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Live at Texas Avenue /Arthur Luis

Here, sitting on a train bound for Santiago de Compostela in the early hours of May, I have decided to finish once and for all this review that has been stuck in my archives for almost a year. From that first listen I discovered a different Arthur Luis than usual, more Cuban, more of terroir, of nostalgia and homesickness found. I recognized a life that has only just begun in this convulsive and beautiful reality that Cuban art is living, believe it or not, in the world.

A few days ago I was listening to the last episode of the podcast AM:PM Cassettesentitled Music and Migration in Cubain which I had the pleasure to collaborate telling my migratory experience almost a year ago, from Cuba to Spain. And now I was thinking about this album, which is the most current picture of this musician, of everything he has collected over the years; a summary of his childhood, his adolescence, his youth, his migration and his present. A panorama that these days is becoming more and more common in many generations of Cuban musicians.

In case you don't know him, Arthur Luis Alvarez is a pianist and saxophonist by trade, oboist by training. He was born in Sancti Spíritus, in its municipal capital, specifically on Bayamo Street. A young man who has managed throughout his 28 years -almost all of them in music- to forge a career based on free and conscientious musical creation, between being a band musician, accompanist, soloist, arranger and composer. You may know him from seeing him play piano and keyboard in the band Cimafunk, or from his New York nights as a duo with trumpeter Diego Hedez, and with the People of Earth project, a band made up of many Cubans living in the United States.

Photos courtesy of the artist

I remember when I decided to write this text a year ago. The album captivated me at first listen, for the natural, sensitive, ethereal; for the sound effects, the production, for the place where it was recorded -of which you will probably soon hear a lot-; for the people who recorded, for all the art of that musical den and Arthur's innate talent. After I loved it, we talked a couple of times. By Whastapp he told me the story of each of the tracks (I still keep every audio to this day); and by Meet, we had a sort of chat, one afternoon, when I was still working at the Isa and Arthur was living in New York. Here he told me the story of his life, curious.

But in this review the music reigns supreme. Let's start then, in order, because this is a concept album. Already from its setlist tells a story that has a beginning and a continuing development.

On my way is the first track by Live at Texas Avenue. Arthur's way of telling his first years in music, the constant doubt about whether to be a sportsman or a musician. Typical experimentation of sensations of the beginnings, where you are lost and you don't know what you want, because you are a child and, logically, life doesn't look as real as the present. You leave the sport to sit down to study solfège and theory like Arthur, to play oboe, an instrument that almost nobody knows, and that, if you don't study it well, you don't have how to sound pretty. You stop being "normal", to be responsible at the age of seven and have a load of stressful hours. These will go from that melodic calm that characterizes this track, of breathy phrases, very harmonic, by 8vas, in D minor, in Dream Search.

The second track is already playing and I feel identified, lost and found in this clear nebula of the life of professional musicians in Cuba, who like Arthur and I have lived through many ups and downs for almost fifteen years in the world. At Dream Search we all go, but Arthur, particularly, from melodic reiterations, jazzed - or rather, bluesy - on a piano that feels with him the memories of those early years as a student. Diminished chords stress some passages to approach the song and the philinesque motifs that I love. This theme is freer, more improvised, it is the quicksand road I was talking about. Arthur didn't enjoy his instrument at the beginning, he didn't know whether to continue in music. But he got the taste for it, and what a taste, that the oboe became a very beastly improvisation tool, as many will remember in some Jo jazz competitions, during his studies at the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory.

Photos courtesy of the artist

We arrived to Cuban Ostinato, rhythmic and caractoso, playful, a little timbeao too. The beginning is an extended tumbao with a melody that functions as a leitmotiv during the 4:33' that the track lasts. It is reminiscent of the dances of Caturla and Lecuona, of that unique pianism of the 19th and 20th centuries in Cuban salons. Arthur is a bit of that too, very melodic because of the wind instruments he studied in his music conservatory training, thoughtful and analytical because of his theoretical training, and with his natural fusion between the classical and popular worlds.

A The Unknown IslandWe arrive, we find ourselves, and we never leave, unfortunately. It is a cry for what we are and cease to be when stepping on its streets is no longer a reality, when we leave everything behind in search of a dream, which may or may not come true. The melody in A minor reminds me a lot of that beginning of You see by Alejandro Sanz. It is a theme that makes me think of the soundtracks of Cuban films from the beginning of this century, of soap operas we watched as children; of the life of every Cuban that happens every day and you don't know it, until you get out of that bubble to see the world, and you find that the usual and habitual in your life, is more unknown than you thought. A place you will always want to return to, because it is injected in your veins but has been ripped forever from your reality. That's how we are and will be for some time to come, and Arthur feels it firsthand. Charly Siaba, who is recording this album from the living room of his house, feels it. Ana Tejeda and Hilaria Cacao feel it too, I am more than sure. Such an intimate audience is also the protagonist of the stories that Arthur tells with each improvised note.

In Duende with Mendó, the talented pianist brings out his new experiences in music, traveling the world and capturing like a sponge all the cultures of the countries he knows. Even so, he improvises from a Cuban tumbao, which suggests that he will never lose his identity. He reaffirms it and sings it. He is Cuban in Japan, Australia, wherever. He is like a child who includes everything in his creative process, with heart, with desire, with that Mendó that sticks directly in our idiosyncrasy and that we do not know how to let go of.

We are almost at the end of this story with Northwhich represents that dream fulfilled, the continuation of a path that has not been easy, but fruitful, of a young man who still has a world to tell in music. They are the sounds that he has known in his travels but, essentially, the sounds of the United States, that north that has welcomed him as a new home, full of music and culture. They are the sounds of Soul, R&B, jazz and the purest black music of New Orleans, the vibes of Houston, the elite nights in the bars of New York, they are sounds of song; it is also the melodic summary of many phrases of the previous tracks. It is the improvised landscape through a progression of chords, of basses that drive the melody.

Photos courtesy of the artist

Arthur feels free, fulfilled and eager to continue to learn and learn. After so many years he has found his way, through other places, growing every day, including sounds to his imaginary. Playing what he feels, what he lives and recreating it in stories that, more than a year ago, were born by accident in the most cosmic, special and Cuban room of a street in Houston.

I have arrived in Santiago, reconstructing from a new listening the story of Arthur Luis Alvarez, the funk pianist of Cimafunk, the exceptional oboist hidden behind the jazzman, composer, arranger and also music teacher.

With Live at Texas Avenue opens up a world of musical possibilities that mark the promising beginning of an eloquent, heartfelt and beautiful work in Arthur's artistic career. Let's keep dreaming and fulfilling dreams like this musician who for me -and for many, surely- with this first production is already a more universal Cuban.

Avatar photo Meily Tellez Always running around Havana. A nervous one who falls asleep watching series. Her time is for music and her family. She dreams of producing and singing on many stages. A musicologist with roles wanting to be many things... More posts

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  1. Nany Tapisquen says:

    Excellent musician and person. Son friend. Best of success 👑

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