Dancing With Eleggua, Weekly, at Minton's in Harlem

Percussionist Román Díaz leads a his new project, El Gallo Mistico, during “Jazz at the Crossroads: The Dance of Eleggua" at Minton's Supper Club in Harlem.

I’d not yet been to Minton’s, the new supper club that revives a storied Harlem name on 118th Street, until this week.

I can tell you that the cuisine, under the direction of executive chef Alexander Smalls, is both fine and creative. But a new series “Jazz at the Crossroads: The Dance of Eleggua,” which continues each Tuesday night through August, was the real lure for me.

This past Tuesday, alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry and his brother, bassist Yunior Terry, who were born in the town of Florida, in Cuba’s Camagüey province, and live in New York City, performed in a group that showcased their father, Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry. The elder Terry is a violinist the founder and director of the “Orquesta Maravillas de Florida,” an important band in the Cuban charanga style. He is, perhaps most notably, a master of the chekeré, the beaded gourd used for percussion; in his hands, it can direct a group with the authority and flair of drummer Roy Haynes’s trap set. The group at Minton’s performed a mixture of traditional charanga tunes and more modern jazz, some drawn from the books of Yosvany Terry’s brilliant and forward-leaning bands. Yet this was no survey or fusion; the set was an example of how Afro Latin music, grounded in traditional rhythms and flecked with modern jazz’s full stylistic palette, can flow pretty much wherever it wants without losing its spiritual heft and sense of musical purpose.
That’s what this new series is about, according to Dita Sullivan, whose recent credits along similar lines “New Dimensions in Jazz” and “A Cuban Drum Series,” both produced for Manhattan’s Jazz Standard.“Jazz at the Crossroads was inspired by the Yoruban deity Eleggua, the messenger of the gods, a trickster who is the guardian of all crossroads and doorways and rules the portal where past and future meet,” she said. “A key figure in the cosmology of pan-African culture in the New World, he embodies the multiple doorways onto the African-Caribbean-New Orleans-Chicago musical diaspora that reached an apotheosis in the Harlem Renaissance.” This festival, she said, “marks a point of departure and a new beginning in the perpetual rebirth of jazz.” (She expands on this and other ideas in an interview at writer Tomas Peña’s website.)
The lineup through August, below, is diverse and compelling, and it includes the U.S. debut of a highly touted young Cuban singer, Melvis Santa.
If, like me, you missed the first performance of Román Díaz & El Gallo Mistico, you’ll get another chance on July 15 (I won’t make the same mistake twice). As I wrote earlier this year about Díaz:

Since his arrival in New York City from his native Cuba in 1999, Díaz has not only deepened the presence of Afro-Cuban traditions in and around New York, he has infused the city’s jazz scene with a rare blend of expertise, energy, wit, and humor drawn from both Afro-Cuban culture and his own imagination.

Diaz holds court each Thursday night at Manhattan’s Zinc Bar for a weekly rumba, He’s making music and enacting rituals with old friends and new partners, inviting in ancient spirits as he lends new edge to New York’s scene. But this new project, El Gallo Mistico (The Sacred Rooster), “represents the exciting synergy between tradition and the avant-garde that has characterized the Negrista and AfroCubanismo movements of the 1920s and ’30s in Cuban culture,” according to Sullivan. It also expresses a continuing collaboration between Díaz and Cuban pianist David Virelles. In Virelles fascinating Continuum band, Díaz was a key player in the realization of Virelles’s vision. Here, the script gets flipped.
See you there.
Minton’s in Harlem presents: Jazz at the Crossroads: The Dance of Eleggua
Tuesdays, through August 26th
6/3 Jack Walrath & Masters of Suspense
6/10 Fernando Otero & Radio Angel
6/17 & 6/24 Cuban diva Melvis Santa
7/01 Francisco Mora-Catlett & AfroHORN
7/08  Emilio Valdes + Mark Whitfield
7/15 Román Diaz & El Gallo Mistico
7/22 Brian Lynch & Spheres of Influence
7/29  Cuban diva Melvis Santa
8/05 David Virelles trio
8/12 George Burton quintet
8/19 Direct from Sao Paolo: Ulisses Rocha
8/26 Yosvany Terry quintet
photo: Tomas Peña

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