We get a lot of interesting overseas acts passing through these days but seldom do we see Cuban musicians. This is not about what they have to offer or even about the tyranny of distance, but more about politics. When this band was booked it was a bigger lineup, but getting short-term visas to enter Australia and New Zealand proved an insurmountable barrier for some of their number. In my view this is an arcane and ludicrous legacy of the cold war. In spite of an easing of sanctions by the EU and others, those old suspicions remain. These talented musicians are the very best of ambassadors for their country and their indigenous music. Its time to get real Australasian immigration. The few that were allowed into the country gave us a great nights entertainment and not one sought asylum from John Key.
The tour was organised by Australian band leader Gai Bryant and she arrived here with barely enough time to hold a few brief rehearsals with the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra). I am a fan of the AJO as they always tackle interesting projects. They are a Jazz Orchestra with great dynamics and under the direction of Tim Atkinson, Mike booth and others they continue to produce the goods. The personnel had changed a bit since I last saw them and especially the front horn line. Even though it was dark and crowded I could make out a number of the long-term AJO regulars such Jo Spiers, Callum Passells, Cameron Sangster, Mike Booth, Jono Tan, Cameron McArthur and Matt Steele. This band is scandalously under utilised and the city fathers and corporates should be engaging them for important occasions.
I am picking that this music would have been testing for them, as very few Auckland musicians have had a chance to work in authentic Cuban styles before. It is one thing to play a Rumba or Bolero in a looser jazz idiom but quite another to follow charts like these. At the heart of Cuban music is a set of complex mesmerising counter rhythms and the clave. This is a delicious fusion music and the most influential of all of the ‘world musics’. It reaches deep into the shameful slave past of Cuba. West African musicians had retained knowledge of the ancient percussion instruments, chants and melodies which had travelled with them. Along the way a plethora of other influences enriched and extended their music. There is a strong Spanish influence and a French influence among others. These influences were absorbed into the polyrhythmic music of West Africa. At the very heart is often the clave rhythms and central to that is the five beat pattern so much emulated in popular music and Jazz. These days the forms are codified and so jumping into this as a novice is a big ask. I don’t know enough about Cuban music to judge this performance against others, but suffice to say I enjoyed it immensely.
I was deeply impressed by the percussionists but also by Cameron Sangster (drums), who took his cues so well from the Cubans. Other notable moments were delivered by Callum Passells (alto), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Matt Steele (piano).
With the percussion instruments playing and the orchestra and soloists weaving around the beat it was easy to see how those old stories of voodoo and trance music took hold. These beats defied all attempts to rationalise the sound. The rhythms entered every pore, almost like body blows, driving me out of self and into the arms of some universal force. An ancient joyful celestial dance from which there was mercifully no escape.
Who: Gai Bryant’s Cubanos (the photos on this gig were all taken by Ben McNicoll)
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland, Wednesday 30th October 2013