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Reviews Album cover: José Carlos Imperatori / Gabriel Lara./ Design Pepe Menéndez. Album cover: José Carlos Imperatori and Gabriel Lara. / Design Pepe Menéndez.

Nasobuco / Oliver Valdes

The paths, the paths were not made by themselves, they have to (un)walk again and again. This seems to be the maxim that Oliver Valdés suggests to us with his album mask. For those, like me, who accessed these songs live for the first time during his presentation-concert at the Sala Covarrubias of the National Theater of Cuba, last January, it must have been quite an experience.  

Although it is true that I always make time to listen to contemporary Cuban jazz — one of those ineffable practices that I update with each new phonogram or jam-session—, I confess that I had no idea of the compositional course of Oliver, whom I have followed, for more than 20 years, in the various collective projects or collaborations with creators of different generations and dissimilar musical proposals of which he has been a part. Obviously he assumed jazz as a matrix, since already in Drums Havana (2013) had seen something of his together with Rodney Barreto, but what other genres he would incorporate in this, his first production, was always unknown. 

mask It has nine songs, seven authored/arranged by Oliver and another two in which he shares the credit with Julito Padrón (Peanut) and Alejandro Delgado (mask). However, much of what shines on the national music scene (not only jazz) sounds on this phonogram. The extensive list of collaborators includes Germán Velazco, Jorge Reyes, Barbarito Torres, Yosvany Terry, Jorge Luis Valdés boyy, Carlos Alfonso and Ele Valdés, Gastón Joya, Jorge Aragón, Roberto Carcassés, Tony Rodríguez, Rolando Luna, Julito Padrón, Jamil Schery, Juan Carlos Marín, Alejandro Delgado, Eme Alfonso, Yaroldy Abreu, Adonis Panter, Ramón Tamayo and Adonis Panter Jr. What makes this album a sort of sound “database” of experienced performers, each contributing at the time, with relish and dedication. 

Despite having been an album recorded at the Ojalá Studios during the pandemic —which is why its name and cover design are irreducible signs of a reality and suffered contexts—, as the author himself said in a previous interview, it had been in the making for a long time. several years. One feels that there is little chance and a lot of thought in the way it was structured. From the beat initial of Peanut with its atmospheric keyboards, and the trumpet marking, making way for the expansive drums, we cross a porch where the laughter and voice of Julito Padrón take us back, to Bola de Nieve, to Louis Armstrong, in the joyful way of inviting, old jazz style. So for almost immediately, in Chekerson, pay homage to a great Cuban percussionist, Pancho Terry. This is a tasty song, and its performance at the concert was a real shock: from a frenetic march we swung towards a graceful bolero-son, which later, when the chekere (Yosvany Terry), brass, piano and drums are released, gives way to the melodic sax to, in the final descent of this musical roller coaster, end up “timbeando” all together. To “dance with the drum”, just as the choir requested. 

At the height of the third track, we have an unexpected cut: Gbadura Elegba (Yoruba chant to Elegguá). An initial minute where the clear voice of Carlos Alfonso, accompanied by Ele Valdés and his daughter Eme, opens by filling the space, and this is one of the paths that Oliver proposes to us, since he knows conscientiously that the main rhythmic base of Cuban music it comes from that African root, and it's going to come back twice more in this phonogram. In effect, themes 3, 6 and 9 —a whole intrinsic mathematics—, are sound stages connected by the same voices but dissimilar in projection. not just because Gbadura Elegba comes from the Yoruba root and Afra Egan and Ophakarate (sixth and ninth track, in that order) do so from the Arará culture, less well known but where Elegguá/Afra is just as important, but because the arrangements are particular to the extent that they function as pivots in the general structure of the phonogram. 

So Gbadura Elegba, also as a tribute to Lázaro Ros, distinguished voice of Afro-Cuban sacred music, has an approach closer to the free jazz, and it is a cut to the first of the open roads along which the author invites us to travel. Afra Egan, for its part, is more rhythmic to the extent that the voices and claps resemble the traditional wemilere, only pointed here or there by the winds, the bass or the piano, even the drums that quiet down so as not to be intrusive. A refreshing and harmonious interlude that follows another of those paths marked out by the deity. 

However, the intense vibe of Ophakarate (I sing arará to Afra or Fra) is something else. Summarize synthesis of everything heard. Here the syncopation prevails. The voices and the batá drums find their correlate, the root imprint; and everyone in that jazz-band luxury, they follow his call. Electrifying closing of the circle, where we advance to the end of that third moment / path of the album.  

However, a little earlier, the spectrum of sonorities is expanded with a guajira: Contemporary Guantanamera, a jumping theme that amuses us between the Cuban lute of Barbarito Torres and the (contra)bass of Jorge Reyes. He also does it with a chachachá? rested in Cha for you. Both open the second and third segments of the album, each followed by two singular compositions: Fool and mask. The latter, which gives the album its title, is latin jazz of the good, where they all join, they overflow, in an axis of containment-relaxation that is pure groove. And despite the pandemic context that created it, this topic is anything but restrictive. Oliver's drums, like the congas of Yaroldi Abreu and the metals of Jamil Schery (tenor sax), Alejandro Delgado (trumpet) and Juan Carlos Marín (trombone), sweep in just over five minutes. 

Oliver's arrangement in Fool —theme by Silvio Rodríguez, settled in listening to Cubans for several decades— is a gift. Valdés, who has accompanied Silvio as part of his group for years, was right with this forceful approach, where the recognizable chords of the melody-origin are now heard expanded, taken to their ultimate consequences. Fool Oliver's is fighting against himself. With a sonority that is belligerent, serious, reflective, inquisitive at times, it boasts a colorful and profuse orchestral arrangement that does not neglect detail. Listening to him live was undoubtedly one of the most emotional moments of the aforementioned concert in January. 

If the masks perhaps restricted/protected us from expressing ourselves freely until very recently, luckily the sight and the hearing have always been enjoyed. Thus, gracefully retracing the sound paths that Oliver opened for us with his drumstick-scribble, I assure you, is a delight.   

Nahela Hechavarria Pouymiro Curator curated by cinema, music and dance, in that (dis)order. More posts

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