Roberto Juan Rodriguez: El Danzon De Moises
“ I like to think of my music as ”
The Cuban rhythmic roots of percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez’s, El Danzon De Moises (Tzadik), are not in Afro-Cuban bongo/conga stylings. They lie instead in the statelier Euro-Cuban danzon and folksier Spanish-Cuban guajira modes. While the graceful guajira is guitar based Eastern Cuban folk music, danzon’s ancestry is in the cultured French contradanza that arrived in Cuba by way of Haiti. By the 1920s this had been transmuted into danzon and become the dance of Cuban society. Eventually, Danzon begat Mambo, but Roberto Rodriguez has subverted this evolution. He has done so by adding klezmer “salsa” to the mix and in the process effectively created a Cuban sub-genre interwoven with Jewish harmonic overtones. A hallmark of this sound is the “guajeo”; an ostinato-like pattern played by violin and cello that bridges rhythm with melody and allows players to solo and improvise. In describing his music, Roberto said, “I like to think of my music as...Cuban-Klezphardic.”
While Rodriguez is well acquainted with Eastern European klezmer and its frenzied freilachs, bulgars and improvisational doinas, he has also been influenced by Sephardic/Ladino Jewish Music. “I played a lot in Yiddish Theatre in Miami Beach in the 70’s when I was a teenager. This time was very essential to me to learn about Jewish Music and Culture. I personally believe ... (Sephardic/Ladino Music) is a given due to my Spanish heritage. There are about seven last names in my family that are Sephardic, one of them being Salazar and the other Muñoz on my mother’s side.” To showcase his compositions, Rodriguez has put together two forums, the Danzon CD and his performance group; Septeto Roberto Rodriguez that recently performed two electric sets at the cutting edge NYC venue Tonic. Common to both are clarinetist David Krakauer, accordionist Ted Reichman and Marcus Rojas on tuba.
Both Tonic sets began with the Mideastern feel of CD opener “El Polaco” and progressed through the first four cuts to “Guajira” featuring some wild Rojas tuba mouthpiecing. Stripping the 12 piece CD band down to the Septeto made for a harder edge and the concert format permitted extended solo opportunities. “The Shvitz” allowed Krakauer to show off his circular breathing and world-class klez playing in a clarinet/violin duel with Meg Okura. Ms. Okura showed the piece to be true to its name as her furious bowing blew the place apart in the second set. Rodriguez with bassist “mi hermano” Bernie Minoso often gave the night a Latin/rock edge only to then hypnotize the crowd and allow clarinet, accordion, tuba and strings to springboard to new heights. Minoso’s strong playing enabled Rojas to illustrate his incredible range on the tuba and to add additional coloration to each piece.
El Danzon de Moises is not a reworking of traditional Jewish or Cuban styles but new music that draws on Rodriguez’s profound respect for both cultures. “Like my father (trumpet player Roberto Luis Rodriguez), I was exposed to Jewish culture and music at an early age...To me culture is music...sometimes I feel it was centuries ago the first time I listen to Jewish music. (My grandfather) is responsible for a big part of my adoration for Jewish culture. He would be very happy I know...He would love it.” The live show also highlights newer compositions that have resulted from band cross-pollination. One such piece is “Turkish-Bulgarish”. “David Krakauer suggested to me that I arrange a traditional Klezmer piece for the band, and what a perfect scenario. To have David perform with my band a Naftule Brandwein piece it’s awesome.” As opposed to being a one-time project, Rodriguez hopes that the Septeto will continue as a working band. “It just feels very natural to play this music and the band is great. I couldn’t ask for a better group of players. I currently have two more CD’s worth of music to record, which I am starting to perform with the band. This music is here to stay.” With another two shows scheduled for the Tonic later this month and a European tour in March it appears he may be right.
El Danzon de Moises
1. El Polaco 2. Danzonete Hebreo 3. The Shvitz 4. Guahira 5. Shron 6. El Danzon de Moises 7. Comparsa en Altamar 8. Shalom a Shango 9. Jerusalem Market
Roberto Luis Rodriguez, trumpet; David Krakauer, clarinet; Matt Darriau, clarinet & chinese trumpet; Pete Apfelbaum, soprano saxophone; Mark Feldman, violin; Jane Scarpantoni cello; Ted Reichman, accordion; Craig Taborn, piano; Marcus Rojas, tuba & euphonium; Brad Jones, bass; Susie Ibarra, percussion; Roberto Juan Rodriguez, composer, producer & percussion
Septeto Roberto Rodriguez
David Krakauer, clarinet; Meg Okura, violin; Mary Wooten, cello; Ted Reichman, accordion/organ; Bernie Minoso, bass; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Roberto Juan Rodriguez, percussion