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By Shea Serrano
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By Jacob Katel
By Michael E. Miller
It's no mere coincidence that the lineup for this year's Miami Latin Jazz Festival spans the gamut of Afro-Cuban music history. That's exactly what organizer Arturo Campa had in mind for the second annual staging of the blowout, which is being held Saturday, February 15, at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. (Proceeds from the show, by the way, will be donated to the Friends of the Gusman Center.)
"Last year's program mainly represented the new wave of Latin jazz," says Campa of the festival's first menu, which included groups such as Jerry Gonzalez's Fort Apache Band and Seis del Solar, Ruben Blades's backing band. "This year, though, we're covering the entire history of Cuban music."
The roster touches on everything from santeria drumming to urban Latin-jazz stylings. Headliner Arturo Sandoval is a trumpet legend who has played with Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock, among others, but is revered for his work in Irakere, which he founded in Cuba during the late Seventies with pianist Chucho Valdes. The band's fusion of roots percussion, prog-jazz dynamics, and funk finesse was both wildly popular and musically innovative. Together with saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, Sandoval wove powerful but intricate and detailed melodies throughout the band's deep rhythmic bed (witness his piercing work on the frantic live version of "Gira Gira," recorded in 1979 at a New York City concert, and the Sandoval-penned "Ilya"). His aching, delicate introduction to "Anunga Nunga" -- played in unison with co-trumpeter Jorge Varona -- is simply breathtaking.
Pianist Danilo Perez has worked in the past with Sandoval on two critically acclaimed albums: Reunion, which found the trumpeter working once again with former Irakere-mate D'Rivera, and on Sandoval's 1994 disc Danzon (which won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album). He was also featured on several D'Rivera solo albums, including Tico Tico, Havana Cafe, and Who's Smoking. On his latest release, PanaMonk, Perez leads his trio through the songbook of piano/ songwriting genius Thelonious Monk, capturing perfectly the master's playfully chaotic style. The standout of the set is "Bright Mississippi," on which Perez adds a supple Latin bounce to what was arguably Monk's last great composition (from the 1963 album Monk's Dream).
The resume of Colombian reedman Justo Almario includes stints with Mongo Santamaria, Charles Mingus, Freddie Hubbard, and Luis Bonilla, among many others. Some of his finest playing, though, can be found on the first volume of Israel "Cachao" Lopez's Master Sessions, where Almario's subtle lines underpin the melancholy of "Lindo Yambu," and, on "Lluvia, Viento y Cana," dance around Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros's trumpet. Almario will be performing at the festival with a sextet.
Afro-Cuban percussionist Francisco Aguabella brings to his music the intensity of deep religious conviction and an absolute mastery of both bata and conguero rhythms. Born in Matanzas, Aguabella immigrated to the U.S. in the Fifties and soon began working with the Katherine Dunham Dancers and made an appearance in the 1954 B-movie Mambo. He was also featured on a slew of stateside Latin releases, most notably Tito Puente's 1957 masterpiece Top Percussion. He was later involved with the Seventies Latin rock group Malo (led by Jorge Santana, little brother to Carlos Santana) and did session work with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Peggy Lee. His career was saluted last year in Les Blank's terrific documentary Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella, which is built around some astonishing live footage that has Aguabella performing with Cachao, Carlos "Patato" Valdez, Carlos Santana, and Pete Escovedo and his daughter Sheila E., among others.
"I have always tried to put forth the idea that, when well presented, our music can be a great attraction," stresses Campa, a long-time promoter and vocalist whose credits include numerous albums with Eddie Palmieri, as well as organizing Miami's first Cuban jam session (in 1976 at the now-defunct Numero Uno Club). "Other people have presented Hispanic music events, but they haven't been with Cuban music -- our music -- and I think that's a sin. Someone had to take the first step and meet the challenge, and I felt that with my experience and my knowledge of the roots of the music and an understanding of what it's all about, I could do it. You have to have that knowledge, not just the money and the power to do it. If that's all you have, you'll come up empty."
Last year's festival only managed to break even, Campa states, but he says advance sales for Saturday's show have been good. He bemoans the lack of involvement from big-league corporate sponsors, but says proudly that the artists are working at reduced fees in order to help him pull off the benefit. "They all feel, as I do, that Miami should have this kind of festival," Campa says. "Miami needs this."
The Coconut Grove Playhouse and the African American Cultural Preservation Society kick off an eight-week jazz series Sunday, February 16, with two performances by piano legend Ahmad Jamal. Tickets for the 8:30 and 11:30 p.m. sets are $25.
Other shows in the series -- all held in the Playhouse's intimate Encore Room, 3500 Main Hwy. -- will run every Thursday through Sunday until April 13. Artists scheduled to appear include the Vincent Herring Quartet, the Melton Mustafa Quintet, and Cecil Bridgewater's Quartet, among others. Tickets are $15. Call 238-1178 if you need to know more.