Many jazzheads when speaking of the synthesis of jazz and latin american music will automatically bring up Brazil (in particular bossa) or Cuba (especially afro-cuban rhythms). If they think of Argentina at all it might be as an aside to pay homage to the Tango Nuevo (new tango) pioneer Astor Piazolla and the jazz influences to be heard in his compositions.
But to leave it at that would do a disservice to the richness and amazing diversity of both Argentine culture and Argentinian jazz history. Argentine musicians have long dug deep into the lodes of their own folklore (such as zamba, tonada, chacarera, chamamé, baguala, milonga and the aforementioned tango – to name but seven from the 50 or so distinct folkloric forms in this vast country) and from this vein have cut, shaped and polished these gems into musical jewellery. And that includes the jazz-minded musicians who delight in exploring the many rhythms, structures and vibes of these forms.*
In fact, it always seems to me that latin american musicians in general see both folklore and jazz not as distinct lands with barbed wire fences saying “Private Property – Keep Out!”, but as adjacent lands to be explored, mined, cultivated and inspired by. Contrast that with the divide between British folk and British jazz for instance.
So, it’s against all this background that pianist Martín Robbio and his Trio have made their name with various shows and two albums of original music over the last five years (Parresía, and El Mismo Río).
On this third album, Tierra (Land, or Earth) Robbio and his trio (Ariel Sánchez on drumkit and Juan Fracchi on double bass) team up with Los Guevaristas, a percussion quartet led by Facundo Guevara and featuring Javier Martínez Bucas, Julián Solarz and Jerónimo Peña. The theme underpinning this particular album is to focus on the African bases within American music (hence, the partnership with Los Guevaristas).
[I should explain that within the rest of the American continent (North, Central and South) the term ‘America’ applies to ALL the lands and inhabitants of ALL the countries (not just the United States). So Argentine, Colombian, Guatemalan and Canadian music is all ‘American music’ within this context.]
To this end, Robbio and Guevara have selected music from some of the great composers from across the length and breadth of the continent such as Eduardo Lagos, (the late and great) Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, the inimitable maestro of chacarera piano Cuchí Leguizamon, Oscar Alem, Juan Raffo, McCoy Tyner, Alice Coltrane, Dino Saluzzi and others. This is an album with a pan-american vision, but remains peculiarly yet enjoyably Argentine.
They have stripped back each piece to its ‘birthday suit’, as it were, in order to appreciate better the African influences throughout – although it also nicely highlights the other latin american influences too. They then approach it with all the innovation and improvisation you would expect from a jazzer, but always keeping true to the traditions of the rhythms and music. It’s very refreshing.
The album has 11 tracks that each shines light on aspects of ‘American’ music. The opening track La Bacha (by Eduardo Lagos) moves from 5/4 to 6/8 meshing a very Argentine piano style with the bombo drum of the Andes and the congas of the African heritage into a trance-like groove over which Robbio lays down his grand piano. Lush.
There’s the McCoy Tyner track Elvin (Sir) Jones which obviously pays homage to the great post-bop drummer Elvin Ray Jones (Mingus, Davis, Coltrane, McCoy etc) in a piece that effortlessly just swings and swings (via a double bass solo) until the momentum propels it into a montuno (latin piano vamp) and the congas, timbales and drumkit take over.
Chegada (written by Naná Vasconcelos) is a dark, broody piece (with periodic sunsplashes of joy!) that features guest singer Vicky Zotalis and a rhythmic motif taken from (I’m guessing) the afro-bloc traditions of North-East Brazil, that explodes into a wild 6/8 over a 2/4 breakdown. In contrast Marty Ehrlich’s Hymn is a contemplative piece that also utilises the bandoneon (of tango fame).
I also love the jagged push and pull of Leguizamón’s chacarera tune La Ida y Vuelta (Coming and Going) and the very afro-cuban jazz feeling of Alice Coltrane’s Los Caballos (The Horses) that features an exhilarating ‘conga’ breakdown (ie ‘conga’ as in the carnival rhythm of Eastern Cuba).
Honourable mentions also go to the gorgeous wooden vibes in Toda La Pampa/Nadie Arriba, Nadie Abajo (written by Oscar Alem and Nora Sarmoria) and the short closing track: Atahualpa Yupanqui’s El Payador Perseguido (the pursued minstrel) which contrasts a relentlessly repeated phrase “pero hay montañas de arena” (“but there are mountains of sand”) over layers of hand percussion, clapping and vocal choruses. Quite mesmerising, you just want it to grow and grow…
Other tracks are Juan Raffo’s Meléndez, Bheki Mseleku’s Thula Mtwana and Dino Saluzzi’s Chancho.
Don’t worry if I seemed to have concentrated on the Latin American and African sides of this album – it’s definitely a jazz album! And well worth the listen – whether you’re an inveterate latinophile like myself or a jaded jazzhead looking for something a little different to tweak your ears and pique your appetite!
* If you are interested in the music of some of the (now) older generation of Argentine musicians you might also want to check out Manolo Juarez, Gato Barbieri, Cuchi Leguizamón, Lito Vitale (both solo and with El Trio Vitale/Baraj/González), Enrique Villegas and Marián Farías Gómez.