© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
For many years now, I have been a big fan of the music of Nueva Manteca, a Latin Jazz group based in … wait for it … The Netherlands.
With this feature, I thought I’d begin to share some of my reasons for this preoccupation using reviews of the group’s various CD’s as a focal point.
Perhaps the place to begin is by underscoring how well Nueva Manteca’s plays Latin Jazz, a point that is continually reinforced by the critical acclaim they receive from the music press in Central and Latin American countries and from Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique. These folks know what good Latin Jazz sounds like and Nueva Manteca consistently receives accolades by the critics for the quality of their performances.
“Quality” in this instance is twofold and pertains to the excellence of the musicianship in Nueva Manteca and the fact that the group understands the Latin Jazz traditions and incorporates its forms and rhythms into its music.
Much of the credit for Nueva Manteca’s authenticity goes to its leader and organizer, Jan Laurens Hartong, who also serves as the group’s pianist and chief arranger. Iin this regard, he is reminiscent of the role that Chucho Valdes plays in relationship to Irakere, the former Cuban band whose soloists included alto saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.
Whether it’s the Batá-drum medley at the outset of Jan’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s This is for Albert which includes a LaLubanche/Elegua, a Babalú-Ayé and a San Lazaro, Meta-Meta, a chart he concludes with a montuno based on a piano Curacao styled tumbao, or the siete por quatro montuno at the end of his arrangement of Speak Low or the Coda section to You And The Night And The Music - all of which appear on the groups 3rd CD - Bluesongo [Lucho 7706-2] - Jan’s considerable skill at blending the formats of Latin Jazz with the style of Bebop ranks him right up there with Dizzy Gillespie and Chucho Valdes as one of the foremost masters of Cubop.
When you listen to Nueva Manteca, you hear the excitement of Bebop joined with the exhilaration of Latin Jazz, especially as the latter is reflected in the Cuban Jazz tradition.
On Bluesongo, which was released in 1992, Nueva Manteca consists of Jarmo Hoogendijk and Toon De Gouw on trumpet [both play lead and both solo!], Ben van den Dungen on soprano and tenor saxophone, Jan on piano, Boudewijn Lucas on bass guitar, conga [tumbadora] and percussionist Martin Verdonk, drummer, percussionist and Batá-drummer, Lucas van Merwijk and timbales [timbalero], bongos and percussionist Nicky Marrero.
I will have much more to say about each of these musicians as well as other musicians who have been a member of Nueva Manteca in subsequent features on the group and its recorded music.
Jan Laurens Hartong offers this background information on Nueva Manteca in the insert notes to Bluesongo.
“With this new recording -our 3rd- (previous recordings are Varadero Blues and Afrodisia), we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Nueva Manteca. In a sense, it also is a Cubop cumpleaños [birthday] as we strive to continue the work of the great Latin jazz pioneers. Since its inception [circa 1982], Nueva Manteca was fortunate to be able to build up a large following and to be invited by major Jazz Festivals. Things started to move fast when on the occasion of the International NOS Jazz Festival in 1989 the band was enriched by the permanent addition of percussion Maestro Nicky Marrero.
In 1990 we were featured in the International Mecca Jazz Fest and then in 1991 we were invited to play at the highly prestigious North Sea Jazz Fest. Meanwhile we had begun to travel abroad, playing the major Jazz clubs in Germany, In May of this year  we flew to Curacao to participate in the International KLM Jazz Fest. In the month of June, two giants of Latin music were invited to come over and play with us - percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo and trumpeter Juancito Torres - at concerts that turned out to be major events in the lively European Latin scene.
The conception of Nueva Manteca is that of a collective wherein everybody has a strong personal input.
In that way, individuality and group sound can be synthesized. The various musical approaches and stylings reflect the background and interests of individual members of the band and the sound of the group as a whole reflects where we currently stand in the Jazz-Latino world of music.
Gracias to everyone for supporting us.”
Vernon Boggs gives the following overview of the broader context of Nueva Manteca’s music in these excerpts from the sleeve notes to Bluesongo.
In 1939 at the University de La Habana, Dr. Fernando Ortiz unveiled his brand new concept - Transculturation. Dr. Ortiz had spent more than thirty years studying the impact that Africans and Spaniards had made on Cuban culture. By the 1950's he began to clearly see that impact on Cuban popular music. Hence the fuller evolution of his earlier concept: musical transculturation.
Now let's move the clock ahead thirty-some years and go to the Netherlands; a place that makes many people think of windmills, dikes and wooden shoes. As we wind down one of its streets in Rotterdam, we are stunned by the sounds of "Bird", "Trane", "Dizzy" and many other jazz greats. Our curiosity forces us to pay closer attention. As we do, we hear the legacy of Arcano, Arsenic, "Machito", "Chano" and other Cubans too numerous to mention, imagine our surprise when we discover seven Dutch musicians jamming with a founding member of the New York City Fania All-Stars ... in clave! We are too dumbfounded and embarrassed to ask the usual how’s, why's and when. We go sit down and listen when suddenly Dr. Ortiz' words come back to us: musical transculturation.
Dutch plus jazz plus clave equals transculturation. No doubt about it. So just sit back and listen. If this band is an "Arfodisiac" for you, then it must be Nueva Manteca. Straight ahead descarga! [“Descarga” = a jam session in the tradition of Cuban music].
Vernon W. Boggs, New York
Author of Salsiology, Excelsior Music Publishing Company, New York.
Since its rhythms are responsible for so many of the distinctive sounds of Latin Jazz, here is a brief overview of how they are created.
While it may sound like a lot of clap trap to the uninformed ear, the Latin rhythm section is actually a well-oiled machine with everything in its place. When done correctly, the rhythms, counter-rhythms and accents played in combination by the conga and bongo drums, timbales and a variety of hand-held percussion instruments create a fluid, rippling foundation over which the melody glides.
While jazz rhythms are swung, most Latin jazz tunes have a straight eighth note feel. Latin jazz rarely employs a backbeat, using a form of the clave instead.
Most jazz rhythms emphasize beats two and four. Latin jazz tunes rely more on various clave rhythms, again depending on regional style.
Since the underlying “feel” of Latin or Afro-Cuban Jazz relates to the clave, perhaps a word at this point as to its meaning, role and its relationship with the instruments, compositions and arrangements
Clave in its original form is a Spanish word and its musical usage was developed in the western part of Cuba, particularly the cities of Matanzas and Havana. However, the origins of the rhythm can be traced to Africa, particularly the West African music of modern-day Ghana and Nigeria. There are also rhythms resembling the clave found in parts of the Middle East.
By way of background and very briefly, there are three types of clave.
The most common type of clave rhythm in Latin Jazz is the son clave, named after the Cuban musical style of the same name. Below is an example of the son clave rhythm in Western musical notation.
Because there are three notes in the first measure and two in the second, the above is said to be in the 3:2 direction or forward clave. The 2:3 clave is the same but with the measures reversed [i.e.: reversed clave].
Another type of clave is the rumba clave which can also be played in either the 3:2 or 2:3 direction, although the 3:2 is more common. Here is an example of its notation:
There is a third clave, often called the 6/8 clave or sometimes referred to as the Afro Feel clave because it is an adaptation of a well-documented West African [some claim Sub-Saharan] 12/8 timeline. It is a cowbell pattern and is played in the older more folkloric forms of Cuban music, but it has also been adapted into Latin Jazz.
Below are the three major forms of clave, all written in a 3:2 position:
The choice of the direction of the clave rhythm is guided by the melody, which in turn directs all other instruments and arrangements.
In many contemporary compositions such as those recorded by Mongo Santamaria or the aforementioned Shearing & Tjader groups, the arrangements make use of both directions of the clave in different sections of the tunes.
As far as the type of clave rhythm used, generally son clave is used with dance styles while rumba and afro are associated with folkloric rhythms.
These clave rhythmic patterns must be strictly adhered to by the Latin Jazz percussionists to keep the music controlled and grounded, while at the same time, flowing.
To the uninitiated, Latin Jazz rhythm sections might sound more like controlled chaos, but when it all comes together properly it is a thing of beauty, especially as one’s ear becomes more informed.
The following video montages feature Nueva Manteca performing the title tune from their Bluesongo CD and the recording’s closing track - You and the Night and the Music. All of the clave patterns described above are used on these two tunes.
As described by Jan, Bluesongo is a blues inspired by a bass line from an old Ray Baretto recording. It opens with Nicky Marrero playing brushes on timbales. A premiere on record! Jarmo Hoogendijk has the first trumpet solo, followed by Ben van den Dungen on tenor sax. Toon de Gouw plays the second trumpet solo after which Boudewijn Lucas on bass guitar. Jan Laurens follows with a piano stop chorus leading into a Mambo section with a timbales solo featuring Nicky.
You and the Night and the Music is dedicated to Eddie Palmieri, a ground-breaking pianist who influenced me a lot. After the piano prelude, the head [the melody] is stated. Toon and Ben shared the solo spots. Jan and Boudewijn step on the gas for an accelerated vamp. After the Mambo part, Martin stretches out on tumbadora [congas]. The Coda section has the horns bursting into a Comparsa line. Here I attempted to include some of the “tipico’ formulas of the Santiago de Cuba tradition. Martin solos on quinto [ the smallest conga usually used as a lead conga in a three-drum set-up].