1980s New York City
Afro-Cuban jazz has been for most of its history, a matter of superimposing jazz phrasing over Cuban rhythms. However, by the early 1980s a generation of New York City musicians had come of age playing both salsa dance music and jazz. The time had come for a new level of integration of jazz and Cuban rhythms. This era of creativity and vitality is best represented by the Gonzalez brothers Jerry and Andy, who in 1967, at the ages of 15 and 13, formed a Latin jazz quintet inspired by Cal Tjader's group. Jerry plays congas and trumpet and Andy plays bass. During 1974-1976 they were members of one of Eddie Palmieri's most experimental salsa groups. Andy Gonzalez recounts: "We were into improvising. . . doing that thing Miles Davis was doing—playing themes and just improvising on the themes of songs, and we never stopped playing through the whole set." While in Palmieri's band the Gonzalez brothers started showing up in the Down Beat Reader's Poll. In 1974, the Gonzalez brothers and Manny Oquendo founded the progressive salsa band Libre. While in the band, the brothers began experimenting with jazz, using a variety of authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms. Libre recorded Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" as a danzón, Miles Davis's "Tune Up" as a conga de comparsa, and Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" as a mambo. In 1979, Jerry Gonzalez released his first album as a leader: Ya yo me curé. His Afro 6/8 rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," accompanied by three shekeres and a hoe blade as the only percussion, was a jazz milesone. Soon he formed his best-known band: Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band which included his brother Andy and other members as Kenny Kirkland, Sonny Fortune, Nicky Marrero, Milton Cardona, Papo Vazquez and the late Jorge Dalto. The ensembles first two albums were recorded live at European jazz festivals, The River is Deep (1982) in Berlin and Obatalá (1988) in Zurich. These were followed by their hit album, Rumba Para Monk (1988), earning them recognition from the French Academie du Jazz with the Jazz Record of the Year award. This was the record that caught the ears of the jazz community, and is still considered a stellar project. After that, the 15 member-band was compressed into a sextet: Larry Willis (piano), Andy Gonzalez (bass), Steve Berrios (Drums) and Carter Jefferson (sax) and Joe Ford (sax). The Fort Apache Band had established by this time, a new standard for the integration of jazz and Afro-Cuban music.
In the 1980s Tito Puente began recording and performing Latin jazz on a permanent basis. The Gonzalez brothers worked with Puente, as well as Dizzy Gillespie. Even McCoy Tyner hired the brothers when he tried his hand at this deeper level of Afro-Cuban jazz. The new wave of Latin jazz artists from the Big Apple include Bobby Sanabria, Steve Turre, Conrad Herwig, Hilton Ruiz, Chris Washburn, Ralph Irizarry, David Sánchez, and Dave Valentine.
Global resurgence in Afro-Cuban jazz
The new wave of Afro-Cuban jazz became global. In the San Francisco Bay Area John Santos’ Machete Ensemble featured a stellar line up of artists who have gone on to record in the genre under their own names: Rebeca Mauleón, Wayne Wallace, and John Calloway. Other notable Bay Area musicians include Michael Spiro, Latin jazz veteran Mark Levine, and the Cuban-born Omar Sosa and Orestes Vilato.
Jan L. Hartong’s Nueva Manteca is based in The Hague, Netherlands.
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