Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Paloma, como simbolo de paz

My apologies for the blog silence. It's been a very busy few months around here. I've been working on two major, Latin-influenced projects, the first of which is premiering this week.

About a year ago or so, Butta Beats from Nomadic Massive came through Kalmunity and freestyled while I played a montuno over the groove. After the set, he pulled me aside and said "We gotta talk." He pitched the idea of a band that dealt with the classic salsa of legendary New York label Fania Records, but also integrated the history of the Latin influence in hip-hop. I was immediately on board and we started the ball rolling. Enter Mantecoso!

This project is débuting this Saturday, March 26, at Les Bobards (4328 St-Laurent), as part of the Afro-Latin Soul series, co-presented by Nomadic's Lou Piensa and San Juan Hill's Frank Rodriguez. The band is a great group of friends and some phenomenal musicians:

Butta Beats - vocals
Gitanjali Jain - vocals
Steve Salcedo - tenor sax
Matthieu van Vliet - trombone
DRR - piano
Mark Haynes - bass
Kullak Viger-Rojas - timbales
André Martin - congas/batá

I found the development of this band really intriguing, as it blended my jazz training with the hip-hop and groove music I've been playing a lot lately. Getting the music together was a multi-step process. Butta, Gitu, Mark and I were on board first, and we selected the repertoire together - we brainstormed a bunch of tunes that we each wanted to play, and then whittled that down into a cohesive set. Once the setlist was made, I went about transcribing the tunes, while Butta worked some hip-hop production magic, chopping up some of the tunes we had selected into beats. We then worked out arrangements and transitions, going from the original tunes into the flips, planning out the set as a file in Logic, like a DJ mix. I then made charts incorporating all this information.

Transcribing these tunes was a challenge, and also the deepest insight I've yet had into how the clave permeates and informs the tune structures; how composers and arrangers of the Fania era, especially Willie Colón, use odd numbers of bars to flip the clave, or use odd harmonic rhythm to give the illusion of different phrasing while the clave continues. Some of my favourite tunes were the most difficult to transcribe - on the surface, they sound effortless and natural, but digging into the inner workings of the tunes reveals layers upon layers of complexity, with breaks and harmonic left-turns. One tune in particular I sold to the band as being "just a descarga," a one-chord jam. And if you're not paying attention (as I evidently wasn't), it sounds like that; but it's riddled with punches, stops and extra bars. It might be the trickiest tune in the whole set. I suppose that's a commonality with all the music I love - music that's sophisticated but doesn't call attention to its own complexity.

For those who don't know about Fania Records, there's a great primer in PBS' Latin Music USA documentary (Part 2: the Salsa Revolution). And also, the quintessential Fania film, Our Latin Thing.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

"I suppose that's a commonality with all the music I love - music that's sophisticated but doesn't call attention to its own complexity."

Great quote, and I feel the same way. That must be why I always love playing with you (and talking about our eclectic influences & tastes)!

Looking forward to the show tomorrow night.