In the midst of Havana’s Jazz Plaza festival in December, I took a break with Yosvany Terry, who has lived in New York City since 1999 and whose music helps define a cutting edge there. He grew up in the Camagüey province, where his father, Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry, was a violinist with Maravilla de Florida’s Charanga Orchestra and a master of the chekeré, the beaded gourd used for percussion. Yosvany and I drove to Havana’s Mariano neighborhood, a quiet, almost rural area where his father and mother now live. There, Don Pancho sang old boleros while Yosvany played piano. Don Pancho demonstrated the “ritmo guiro,” an innovation of his that lent a more folkloric flavor to the charanga sound by the highlighting the raspy sound of the guiro, a serrated gourd that is scraped with a stick. “All of this music,” Yosvany said, “has influenced my music.”
And much more, not to mention Terry’s work with saxophonist Steve Coleman.
Bohemian Trio, Terry’s latest endeavor, is a collective with pianist Orlando Alonso and cellist Yves Dharamraj, in which Terry plays soprano and alto saxophone and chekeré.
Here’s my Wall Street Journal review of the group’s genre-defying debut CD, “Okónkolo.”
Chamber Music Without Borders
By LARRY BLUMENFELD
With “Okónkolo” (Innova), Bohemian Trio offers welcome liberation from the baggage of expectation. This ensemble’s instrumentation—saxophone, piano and cello—offers few, if any, reference points. Substituting saxophone for violin makes for a quite different ensemble than Ravel envisioned when composing the Passacaille from his Piano Trio in A minor, which arrives near this recording’s end. The trio’s chamber music adheres to no conventions.
Classical music figures into Bohemian Trio’s repertoire, yet jazz’s influence looms larger—less in terms of improvisation, which occurs only fleetingly, than through harmonic orientation and rhythmic drive. Jazz has a modest history of drummer-less piano trios, yet nothing quite corresponds.
Two Bohemian Trio members—soprano and alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry, who plays percussion on a few tracks, and pianist Orlando Alonso—are Cubans who live in New York. The trio’s setup seems foreign to their native island’s traditions as well. Cellist Yves Dharamraj, who was born in the U.S., is of French and Trinidadian descent. Together, these musicians honor heritages that blur more than reinforce borders: the blend of European and African traditions that centuries ago amounted to a New World; and the sweet spot sought by many contemporary composers, especially in New York, grounded more in creativity than genre.
Both by necessity (there simply aren’t pieces for this instrumentation) and a commitment to new music, Bohemian Trio turned to colleagues; this repertoire includes one piece by Cuban pianist/composer Manuel Valera, and two from Argentine bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo. Mr. Alonso, a precise and distinctive pianist, plays with great emotive force. Mr. Dharamraj, whose tone is alternately lustrous or biting, has a clear mastery of microtonal suggestion. Mr. Terry’s intensity and technique have made him a rising star on New York’s jazz landscape. Yet the three impress mostly for their cohesion: effortlessly passing around the theme of Mr. Giraudo’s “Push Gift” while losing neither continuity nor drama; and maintaining the potent rhythmic impulses within Mr. Terry’s “Bohemia (Recuerdos de Infancia)” through chiming chords, roughly bowed passages, and staccato soprano saxophone tones.
Still, “Okónkolo” is also the latest showcase for the imagination of Mr. Terry, who has already expanded the possibilities of Afro-Cuban expression through various jazz-based groups. He composed roughly half of these pieces; each delves into his past, in Cuba. The lively themes of “Tarde en la Lisa” are meant to evoke the colorful characters of one Havana neighborhood. The title track is named for the smallest of three batá, the two-headed drums of Afro-Cuban religious rituals, with the okónkolo pattern here carried chiefly by Mr. Alonso’s piano. Mr. Terry’s “Punto Cubano de Domingo” segues directly from Mr. Alonso’s performance of Prelude No. 5 from André Previn’s “The Invisible Drummer.” As such, the track first suggests a clave, the elemental five-beat pattern of Cuban music, hidden within Previn’s piece. Through Mr. Terry’s composition—by turns meditative and raucous, stately then bluesy—that clave then develops into something brand-new, and beyond expectations.