Performance Review by Antonio Mondesire
February 21, 2015
Pianist, composer, arranger Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopator’s presented Cinqué – The Suite of the Caribbean at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room before a warm and receptive audience.
The suite consisted of five movements dedicated to and inspired by Joseph Cinqué, the protagonist of La Amistad, a freedom fighter and force of nature whose journey of self-discovery was rooted in the idea, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Consistent with Yoruba wisdom, Villafranca’s powerful sonic-art honored the ancestors and the branches and roots of our collective ancestral tree.
Essentially, the repertoire was a musical journey in five parts:
Part 1: Cinque / The Capture / Troubled Waters.
Part II: Maluagda / La Burl de Los Congos / Madre Agua (Yaya Baluande).
Part III: Indigo / Mesi Bondye.
Part IV: The Night at Bois Caiman / Burn Down the Fields.
Part V: Comparsa.
The movements represented a diverse range of colors, textures, rhythms, melodic call and response and solos accented by traditional dance.
Highlights included Jon Faddis’s riveting brass acumen; consistent, tasteful exchanges between the pianist and his team of polished musicians; trombonist/conch/shell player Steve Turre’s unparalleled swing and crowd pleasing harmonics; the tasteful inclusion of traditional Puerto Rican rhythms (Bomba Xica), the integration of recorded Kongo chants, a sweet rendition of the tune, “Mesi Bondye” by banjo player, Leila Mc Calla and the closing comparsa (Cuban Carnival swing with classic chorus) as dancer Liethis Y Hechavarria –
tap danced with wood block sandals playing 2-3 beat of the clave.
Jonathan “JBlak” Troncoso – need to see / hear more of his pan Afro-Caribe virtuousity with some featured solos….as the old Kongos would say “somos. o no somos” /” are we or are we not”.
Prior to the concert, Ben Young of Swing University conducted an interesting and informative pre-concert discussion and touched on Elio Villafranca’s geo-historic background in context to the Caribbean Basin of island nations. It is here that a brief description of the banjo used in Leyla McCalla’s work would have been helpful.
To conclude, Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopators are lined up for “Nsambi Mpugu’s” (God Almighty’s) blessings as he builds upon the high standard that he has set for himself. We respectfully watch his growth. Bacheche! (excellent in Kongo).
Personnel: Elio Villafranca – Musical Director > piano and Guataca; Jon Faddis – trumpet; Leyla McCalla – cello/banjo/ vocal; Vincent Herring – alto sax/flute/clarinet: Steve Turre – trombone and multiple conch shells; Greg Tardy – tenor sax/clarinet; Michele Wright –clarinet; Gregg August – bass; and assorted percussion; Jonathan “JBlak”Troncoso – percussion: Liethis Y Hechavarria – dancer.
Elio Villafranca: www.eliovillafranca.net
Jazz at Lincoln Center: www.jazz.org