I told you so / Harold López-Nussa
My fall was deep. It always happens when I discover sounds that go well with me. I am eclectic by nature and when I enter a new universe I go to the root; This is what happened to me with rock and hip hop in the late '90s. Musically speaking, there are few things I wouldn't listen to, at least out of curiosity.
However, I came to the vast field of jazz by sediment and recognition of what I heard before without knowing what it was. From my father I inherited a taste for Cuban music in dialogue with that of the world. In his collection of LPs the Cuban downloads of Cachao and his combo, Lecuona, Arturo Sandoval, Emiliano Salvador, GES or Irakere coexisted with Los Platters, Glenn Miller and Herbie Hancock. Music that could be played along with the filin or the son (go) of the moment, the same on a Sunday afternoon as on a Thursday morning. The point was that he was looking for time to sit down and listen, really, and fill the house with music. When I was a child I heard all that and more —also in familiar “downloads” around a guitar and in carnivals in the east of the island—, but jazz as a recognizable genre I caught much later, when I was studying in Spain, back in 2007. I shared A flat with a Chilean fanatic who consumed CDs and radiated her dose of jazz to us daily for a full life. Then I discovered Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, Pat Metheny, Branford Marsalis or a revolutionary Miles Davis that I thought I knew and had no idea. When I returned I brought several of those gift discs and, at the same time, I donated part of my digital files of Cuban (popular) music. The give-and-take of a lifetime.
I told you (Mac Avenue Records, 2020) it was going to catch me, I knew it well, and not because it was the work of a "classic" from which mastery and sensitivity are expected, but because the "popular" lives in it in similar doses. Since the album came to me in late August, it has been circulating from my ears to my veins. Rhythm and energy from the first chord, it is pure adrenaline that oscillates pulsating like an electrocardiogram at the heart of Cuban music.
Te lo dije (Mac Avenue Records, 2020) me iba a atrapar, lo sabía bien, y no porque fuera obra de un “clásico” del que se espera maestría y sensibilidad, sino porque lo “popular” vive en él en dosis similares. Desde que el disco llegó a mí a finales de agosto ha estado circulando de mis oídos a mis venas. Ritmo y energía desde el primer acorde, es pura adrenalina que oscila pulsante cual electrocardiograma al corazón de la música cubana.
At the beginning of the year he had enjoyed some of the songs at the Jazz Plaza and months later the video clip of one of his most striking tracks, Jazztón, arrived with Randy Malcom. So when the album was released on the digital platforms on August 28, I had plenty of expectations. Conceptually speaking, this is a very Cuban album, almost radiographic. Not only does he make use of references established in the sound memory of the nation, but he also goes back and forth, with ease, without compromises, wanting to have a good time. Let's not think that rigor fails in that freedom, not at all. The virtuosity of Harold (piano) and Ruy Adrián López-Nussa (drums), along with Julio César González (bass) and Mayquel González (trumpet), share energy and flavor with other fantastic collaborators that we will mention.
When you hear I told you, you will flow. Going back a bit, to the era of Mozambique and realizing that, despite time, it is still here in the sound base of musicians and dancers is a consolation. The Mozambique en Mi B by Miguel Núñez that Harold included in El viaje (Mack Avenue Records, 2016) did not prepare us for this one that, more attached to the percussive essence of the genre, is pure bomba. Shouting "I told you, don't criticize, lie down there, this is my mozambique", the aguajeo goes from the piano to basking in the trumpet changing the tonality, between phrasing and phrasing. The comparsa whistles here and there as the children's voices at the end make us imagine an endless party singing: "I tell you that I'm from here."
When listening Te lo dije vas a fluir. Ir un poco atrás, a la era del mozambique y advertir que, a pesar del tiempo, sigue aquí en la base sonora de músicos y bailadores es un consuelo. El Mozambique en Mi B de Miguel Núñez que Harold incluyó en El viaje (Mack Avenue Records, 2016) no nos preparó para este que, más apegado a la esencia percutiva del género, es bomba pura. Voceando “Te lo dije, no critiques, échate pa´ allá que este es mi mozambique”, el aguajeo va del piano a solazarse en la trompeta cambiando la tonalidad, entre fraseo y fraseo. Los pitos de comparsa aquí y allá como las voces infantiles al final hacen que imaginemos una fiesta sin fin cantando: “te lo digo yo que soy de aquí”.
However, and as happens when changing the dial, the third track is another wave, although at first one thinks not. The vibe of The Windmills of Your Mind (by the French composer, Michel Légrand) installs you in a reflective state that sums up evocation on all sides, alternating from the piano to the unmistakable sound of the accordion, by the also French Vincent Peirani. Melody that, with a certain air of slow and melodramatic tango, is also projected with the bass, ascending together with the percussion, to the timely realization of a sound that embodies nostalgia in itself. This theme and A November Day (from the essential Leo Brouwer) keep our biorhythm adjusted, they leave us a necessary time off to think, gloat, feel note by note that on any given day in November, grave and gray, everything is measured, smooth , harmonic. And the piano, almost an intimate and confessional guitar —like the entire band—, captivates without remedy.
But just behind The Windmills… we return to the Cuban musical register. In Lila's mambo, his daughter's voice declares with property, a taste for the genre that lightens the guttural onomatopoeia of the mambo, inserting itself as a bridge in transitions. The freshness with which one “walks above the mambo” encompasses all the instruments to go from the classic Cuban sound almost to free jazz and back, using the vocalizations and fingering, filling and flowing in the spaces. Finally creating (keyboard through), the "atmosphere" with a frenetic rhythm that abruptly closes the drums.
Now, among the multiple collaborations that this phonogram proposes, a version of El Buey cansa’o by Juan Formell stands out right in the middle. For Harold and those born (or not) in the '80s that revolutionary song by Los Van Van is ground gold, the sound of an era. From the first chords we know what it is, but also what it is not. Harold's Tired Ox goes to the essence of Formell's continuous bass meter, here a little more funky, together with the percussion. And Cimafunk's trumpet, backing vocals and voice feel just right, natural. Cadence, a lot of cadence. With vocal flourishes and the rhythm above, the theme progressively approaches Latin jazz although the percussive reference of Changuito, that illustrious vanvanero, remains latent. There is no doubt: it is the ’80 seen since 2020. Tasty!
If this record were an LP, the B-side has been overwhelming. The sixth track, Timbeando, is a piece that was part of his first piano album Sobre el atelier (Harmonia Mundi, 2007) and was also included in Herencia. Orchestral speaking, this cover letter is enough for Harold to be recognized as a timba classic too. It is serious about displaying the keys of a timbero at the piano (here 90s keyboard). Finding the accent, the flavor, knowing when to load the tumba'o or lower the intensity, and call the dancer together with the trumpet (in the current version), the bass and the drums as accomplices, embedded in the melody: that's bomb . Subtly showing how the tempo of the performer and the pace of the dancer were accelerating in Cuban timba from the '90s until today, that is also felt. Timbeando throws you onto the floor to dance so that, right at the end, you can pick yourself up.
In a few moments, sweeping, the Jazztón arrives. For those who believe that it is a sacrilege to “contaminate” jazz with urban reggaeton, I remind you that from its origins and until today, jazz has been happily contagious (from blues, rock, Afro-Antillean rhythms, classical music) to recreation. What was it if not the cubop, for example? And on the other hand, the fusions in Cuban music are the canon: sound curiosities such as Guaseando el rock n'roll or La Chaonda de La Aragón as well as the songo de Formell are examples of this. Jazztón has a tremendous groove, and it doesn't sound forced nor is it gratuitous that Randy Malcom is both the voice and the timpani on this song. Randy was part of the Charanga Habanera for a decade and his training as a percussionist is known before his career within Gente de Zona. Thus, conceived with four hands by the López-Nussa brothers, this track breaks and almost immediately the beat of the drums goes down, marking next to the piano and bass, so that later the timpani and the brass (because the trumpet sounds more like a trombone than something else, or can I imagine?) take over you, without you even realizing it. Rhythm and color, the timbral is fully supported by that thick, tight percussion. A bop of pure flavor. Danceable and memorable.
En unos instantes, arrasando, llega el Jazztón. Para los que creen que es un sacrilegio “contaminar” al jazz con el urbano reguetón, les recuerdo que desde sus orígenes y hasta hoy, el jazz ha sabido felizmente contagiarse (del blues, el rock, los ritmos afroantillanos, la música clásica) para re-crearse. ¿Qué fue si no el cubop, por ejemplo? Y por otro lado, las fusiones en la música cubana son el canon: curiosidades sonoras como Guaseando el rock n´roll o la Chaonda de La Aragón tanto como el songo de Formell son ejemplo de ello. Jazztón tiene un groove tremendo, y no suena forzado ni es gratuito que sea Randy Malcom a un tiempo la voz y el timbal en este tema. Randy fue por una década parte de la Charanga Habanera y su formación como percusionista es conocida antes de su carrera dentro de Gente de Zona. Así, concebido a cuatro manos por los hermanos López-Nussa, este track rompe y casi enseguida el beat de la batería baja marcando junto al piano y el bajo, para que luego el timbal y los metales (porque la trompeta suena más a trombón que otra cosa, ¿o me lo imagino?) se apoderen de ti, sin que te des cuenta. Ritmo y color, la tímbrica se apoya de lleno en esa percusión gruesa, cerradita. Un bop de puro sabor. Bailable y memorable.
Nearing completion, Harold returns to his beginnings. Although I have not listened to his original album, Sobre el atelier (Harmonia Mundi, 2007), I assume that the homonymous song that he included in that one is this one that calls us to calm down after the cyclone / jazztón. Pianísimo, this track is pure melody. Melancholia. It flows like a bolero (so) n relaxed and bitterly sweet. Beautiful. It gives way to Van Van Meets New Orleans. Ecumenical closure that crystallizes two of the traditions on which the composer's work is based. Cuban and North American music colliding, enriching, unfolding each other, recognizing possible closeness and specificities in the way of playing the piano, bass, not to mention the drums or the trumpet that at a certain point, with mute and stridency, almost transport us from hit The Cat on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. A Latin jazz tribute to close the party. And since here the one who dances wins, don't be shy, go out on the dance floor and throw down your hall.
Nahela Hechavarría Pouymiró
Curator curated by cinema, music and dance, in that (dis)order.