Monday, October 11, 2021

Nueva Manteca - "Varadero Blues" [From the Archives]

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

“Jazz and Latin music have cross pollinated with each other for quite some time. Some trace it back to Jelly Roll Morton's experimentations with what he called "the Latin tinge." Of course, none of this should be all that surprising. The Motherland, Africa, and its people have developed a rich heritage of musical and rhythmic styles which have made their way through Latin America and the rest of the world and continue to serve as inspiration for so many.

What is surprising is the manner in which gifted artists have decided to use this inspiration as a platform for their own creative endeavors. The permutations are quite plentiful, but often it comes down to the grafting of Latin rhythmic patterns onto a decidedly jazzy improvised mode of music. There are even current practitioners who have evolved a hybrid that almost hints at 20th century classical music with Latin flavors.

In the final analysis, the purest and most satisfying blends come with a thorough understanding of the Latin rhythmic elements (a complex and demanding feat in and of itself), which are then seamlessly utilized to complement the flavor of the melodic content. In other words, it should be about much more than playing a jazz standard and then deciding to do it with a mambo rhythm attached.”

- C. Andrew Hovan

Varadero is a resort town in Cuba’s Matanzas province and is also one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean. It is situated on the Hicacos Peninsula, between the Bay of Cárdenas and the Straits of Florida, some 140 km east of Havana, at the eastern end of the Via Blanca highway.

It is also home to a highly regarded International Jazz Festival at which Nueva Manteca has been a featured group.

Led by pianist Jan Laurenz Hartong, the eight-piece band Nueva Manteca are a Netherlands-based Latin jazz outfit who produce a highly authentic distillation of Latin music and also embrace traditions such as Arabic, classical, Dutch Antillean and salsa. As Hartong told the press in 1996, ‘It’s the same situation as hearing a Korean violinist playing a Beethoven concerto. It’s already accepted in the jazz world. In the whole World Music development, a lot of people are digging into all kinds of cultures.’ 

Born in 1941, Hartong began playing dixieland piano at the age of 12, before progressing to bebop by 15, at which time he began to work professionally. He played alongside Jan Hammer and Joachim Kühn in a 1966 international jazz festival judged by Cannonball and Nat Adderley where he won a medal.

A fan of Latin music since his childhood, Hartong formed a 10-piece salsa band in Rotterdam in 1983. He also visited the music’s home in Cuba in 1984 and 1987, which led to him switching to a Latin jazz style and changing his group’s name from Manteca to Nueva Manteca.

Nueva Manteca also included the famed beach in the title of one of its earliest CD’s - Varadero Blues [Timeless SJP 318]. The music on this 1991 CD consists mainly of Latin Jazz adaptations of songs from the Great American Songbook including Yesterdays, April in Paris and Just Friends, but it also brings forth Jan’s intricate arrangements of Jazz Standards such as Monk’s Round Midnight, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Lee Morgan’s beautiful ballad, Ceora.  The group also offers treatments of Latin Jazz staples such as Macumbia by Francisco Zumaque. The CD gets its title from Jan’s original Varadero Blues.

This posting represents another of our continuing efforts to highlight the many Latin Jazz adaptations that form the themes for Nueva Manteca’s music.

Jan Laurens Hartong contributed the following insert notes to Varadero Blues [Timeless SJP 318] which further explain its musical mission of fusing the primarily rhythmic aspects and styles of Cuban music with Bebop and Hard Bop.

“Ever since Jelly Roll Morton's 'Spanish tinge' reference, musicians have been fascinated by the idea of Latin-Jazz fusion.

In the 1940's, Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauza, musical director of the legendary Machito orchestra, started it all by inviting leading Bebop musicians as guest soloists, notably Charlie Parker. It also was Mario Bauza who brought his friend Dizzy Cillespie into contact with the Cuban cultus drummer Chano Pozo, resulting in the creation of the classic Cuban Bebop composition 'Manteca'.

In the 1970's, after the Beatles Era, Latin music became all the rage under the name Salsa. Capitalizing on this development, a number of New York top musicians co-lead by the brothers Andy and Jerry Gonzalez took up again the musical thread of the past, extending it further. The SoundScape, a warehouse loft on 10th Avenue, became the center of Latin Jazz experiments for many years. 

Mambo King Tito Puente formed his small Latin ensemble Heavily emphasizing the jazz idiom, In Cuba, after the Revolution, the musical world also got into turmoil: trap drums took a leading role in Cuban percussion and a group of progressive musicians from the Orquestra Cubana de Musica Moderna created the first prominent Cuban Latin Jazz band - Irakere. Soon the second generation followed : Grupo Afro Cuba, Proyecto, Emiliano Salvador quintet,

Inspired by these developments and by my own personal contacts,  I formed a 10-piece group in Rotterdam in 1982 called 'Manteca', named after the famous CuBop song, 

Its aim was to stimulate the Latin Jazz synthesis in Holland. Manteca succeeded to attain a top position in the Netherlands and also scored high internationally, performing at the First London Salsa Festival in 1986, In the course of time, the accent of our music had shifted more to Salsa dance music, In 1987, after returning from a second field trip to Cuba, I decided to change the band's musical direction, strongly inspired by the possibilities of using drums together with Latin percussion, A new band was created, a return to the original CuBop concept: the NUEVA MANTECA LATIN JAZZ SEPTET, 

As for the music : we work as much as possible with our own arrangements and concepts, expanding our horizon, by sometimes including other Latin traditions as well. Check out 'Macumbia' and 'April in Paris'. We also strive at reviving fairly unknown or forgotten Jazz pieces in a Latin way, for example 'Ceora'. We'd like to dedicate this recording to the memory of the great CuBop pioneers. - Jan L Hartong”

The following video features Nueva Manteca’s arresting rendition of Lee Morgan’s Ceora. 

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