Sunday, April 22, 2012

50 is the New 30!!

Less time to blog doesn't mean I don't have anything to share...but as I reach the mid-century mark I'm hoping friends and fans will join me for my 50th Birthday Celebration at Yoshi's San Francisco on Sunday, May 27th at 7pm. If you're staying in town Memorial Day Weekend please come enjoy an evening of music with friends and special guests. Click here for tickets and info. Hope to see you there!

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Time for Bay Area Unity in the Wake of NARAS' Recent Decision

What follows is my statement for this morning's press conference at Yoshi's (later today, May 11th). As I am unable to attend, Peter Williams has graciously offered to read it on my behalf:

"My dear colleagues and friends,

How wonderful that we all feel compelled to come together as a community regardless of these unfortunate circumstances, to “defend” our inclusion by an institution that has clearly lost sight of its purpose. If I could be here with you this morning I would share your disappointment, but I would also echo your voices in a call to action. Let’s use this moment to stay united and remain focused with positivity.

What we as a community do to right this and so many other wrongs will be the ultimate test of our solidarity for one another, and our respect for the creative spirit that is the Bay Area. Together we can – and should – nurture the next generation and help transform them from consumers of art to makers of art.

As artists it is our mission to continue on our creative path without seeking the validation of any institution; the most precious validation for me is seeing the growth of the next generation as we pass them the baton. In our hearts we know what is true and what is right, and it is high time that we stand together to celebrate all music without the acknowledgement of a self-congratulatory, profit-driven industry. What we do right now and in the future will be the reflection of our past, and as artists, educators, presenters and media professionals, we should forge a common vision that demonstrates our strength of character and our resolve. This is not about “Us versus them;” this is about all of us. I only hope that with all of our positive energy we can convince NARAS to revisit their decision and never again lose sight of the artists and community who have made them what they are."

In friendship,
Rebeca Mauleón
May 2011

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Los Van Van US Tour 2010: Everything We Expected and More!

Singers (l to r) Lele, Yenny and Mayito.

Once we received confirmation that Los Van Van were in fact cleared to come to the United States, I made plans with my family and friends to go to Yoshi's on Friday Dec. 10th - and of course ended up going back Sunday night for more! The re-vamped 16-piece (yes, 16!) band barely fit on the uncomfortable and oddly shaped stage, yet their sardine-like formation in no way diminished the power-packed set, to which we danced, swayed and sang-along collectively being the faithful "vanvaneros" we are. Words simply cannot describe the live Los Van Van experience, and even with the absence of iconic figures such as Pedrito Calvo (the one with the hat) and Pupy (César Pedroso, pianist and co-founder who now fronts his own band), the "train" as they are known in Cuba did not disappoint.

Mara Fox and Wayne Wallace sitting in!
Tearing into a 75-minute set of recent tunes as well as their classic "oldies" medley of hits from the 70s and 80s, the powerhouse band of founders and young lions gave the crowd what they wanted: non-stop hip-churning grooves. Anyone who knows this band will tell you that their particular brand of "songo" is founded on one principle: to make people dance. Yet the jam-packed crowd was content to soak up the energy emanating from the stage without the need for stylized salsa moves, as is the norm in the Bay Area; folks here love to show off their dancing chops, but a Van Van experience is more like a rock show in that the crowd functions as a living, breathing and pulsating organism that feeds off the band. The front row of four singers (Mayito, Roberto, Yenny and Lele) take turns in the lead role, and director Juan Formell - now more of a musical director/conductor - seems to relish his revamped role now that he has fresh "reinforcements" in the bass chair with Pavel Molina Ruiz. The sound of this band is relentless, the tempo mostly up-beat and the volume loud; there is certainly subtlety and nuance, but the priority with Los Van Van is to keep everyone moving, period.
Rebeca with Samuel and Maestro Juan Formell

This being the Bay Area, we also have a number of musicians who - in addition to being die-hard LVV fans - have a deep and long-time relationship with the band. A number (including yours truly) were asked to sit in, including trombonist Wayne Wallace (nominated this year for a Grammy in the Latin Jazz category - congrats!!), trombonist Mara Fox and flautist John Calloway. I myself was pulled up onto the stage at the bequest of Mayito Sunday night for a solo on "Tim Pop con Birdland," and had the time of my life! (See video below.) I heard from Kevin Moore of that every late show set was different from the first. To be sure the restrictive nature of Yoshi's 2-show format really doesn't work for Los Van Van's aesthetic. Like I said, their shows are more like rock shows, and a typical set is at least 2 hours! That said, it was still a musical high that the Bay Area won't long forget. Just can't wait to see them again...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Los Van Van come to Yoshi's San Francisco

I won't believe it until I see it - with the cancellation earlier this year of Los Van Van in the midst of a booking snafu, we "vanvaneros y vanvaneras" were slightly pessimistic. But word is the U.S. tour is on, with stops in LA and NYC before a four-day stint at Yoshi's in San Francisco. The format of the band may have changed over the years, and yes - Pedrito Calvo is not scheduled to appear with them after all - but no matter: el tren always delivers. Any of you naysayers out there will be in for a post-modern Cuban shock; nothing like this 15-piece+ band playing live to knock your socks off!

Get your dancing shoes on - ¡que pronto empieza la fiesta!

UPDATE 12/2/10 @ 1pm ~
As of today 3 of Los Van Van's band members - including director Juan Formell - have not received their U.S. visas. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens. Here is a link to the LA Times article.

UPDATE 12/3/10 ~ Looks like the visa snafu has been solved. We shall see...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chico & Rita Premiere in the U.K.

So the U.S. release of Fernando Trueba's animated film Chico & Rita will have to wait, but at least UK audiences are already in the know as they were treated to the release over the weekend. Here is the UK Trailer of the film:

For all you jazz and Cuban music fans, you will love this film.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers @ SF Jazz

Rebeca with Chucho Valdés
There are few musicians in the world today who command such international respect and admiration as Chucho Valdés. His extraordinary career is a testament to all things that are good in the world of music: talent, virtuosity, endless creativity and a willingness to reinvent oneself, just to name a few. Last Monday, October 11th I witnessed a performance by the Maestro in his latest incarnation of ensembles, the Afro-Cuban Messengers, on the first stint of several U.S. tour dates - his first appearance here in over seven years.

The sell-out crowd at San Francisco's Herbst Theater was exuberant and giddy with anticipation, partly because our San Francisco Giants had just clinched their division and the smart-phone-crazy audience spontaneously erupted in applause even before the show began. Once Chucho and his band took the stage, we were in for a remarkable yet totally expected roller coaster ride of musical excellence. I say "expected" because with Chucho, we expect nothing less from a man who so truly has embodied the sound of Cuba for nearly half a century; he IS the absolute representation of what Cuban musicianship is all about. The product of classical training, the indelible influence of his father Bebo Valdés and a total command of American jazz, Chucho tore into a two-hour plus set of unimaginable depth and diversity and had people on the edge of their seats with his extraordinary Irakere-era pieces, newly transformed for smaller ensemble, along with his take on jazz standards combined with the African-infused textures of his homeland. From references to Brubeck, Ellington and Zawinul, Chucho demonstrated why he is regarded as one of the most compelling musicians of any generation as he paid tribute to these and other musical masters. And for those of us die-hard Irakere fans, we were treated to familiar repertoire in a different light, while we got to revel in the largely acoustic format of this smaller incarnation. In fact, the first several numbers featured Chucho and rhythm section only, minus any horns and vocals - a lovely way to start the program.

Chucho with Giants Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda
The band includes some mighty talent in Yaroldy Abreu on congas, who resembles Giovanni Hidalgo in his lightning-fast chops and power, Juan Carlos Rojas on drums, Reynaldo Melián on trumpet (of Gonzalo Rubalcaba fame), saxophonist Carlos Miyares, batá percussionist and vocalist Dreiser Durruthy, and Lázaro Rivero on bass. A last-minute addition to the program was Chucho's sister Mayra Caridad, who sang only one number. There were a few uncomfortable moments, many of them technical as the increasing intensity of the percussion tended to drown out the piano, but overall the extraordinary music and musicianship made up for any minor production issues. A seemingly more daring rhythmic approach in Chucho's writing is evident in this project with his frequent use of odd meter; although we know Cuban music to be inherently danceable, this music is clearly about listening, period. And for all the technical prowess of the man and his music, I sensed something new in him - a more tender, sensitive side than in previous concerts. Perhaps he has tapped into a more spiritual side - there was certainly no shortage of Yoruban liturgical chants and rhythms in the set, yet that repertoire was always a part of the aforementioned Irakere. But his stance at the piano struck many of us - he sat miraculously still for someone playing with so much speed and agility on his instrument, and at times he seemed to sit back and let the band go. Those familiar with his many musical incarnations have to wonder what will come next for Chucho Valdés, and we revel in the possibilities because we know we will be in for a treat, no matter what.

Click here to read my recent review of Chucho's Steps in JazzTimes Magazine.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Issac Delgado receives Latin Grammy nomination

Many congratulations to Issac Delgado on his Latin Grammy nomination for "L-O-V-E" - a truly magnificent album. I had the pleasure of seeing the live show at Yoshi's Oakland last weekend - Freddy Cole (Nat King Cole's brother) was truly soulful, Issac suave and gracious, and sitting in was trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval!

Here is a nice article on the Grammy nod.

The top photo (left) was taken after the show - L to R: Rene Luis Toledo, Arturo Sandoval, Rebeca, Issac Delgado (kneeling), John Di Martino, John Belzaguy, Jimmy Branly and Ken Peplowski.

 On the left is a shot taken during Arturo Sandoval's guest appearance on an impromptu blues. I can't say enough how happy I am for Issac - this is a wonderful new direction for him as an artist, and I know new doors will open for him. My review of "L-O-V-E" will be out soon on JazzTimes Magazine - I'll be sure to post.