. Click here for a New York Times review.

Looking forward to the Paramount Theater next Saturday!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pupy y Los Que Son Son @ Yoshi's this June

Due to the cancellation of Los Van Van, Pupy y Los Que Son Son, directed by LVV former pianist Cesar "Pupy" Pedroso, will pick up the Yoshi's dates at both San Francisco and Oakland locations. Here is a link to the Yoshi's site. All pianists in Afro-Cuban music today owe a tremendous amount to Pupy's fabulous arpeggiated montunos!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Silvio Rodriguez concert in Oakland pushed back to June 12th

The concert promoters announced the 1-day schedule change for Silvio's appearance at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Originally scheduled for June 11th, they moved it back 1 day to accommodate for the added show at New York's Carnegie Hall. Here is a link to Silvio's page, and another to the  promoter's Facebook page and press release.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Silvio Rodriguez and more

Rumor has it that Silvio's Carnegie Hall concert on June 4th is sold out. The website indicates "limited availability" (whatever that means). See the complete itinerary here.

Here's one of his best-known and loved songs, "Unicornio," accompanied by the great Chucho Valdés:

Picking up the canceled Van Van dates, Pupy y Los Que Son Son have a few tour dates, including appearances at both San Francisco and Oakland Yoshi's clubs. Here is the listing on Eventful.

For fans of timba, check out timba.com's updates on tours, album releases and more.

En clave,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Cubans Are Coming!

After several years of musical drought, I'm looking forward to the array of musical acts coming through the US. Already saw Carlos Varela this year - amazing show. Even the concert in Miami was a success (read this excellent review in the Miami Herald).

Disappointed that Los Van Van were canceled, but at least Pupy y Los Que Son Son are scheduled to cover some of those dates. The biggest news is Silvio Rodriguez, performing in the US for the first time in over three decades. He'll be at the Paramount Theater in Oakland on June 11th - can't miss this one!

Spoke to Maestro Chucho Valdés following his Grammy win earlier this year - he mentioned some fall dates here in the Bay Area TBA. Here's a beautiful video of Chucho with father Bebo from their Grammy-winning Juntos Para Siempre album, performing "Tres Palabras."