by Dan Lehner
There was a sense of freshness in the air as the first night of the Winter Jazz Fest Marathon kicked off on Friday. The first real snowfall blanketed car windows, the first few days of 2017 were helping ease away the emotional drag of 2016 and the ever-expanding roster of artists and venues participating in the WJF lineup reminded us that there are people working hard and creating challenging, joyous and diverse music and plenty of people who want to see it happen. WJF also helped us prepared politically and emotionally for the coming Trump years by declaring a theme of social justice that permeated through its literature and testimonials from its artists.
Dayme Arocena made an explicit plea for US audiences to engage with the next generation of young Cuban musicians during her band's set at Le Poisson Rouge, and they more than backed that case up with their performance. Arocena's music has an old history - its imbued with a rich variety of Afro-Cuban musics from both the island and the motherland - but her conception also has a 21st century attitude, with vocoders, odd-meters and Arocena's stuttering vocal effects punctuating the rhumba phrasing. Ever the ambassador for her country's traditions, Arocena graciously showed the audience the diversity of Cuba's dance music landscape through guajira and cha-cha stylings, powered by her alluring and rich vocal style.
In an example of parallel cultural journeying, New York actually has its own version of the Cuban traditional music, interpreted by its numerous salsa bands like Spanish Harlem Orchestra, who played at the New School Friday night. SHO's modus operandi is relatively humble - they have a old school Nuyorican sound and just try (and succeed) to swing as hard as they can - but they're not without their specialties. Their music tastefully inserted jazz chordal substitutions a la Eddie Palmieri and the vocal harmonies between Carlos Canscante, Jeremy Bosch and Marco Bermudez was rich and meaty. Bosch also had an added surprise up his sleeve, getting into a flute battle with Mitch Frohman, in which Frohman was surprisingly evenly matched.