Embassies Reopen in Washington and Havana; Two Jazz Orchestras Wave Banners High

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.)

The unexpected joint announcement from Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro of a stunning policy shift came in the middle of O’Farrill’s 2014 residency. “With this incredible news of political normalization,” O’Farrill said, “we went into the studio with a cast or acclaimed Cuban and American composers to record an album of a lifetime.” O’Farrill and his orchestra gathered most of the musicians involved in this project for a May concert at Manhattan’s Symphony Space, about which I wrote in The Wall Street Journal. O’Farrill told me then: “All this began in 2002, when an idea took root in my heart,” he said. “I wanted to create an ongoing conversation between musicians, to continue the one started decades ago by Dizzy Gillespie and [Cuban percussionist] Chano Pozo. People think revolution and ideological differences put an end to this conversation, but we’re pursuing this thing that Dizzy called a ‘global music,’ which has a multiplicity of opinions.” (Here’s a Village Voice piece about a 2010 trip to Cuba I took with O’Farrill that offers yet more background about this mission.

Wynton Marsalis in Havana in 2010/ photo: Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center

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.

Leave a Reply