The great U.S. trumpet player Louis Armstrong has already said: "There’s only two ways to sum up music; either it’s good or it’s bad. If it’s good you don’t mess about it, you just enjoy it."
The audiences who had the good fortune of attending one of the five jazz concerts presented this summer in Havana's Alicia Alonso Grand Theater, surely agree with the opinion expressed by Armstrong (1901-1971), who several decades ago visited the island, on the occasion of the International JazzPlaza Festival.
But jazz lovers did not arrive blindly. They did so with the certainty that they would witness masterful performances by the scheduled musicians, whose surnames, if they perhaps need to be introduced, represent some of the essential lineages of Cuban music.
This first concert was presented by jazz legend Chucho Valdés; next up was the young Alejandro Falcón, a descendant of none less than Gonzalito Rubalcaba; followed by Zenaida Romeu and her unbeatable Camerata; and finally the López Nussa family.
TEN GRAMMYS FOR CHUCHO
There are many good pianists, but few who, like Chucho Valdés, have a particular sound, letting you know with your eyes closed who is playing, from the moment they sit down at the keys.
Technique can be learned, but there is something extra, the magic of every individual, that is evident in every performance by Valdés, representing another indispensable Cuban musical dynasty.
The program was magnificent, of just a bit over an hour, with the artist and his piano presenting numbers like "In walked Bud" by Thelonious Monk; "Lágrimas negras" by Miguel Matamoros; "Bésame mucho" by Consuelo Velázquez; "Rhapsody in blue" by George Gershwin; and "The giant steps" by John Coltrane; plus others composed by Chucho himself.
Last April, Chucho Valdés had performed on the same stage, on the occasion of Havana's designation by UNESCO as the site of the year's International Jazz Day celebration, when also joining the festivities was one of the world's greats, U.S. pianist and composer Herbie Hancock.
Two months before that, in February, Chucho was awarded a Grammy for his album Tributo a Irakere: Live en Marsac - his tenth, four being Latin Grammys.
A DARING YOUNG FALCÓN
Alejandro Falcón, considered one of the best pianists and composers of his generation in Cuba, prizewinner in the JoJazz and Musicalia competitions, was scheduled for the second concert.
The young jazzman had a singular opportunity to prepare for this performance in April, during the aforementioned International Jazz Day celebration, when his quartet Cubadentro jammed with a group of students from the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute in the United States.
For the concert in the Grand Theater's García Lorca Hall, Falcón was accompanied by Ruy López-Nussa (drums), Arnulfo José Guerra (bass), Edgar Martínez (conga), singer Beatriz Márquez, Argentine Rodrigo Sosa on the kena flute, and three of Cuba's leading jazz performers: Eduardo Sandoval (trombone), Michel Herrera (saxophone) and Jesús Ricardo (trumpet).
Falcón had chosen for the concert, as was announced, pieces from his repertory with a new sound, new arrangements conceived specifically with his guest artists in mind, along with other tracks from his albums Claroscuro and Mi monte espiritual, which will be released in time for the Jazz Festival this coming December.
AN INTENSE GONZALITO
Taking the stage on August 19 was Gonzalo Rubalcaba, an important pianist and a top figure on the international jazz scene, where he is simply known as Gonzalito. He has to his credit 16 Grammy nominations, and won the prize four times.
He is another member of an eminent Cuban musical family, since he days of his grandfather Jacobo Rubalcaba, composer of the emblematic danzon, “El Cadete Constitucional.”
The celebrated pianist's program for the night included important works from the last decade of his intense professional life, among them "Hermitage" by Pat Metheny; "My love and I" by David Raskin; some of his own compositions; and for the first time, as he discussed in a press conference, the piece "Gratitud" composed by Jean Paul Le Pourret.
The presence of this chamber orchestra on any stage is synonymous with good art, attractive moreover given their unique manner of playing without touching their stands or sheet music.
The family tree of the group's conductor, Zenaida Castro Romeu, includes the names Antonio María, Armando, Zenaida and Mario, highly respected figures known for their impeccable performances and repertory.
The selection of pieces for the Camerata's summer concert in the García Lorca couldn't have been better, and the performance showcased their customary virtuosity.
The group set off almost immediately after the concert, for Norway, invited to the prestigious Oslo Chamber Music Festival by its director and founder, the celebrated violinist Arve Tellefsen.
In a brief e-mail exchange, Zenaida Castro Romeu explained that the program chosen for the Havana concert served as a perfect rehearsal of what they would take to Oslo.
"What we will take there is the repertory of Cuban and Latin American music, with the exception of two pieces. In Oslo, in the first part we will present two double concertos with Norwegian musicians, the first is the "Double concerto for violin" by J.S. Bach, in which three soloists from our group perform along with Tellefsen. We will additionally play a Norwegian piece that is also a double concerto, with important Norwegian soloists; the composer himself, Per Arne Glorvigen, who is an accordion player; and the principal cellist of the award-winning Norwegian orchestra Trondheimsolistene Oyvind Gimse. As I said, the second part is Cuban and Latin American music, plus the Bach double concerto, which we will perform with six soloists from the Camerata (three duos)."
In this second part, the Camerata Romeu performed more contemporary works by Astor Piazzola (Argentina), Arturo Márquez (Mexico), and Cubans Roberto Valera, Carlos Fariñas and Ernán López-Nussa, plus a piece by one of the group's violinists, Yadira Cobo.
THE VIRTUOSITY OF THE LÓPEZ-NUSSA FAMILY
There can only be superlative adjectives used to describe the quartet of artists who have created a project they call the López-Nussa Family, the pianists Ernán and Harold, and the percussionists Ruy and Ruy Adrián.
All possess amazing technique and are comfortable with a broad repertory of popular music and jazz, as they once again showed in their extraordinary summer concert, enjoyable throughout.
As Ernán would say during a rehearsal, joining the biological family were more members of their musical family, with bassist Julio César López and Michel Herrera alongside trumpet player Mayquel González.
The program included pieces by Ernán and Harold, and several created by the family project itself.
The five August concerts in the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater's Garcia Lorca Hall were a resounding triumph - for jazz, for the performers, and the audience.