On August 21, one month and one day after the U.S. and Cuba reopened long-closed embassies in Washington, DC and Havana, Cuba, two new recordings will be released that hint at a cultural connection elemental to jazz’s legacy yet long choked off by political barriers, as well the promise suggested by a new era of engagement during the Obama administration.
“Cuba: The Conversation Continued” (Motéma Music) is the fruit of a December 2014 Havana residency by Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra that involved performances at the Havana International Jazz Festival, a collaborative project with the Havana-based Malpaso dance troupe, and the sessions at Havana’s Abdala Studios that led to this new CD.
“Live in Cuba,” from Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra documents the orchestra’s performances at Havana’a Mella Theater, which highlighted a five-day Cuban residency in September 2010. This CD also inaugurates Jazz at Lincoln Center’s newest venture, Blue Engine Records. (I covered that five-day residency in two Wall Street Journal pieces, here and here.)
Two months before that 2010 trip I was in Havana, covering the five-day residency by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra that gave rise to “Live in Cuba.”
“This is about music first and foremost,” Marsalis told me in Havana. “And it’s a way to be among extended family. It is a dream come true on many levels.”
“I think people forgot what the bridge between Cuba and the U.S. looks like,” said Carlos Henriquez, a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra bassist who is of Puerto Rican descent and grew up in the Bronx, and who was tapped by Marsalis as the project’s music director. “We’re here to remind them.”
The Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra includes Bobby Carcassés, a beloved Havana figure for his many musical talents, singing a rousing version of Ernesto Duarte Brito’s “Como Fue.”
I’ll write more about these recordings once I dig into them.
And I’ll hope that they’re the beginning of a watershed of new CDs, born of flags raised and barriers dropped.