A taste of the Bronx hits Miami on Thursday, February 24, when Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band perform at the FIU Miami Film Festival's jazz series at the Sheraton Biscayne Bay. The "Fort Apache" moniker is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the notorious 1981 film Fort Apache, the Bronx, with Gonzalez celebrating the myriad types of music that have percolated through that New York City borough, and which he hungrily absorbed growing up there.
"I picked up the drums in the street," the conga-playing Gonzalez told one interviewer. "In the parks and rooftops there were always jam sessions -- all night jam sessions. There used to be turf battles, almost like gang wars. 'The cats from the Bronx, they can't play,' said the people from Brooklyn. So we'd have a cutting contest. It deterred a lot of street violence."
It was that hard-hitting attitude that enabled Gonzalez to hold his own during the '60s while sitting in with free-jazz heavyweights such as Archie Shepp and Dewey Redman; it's also what undoubtedly attracted pianist Eddie Palmieri, who in 1971 added Gonzalez to his legendary salsa outfit, a ferociously driving band equally at home wowing audiences in nightclubs as at one famed engagement inside Sing-Sing prison.
Although Gonzalez's current work (which also includes the trumpet) is a bit less fiery, he's hardly settled down into the cocktail-and-dinner-chatter vibe that afflicts so many other Latin jazz artists in South Florida. Case in point: Rumba para Monk, a Fort Apache album that reinterprets the compositions of Thelonious Monk through a vigorous Afro-Cuban prism.
A Cuban saxophonist who honed his chops blowing alongside Gonzalez in several storied early '80s NYC loft jam sessions -- Paquito D'Rivera -- also performs at the Sheraton on Saturday, February 26, though he apparently has forgotten the value of those heady nights that placed creative experimentation and the sheer joy of playing above all else. D'Rivera, who left the Cuban jazz ensemble Irakere in 1980, eventually resettling in America, has since gone out of his way to stymie any cultural exchange with artists still on the island. In the drama leading up to Los Van Van's Miami debut, he rushed on to Univision television, calling that band's performance an "offense to the exile community's pain." He also brushed off the physical attacks by flagpole-swinging exiles on fans entering Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba's 1996 Gusman concert, telling New Times: "It's like being a Nazi and then moving to Israel."
Apparently these platitudes don't apply to D'Rivera himself, who performed in January at New York's Lincoln Center alongside Irakere pianist (and current teacher at Havana's Instituto Superior de Arte) Chucho Valdés. By all accounts it was a thrilling show, with the two musicians meshing into the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra to revisit and turn inside-out several Cuban musical standards. This "seems like old times" revue does beg the question, though: Why does D'Rivera feel the need to bash his former jazz compatriots, and then hypocritically slink off to collaborate with them in cities far from el exilio's stern gaze? Why do these inspired musical exchanges have to happen 1500 miles north of Miami? Why can't these kind of concerts happen here?
Few writers have captured the conflicting urges of bohemian wanderlust, the search for self, and a longing for roots, as richly as Chris Offutt. Before he was out of his teens, he had already traveled far from his native Kentucky home ("a zip code with a creek"), and while that Appalachian upbringing clearly is hard-wired into his body, it's without any gloss or sentimentality.
"The popular view of Appalachia is a land where every man is willing, at the drop of a proverbial strap, to shoot, fight, or fuck anything on hind legs," Offutt writes in his nakedly transcendent 1993 memoir The Same River Twice. "The dirt truth is a hair different. The men of my generation live in the remains of a frontier mentality. Women accept and endure, holding the families tight. Mountain culture expects its males to undergo various rites of manhood, but genuine tribulation under fire no longer exists. We've had to create our own."
That may be the proper light within which to view Offutt's subsequent decade of cross-country wanderings, from a stint as an Alabama circus hand, on through the boho margins of Boston, a spell as a mosquito-dodging tour guide in the Everglades, and eventually, navigating the trials of raising his own family. All of it is beautifully laid out in Offutt's prose, and his most recent collection of short stories, Out of the Woods, is the kind of book you enthusiastically press into the hands of good friends. Even better is the opportunity to hear those tales read aloud in Offutt's own voice; said moment arrives Thursday, February 24, at 8:00 p.m., when the author appears as part of Florida International University's "Writers by the Bay" series at FIU's North Campus, room A194 in the English department. Admission is free.
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Few figures in dance music seem more gleefully schizophrenic than Armand Van Helden, who spins at Groove Jet on Saturday, February 26. Certainly genre-hopping is nothing new, yet Van Helden manages to straddle aesthetic camps that would seem inherently antithetical to each other. How else to explain that the same New York City producer that created Sampleslaya, an aggressive mélange of head-nodding hip-hop and eminently butch jeep beats, also is the man behind last year's "Flowerz," a blissfully sleazy disco stomper propelled by lush strings, and capped by the over-the-top falsetto of Roland Clark -- an end result that recalled nothing short of the glory days of Sylvester.
Also on the bill that night is British junglist Goldie, the closest thing to an international star that genre has managed to produce, thanks in no small part to his grand ideological pronouncements to the press, dramatic gold-capped toothy smiles for obliging photographers, and a tabloid-worthy VIP room brawl with Tricky for the affections of Icelandic diva Björk. Musically Goldie stands on shakier ground these days, with forays into jazz-tinged drum and bass evoking only the sleepiest moments of '70s fusion. Still, his DJ sets of late have focused on forward-thinking, joyously banging grooves. If you can stomach the meathead crowd sure to be drawn by the evening's Penthouse magazine sponsors, this should prove to be an engaging double feature.
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org