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September 10, 2009 · 0 comments
Conversations with Cachao, commissioned when D'Rivera was composer-in-residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts and premiered in 2007, was originally a double concerto for contrabass, clarinet/alto sax, percussion and piano with orchestra, but was performed at Tanglewood as an ensemble of the four soloists: D'Rivera on woodwinds, Garah Landes on piano and his brother Greg on percussion, featuring Robert Black's wonderful bass work as the principal voice of "Cachao"—Cuba's beloved bassist Israel López Cachao, popularizer if not "inventor" of the mambo, whose long career included dates as varied as symphonies, nightclubs, and, yes, weddings. Proving D'Rivera something of a Béla Bartók with Latin flavor, this piece frames and stretches traditional Cuban melodies, particularly Cachao's favorite lick, G-C-Bflat-C, and the Cuban rural guajira, inside a modern compositional setting. Put a group of Cubans in a room, and let them start a conversation—even if they all agree, there's bound to be some fast talking. If they're classically trained, as Cachao and Paquito were, the banter is elegant.
The concerto's three movements placed heavy demands on the musicians, who were more than equal to the task. Sharing, trading, and developing theme statements, they moved with fluency through the brisk runs and percussive and rhythmic accents that provide a commentary to the scored bass lines or improvised cadenzas. Robert Black more than held up the bass's end of the conversation, with furious bowing, seagull-like glissandos, harmonics, and hand drumming on the sides and rear of the instrument, offering all his technique and expression up through his instrument to honor the bassist for whom the concerto was composed. D’Rivera, by turns lithe and raucous, led the lyricism of the second movement on alto sax and clarinet, improvising a coda that showed why he is arguably the best living jazz clarinetist today. The piece being Cuban, whether riotous or lyrical, gave an equal role to the full panoply of Latin percussion, played with panache by Greg Landes. Triangle, tambourine, suspended cymbal, xylophone, glockenspiel,woodblock, , bongos, conga, handclaps, bells, maracas, snare—all spread through the piece like Cuban rum spice. .
The strong physicality of this music, here stylized and distilled, rippled through the ensemble, as handclaps by the percussionist were later repeated by the pianist, who would also sometimes accent a line with hand-drummed accents on the side of his instrument. As D'Rivera returned to the concerto's main theme in the third movement, led its development, and wrapped up the exposition with the upward thrust of his fist, one could only marvel how his compositional genius matched his instrumental virtuosity.
D'Rivera is as generous and prescient as he is talented, and he gave the stage to two young musicians, flutist José Valentino and pianist Tony Madruga, who performed D’Rivera’s “Fiddle Dreams,” commissioned by Library of Congress and originally played by Regina Carter. They played with tremendous authority and sophistication for musicians of their age. The many moods and tempo shifts of this fairly abstract piece, with both scored and improvised sections for both instruments, exploits both the percussive and lyrical capabilities of the flute, over a rolling, sometimes roiling, piano accompaniment. By turns jaunty and blues-tinged, these progressions pushed the musicians hard, especially as they traded fours: José Valentino's vigorous lines were each played to the last breath, like a man who has a point to make before he is finished having his say. Pianist Tony Madruga supported Valentino fully with the dissonances, lush voicings and Latin figures that propel this complex piece through development with continuous rhythmic motion.
In "Panamerica," D'Rivera scored the free-text poem honoring "Alaska to Tierra del Fuego" for soprano Brenda Feliciano and Latin orchestra, featuring instruments from different countries that are not usually played in the same piece, sort of a musical OAS. Backed by clarinet and alto, six-stringed fretless bass, drums, trumpet, valve trombone, and keyboards (piano and Rhodes), Afro-Cuban congas, bandoneon, and Colombian harp. This splashy piece, framing the spoken and sung text of the poem, celebrates the territorial and spiritual grandeur of the two continents, shifting between alto sax, piano, and brass solos, and spotlighting the featured instruments—harp, bandoneon, and congas. The show-stopping energy of Edmar Castaneda's llanero harp was as ferocious and percussive as the classical harp, twice its size, is light.
During the original and Latin band numbers which followed, D'Rivera indirectly continued his homage to Cachao, who essentially invented the Cuban jam sessions, or descargas, that gelled into the type of band arrangements with solos that we know today. Hector del Curto’s fluency with the bandoneon, an Argentine concertina with four keyboard layouts—two for each hand depending on the opening or closing motion of its bellows, or "an instrument that only a masochist would play," as D'Rivera commented, offered a chance to present two by Piazzolla, "Libertango" and "Oblivion." Del Curto's tone, timbre, control of dynamics, ease with key changes and chromatics on “Oblivion” proved that his self-inflicted condition is apparently incurable. "Oblivion" segued into a Cuban “son,” with Pedro Martinez's commanding conga work, and after the seductive insistence of the bandoneon led the band through "Libertango," it rode out on a drum solo and ended in a rip.
As he often does, D'Rivera ended the program with the full band riffing on Bach. After the woodwinds soloed, each instrument entered in turn, and by the end, harp, flute, clarinet, valve trombone, and rhythm section brought the piece to a gregarious but harmonious and steamy close.
This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman. For links to the rest of Forman’s coverage of the festival, click here.