Thursday, September 23, 2010

Paquito D'Rivera

“Le roi du saxophone sexy.”
-Montreal Star

 “There isn’t a weak link in Mr. D’Rivera’s band. And he has already honed it to a sharp edge – the ensemble playing is fastidiously tight, the breaks and endings are executed flawlessly. It’s a band that should be heard … by anybody who likes Jazz that’s inventive, hot and heartfelt.”
- Robert Palmer, “The New York Times”

“D’Rivera has developed into a startling innovator who moves from mordant, birdlike bop to manic split tones and squeaks.”
- Leonard Feather, “The Los Angeles Times”

“Jazz is speed reading of speedwriting and Paquito can make comfortable listeners of us all while playing at the breakneck speed of more than 300 beats a minute. The big tone in the attack, the fast phrasing, the rapid changes of keys, and the alternation of rhythms combine in Paquito’s music with great technical proficiency. He is the master of the sax – and the clarinet, too.”
- G. Cabrera Infante

“A fluent, virtuoso musician, whose playing … [leaps] with an exuberance quite unlike any other alto saxophone player in Jazz ….”
- Stuart Nicholson, “Jazz: The 1980’s Resurgence”

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

After viewing the recent PBS special on the life of [Israel Lopez] Cachao -  CACHAO  UNO MAS – that is so lovingly and admiringly crafted by his friend, actor-director Andy Garcia, we were reminded of more Cuban-influenced music in the form of a Paquito D’Rivera CD given to us as a gift by a friend a few years ago.

The album is entitled The Paquito Rivera Quintet Live at The Blue Note [Half Note Records 4911].

Llistened to in its entirety, it is the perfectly paced Jazz set.

Many of the reasons why this is so are explained below in Fred Jung’s insert notes to the recording.

The following video will introduce you to “El Cura” one of the tunes from this recording which Paquito explains means “The Preacher” [it also means “The Priest” in Spanish].

Like the late tenor saxophonist, Dexter Gordon, Paquito likes to inflect his solos with references from other tunes, in this case, the opera Carmen, Tequilla, Summertime, and It Ain’t Necessarily So, among others. See if you can pick these out and listen also for the "period" that pianist Diego Urcola and drummer Mark Walker, together put on D'Rivera's solo at the 4:58 mark.

Also noteworthy is the crackling drumming of Mark Walker who, at the time of this recording, had been working with Paquito for over a decade – and it shows in how well he anticipates things in the music.

“I have been a fan of Paquito D’Rivera since the moment he first blew me out of my seat one humid night in Havanna during an outdoor concert by the outstanding band Irakere. That was in April, 1978, when a group of recording executives and musicians of which I was a part made a musical sojourn to Cuba. Paquito’s blazing solo on Irakere’s very first number of the night left us completely speechless.”
- Bruce Lundvall

I first heard Paquito around 1980 on Irakere’s initial Columbia album about which we have written extensively in this profile of the band.

It’s hard to believe that 30 years later, he generates the same excitement in me every time I listen to him play.

Paquito’s enthusiasm and energy are exemplified in his music - the man just knows how to light it up.

“Paquito,” so we are told, is a variant of the of the Latin name for Francis meaning “from France:” one connotation being that France is the “land of the free man.”

And so it was for Paquito when he left Cuba and eventually took up residence in New York in 1982, thus becoming a “free” man.

One benefit of this freedom has been the amount of superb music that is has enabled Paquito to generate over the past three decades.

As promised, here are Fred’s insert notes:

“A good leader allows his players ample space to perform. A great leader trusts in his players and empowers them to creatively interpret his music. Paquito D'Rivera has learned to be a great leader, no doubt from one of the most eminent bandleaders of our time, Dizzy Gillespie (D'Rivera directed Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra for a number of years). "Dizzy, still today, is a great influence in my career and in my life, not only his playing and his music, but the way he approached life, the way he helped others to make their careers. The music and the spirit of Dizzy Gillespie is always in someplace around my heart," acknowledges D'Rivera.

Long before he defected from Cuba in 1980, D'Rivera was a true child prodigy, taught by his father Tito D'Rivera, a renown classical saxophonist and educator himself. At 12, Paquito enrolled in the celebrated Alejandro Garcia Caturia Conservatory of Music, where he studied theory, harmony, composition and clarinet.

After working at the Havana Musical Theatre, and a three year stint in the army, teenager Paquito D'Rivera along with Chucho Valdes, Armondo Romeu and other distinguished Cuban musicians, found the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Modema, from where Irakere originated. Of which Mr. D'Rivera admits "It was a very important part of my career, especially from the point of view of international exposure. I had been playing with Chucho for many years, so Irakere was shat I call, old wine, new bottles."

For his live performance at New York's distinguished Blue Note Jazz Club, D'Rivera chooses the commendable route of recording with his working band of five years rather than the more commercially savvy, all-star grouping. "I realized that I had never recorded with this quintet. This quintet is the engine for all my other projects," admits D'Rivera. D'Rivera's quintet - trumpeter Diego Urcola, pianist Dane Eskenazi, bassist Oscar Stagnaro, and drummer Mark Walker - perform a colorful Latin program.

Live at the Blue Note is certainly a departure for D'Rivera in more ways than one from his more recent orchestral projects. D'Rivera primarily sticks to playing the alto saxophone throughout most of the performance, beginning with "Curumim," a composition from Brazilian composer Cesar Camargo-Mariano. "I am a fan of the composer, Cesar Camargo-Mariano. I heard the song over twenty years ago and I fell in love with the song. Many years later, I met Cesar Camargo and I asked him for the song and he sent me the piano part for that. It means the son of the Indian. It's a great song," explains D'Rivera. The scintillating trumpet charts of Buenos Aires native Urcola, who occasionally performs in George Chuller’s Orange Then Blue, simply outpace everyone else, except for fellow Argentinean, pianist Eskenazi, whose poised narration sets the tone for the remainder of the session.

An up-tempo D'Rivera original, "El Cura," follows with the saxophonist uncorking a burning solo, blowing hard to the ideal backdrop laid out by Eskenazi, Stagnaro, and Walker. The saxophonist expresses, "That is a dedication to a very dear friend of mine, the great guitar player and one of my main influences in jazz music, Carlos Morales. He was the guitar player in Irakere for more than twenty years. We called him 'El Cura' because he looked like a priest."

D'Rivera's rhapsodic clarinet playing for Urcola's homage to his native Argentinean homeland, "Buenos Aires," is a main point of interest. D'Rivera professes, "What he (Urcola) wrote reflects very well the atmosphere of Buenos Aires, especially at night. I have been there many times. It's a beautiful city." "To me ‘Tobago' sounds like a theme inspired by Horace Silver," says D'Rivera. Eskenazi's "Tobago," features inventive solos from Stagnaro on electric bass and Walker. "Como Un Bolero" is a bolero that the leader wrote while he was with the Caribbean Jazz Project with Andy Narell and Dave Samuels, "ft is a romantic bolero. The bolero is the national Cuban ballad. I call it a ballad with some black beans and rice," explains D'Rivera.

"Centro Havana," an original penned by guest flutist Oriente Lopez, is a rich melody that is destined to become a standard. "I heard that piece first recorded by Regina Carter. I liked it very much and I called Oriente and asked him for the piece and he gave me the whole arrangement. That piece is killing," confirms the Cuban-American bandleader.

The Grammy Award winning D'Rivera's credentials speak for themselves and as evident by this performance, the Cuban-American has become a great leader. Join D'Rivera for an extraordinary journey into the music of Latin America by genuine Latin Americans.”

Fred Jung, Editor, Jazz Weekly