Monday, December 26, 2011

Nachito Herrera at the Dakota: Guest review(s) by Rea Rettarath

Earlier this month, the members of Theoroi, the group of young Twin Cities professionals and arts lovers sponsored by the Schubert Club, gathered at the Dakota to hear the Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera and his band. One requirement of membership is the commitment to write about events afterward using social media. Reproduced with her permission, here's Rea Retterath's two-part take on Herrera's performance now (December 2011) and then (April 2005). Read Reece Peterson's perspective herebb


Nachito Herrera at the Dakota: Now and Then

by Rea Rettarath
originally published on her blog

NOW

Concert Review:  Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera
Friday, December 10, 2011


So going into the talk, I knew what I wrote in 2005 (below), and that Nachito Herrera played classical piano throughout his childhood, including all this Rachnaninoff through his late teens.


We were invited to go to his car (hypothetically, of course) to check out his highly diversified iPod, which apparently contains Weather Report to Mariah Carey to Chick Corea. From this, he made what I found to be the central point: There are 2 types of music in the world: Good and Bad. Finding it and qualifying it is up to you.

From his talk, I gathered that Nachito LOVES theory and technique. And how could a lifelong musician of his caliber not? His skill with language is apparent, and with the language of Music, he translates Cuban into Classical, Jazz into Cuban, and takes “fusion” back and forth across many genre lines to expand all of our vocabularies.

So how does someone get to this point of mastery of an instrument, a language, an art? He talked about learning by ear versus by instruction, and feels that you start by ear, even if it is just to get the motivation by listening to others. He grew up listening to all kinds of music and spoke extensively on the importance of influence. He was playing the piano by 5 or 6 years old, and to illustrate his diverse taste, mentioned that he liked playing music from the album Black on Black (Waylon Jennings – 1982) when he was younger. His father was a piano player and encouraged him to get a good ear to be able to get a job. The technical skill and flexibility came early out of sheer necessity. Call for a gig? Gotta be able to cut it.

The jazz influence in his life is remarkable. He explained that American music was somehow “bad” in Cuba through his youth. Lucky for us that in his teenage dissent, Nachito and his friends huddled around a radio and got the frequency just right to stream in an American classical station that played just 30 minutes of jazz from 9:00 – 9:30 each night. He and his friends transcribed what they heard by ear, and played it.

He talked about the stuffy-ization of classical music (he didn’t call it that, in case you’re unfamiliar with Rea-isms). Today we need a tuxedo to see a classical concert in a concert hall with an expensive ticket. But historically the venues for (and indeed the intention of) lots of this music were casual gatherings or dance functions. He talked about the humanity of these musical giants as well: Vladimir Horrowitz was knocking down Rachmaninoff’s door saying “Hey, you gotta get out of bed and finish your 2nd movement.” These musicians were people, and continued to re-invent their craft the same as we continue to do today. So with that, when presented with Rhapsody in Blue, he suggests taking the tuxedo out of it. Swing it! Often people forget that Gershwin was a jazzer.

All right, let’s get to the show itself. We had good seats, but I was far less connected to the performance than my previous experience. Not complaining about this – our experience included a 3 course meal a la mode exquisite that the Dakota boasts. After all, their URL even reads "dakotacooks.com." And do they ever. The smoked pecans on the salad tasted like bacon. It was remarkable. Mad props for this kitchen, too, for being able to accommodate a last minute, by the way, vegetarian request. And to our server for being chipper about it. The entrée was a little bit like banana bread with beans on it, but it was delectable and unusual, and what more can you really ask for? How bout locally sourced apple strudel with lingonberries and skyr? Amazing.

The music was sort of a hodge-podge of Cubanized Christmas music, and started off with the oh-so-catchy Sleigh Ride, but as a cha-cha-cha, and it warmed us right up for the rest of the show. There were a lot of synth horns that I could have done without, but in the absence of a full horn section and various auxiliary percussionists, what’s a prodigy to do? Just do it all himself.

His daughter joined him for many of the pieces. Here’s a real journalist’s thoughts on her, pulled from the Dakota’s own site:

“As magnificent as is Nachito throughout this set, he is nearly upstaged by his daughter’s vocal incantation… Sounding like a cantorial sorceress conjuring the Gods, Mirdalys Herrera gives a ceremonial performance, her voice powerful and penetrating. One can imagine a mythical Yoruban Princess, especially when her only accompaniment is the congas. The rest of the cast serves as the chorus; the piano sounds the final benediction as the crowd erupts.” - Andrea Canter, Jazz Police

Personally, while I found all the above to be absolutely true (conjured gods and all, you wouldn’t believe how crowded it got), she had lousy stage presence. Nachito WAS nearly upstaged by her, and not by her vocal incantation, but by clumsy interactions with the crowd and interruptions to the musicians.

They closed the show with a familiar and appropriate tune, Guantanamera, perhaps the most well known Cuban song, which really was charming. And just to round out our Cuban experience, have a listen to Celia Cruz doing it while strollingthe streets of Havana.

THEN

Concert Review:  Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera
Saturday, April 23, 2005

This show was my first experience in a jazz club, and “Nachito” had the perfect presentation for me to have a flashy, cinematic experience. I went with my sister, who is recently 21, and quite a jazz enthusiast, so it was the perfect venue to show me a bit of the big city, and her a bit of the bar.

We came after a break, so we sat on the balcony level, which gave us a good view of the whole band, and the whole bar. The main area was full with the dinner crowd, and Herrera engaged them quite a bit. The stage was central and surrounded on all sides by seating, even above, so the whole atmosphere had a lot of energy.

Herrera headlined the group on piano, with Gordy Knudson on drums, Jorge Bringas on bass, and percussionist Shai Hayo, who played mainly congas and sang. His pamphlet and website state that the band usually includes a saxophonist, Rodolfo Gomez, but we didn’t see him play. This group differs from the artists found on his recent featured album, Bembé En Mi Casa.

Herrera has been a musician and performer from a very young age, playing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 with the Havana Symphony Orchestra at age 12. He studied with Cuban masters such as Rubén González, who played with the Buena Vista Social Club, Jorge Gomez Labraña, and Frank Fernández. He earned his master’s degree in Music from the Superior Institute of Art in Havana in 1990. He became the musical director at the famous "Tropicana" in Cuba where his site says he “continued to deepen his repertoire.” I think this is worded a little funny, because the Tropicana is a huge club and cabaret show in Havana. But with a lot of music for a lot of dancers over many performances, he did have the perfect opportunity to create his stage presence. His experience there is very evident in his current show. He later joined Cubanismo, recording a couple cds as a featured pianist, and later leading the group. He has performed and toured with musicians such as Michel Camilo, Michael Tainer, Tata Quines, Carlos de Puerto, Tito Puentes, Oscar de Leon, Emilio del Monte, Jesus Alemany, and the Yellowjackets. He is now living in Minneapolis and working with his current project, Puro Cubano.

Herrera did a wonderful job of flowing from song to song, and not letting the energy drop, but I didn’t catch most of the song titles he announced. The first I caught was a chart called “Dirty Bird” and defiantly took its theme from “Birdland” which was written by Joe Zawinul for his group Weather Report in 1977 for the Album Heavy Weather. (Ginell) Stylistically it was very different than Birdland, but the places that the tune actually came through were in the bass parts, which my sister noted were “Jaco-y.” Bringas, the bassist, really brought his playing to the front, and managed a smooth, fretless sounding style, that really did reflect Weather Report’s bassist, Jaco Pastorius. As a personal note: he played in this manner throughout the gig, which I thought wasn’t fitting in a lot of the tunes, especially when it shadowed the piano. It was perfectly balanced and appropriate for “Dirty Bird” though. Tanner, Megill and Gerow give mention to “Latin Jazz Fusion” that was in fact pioneered by artists like Zawinul, Airto Moreira, Chick Corea, and Miles Davis in the 70s. (Tanner 319) Indeed, I think this category fits Puro Cubano very well, especially noting the artists that Herrera has performed with and no doubt drawn influence from.

Herrera played a piece with Hayo (on congas) called “Something I Love,” and it was a beautiful ballad. He introduced it as a very famous piano tune, but I can’t find it anywhere in English or Spanish.

One song I recognized (they didn’t play all originals, there are several standards on the albums Herrera has made) was "Night in Tunisia." Of all the standards, this is perhaps another perfect one to reflect their style considering the influence Dizzy Gillespie had on Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz. He added conga player Chano Pozo to his orchestra as early as 1947 and integrated complex polyrhythms into his music. (Yannow) Herrera’s group played this one truer to the original than the Birdland rendition, but without a horn player (or some other voice than that smug bass player), I felt it couldn’t build very well. It was bright and fast and impressive though, and they caught some familiarity from the crowd, so it was really fun.

Overall, I had a really amazing experience, and I found a really accessible, fun way to take in jazz. This club, along with going to Basie’s for a show, reassured me that I will be seeing live jazz well beyond my graduation, and that even after school, clubs like this continue to educate and expose people to musicians from across the globe.

Works Cited
Nachito Herrera. FS Productions, Inc. 2005. 3 May 2005.
Tanner, Paul, David W. Megill, Maurice Gerow. Jazz. Ninth Edition. McGraw-Hill: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, 2001. New York.
Varela, Jesse. “Nachito Herrera: Puro Cubano.” Latin Beat Magazine. June/July 2003. 3 May 2005.
Yanow, Scott. “Dizzy Gillespie.” All Music Guide. 3 May 2005.
Ginell, Richard S. “Joe Zawinul.” All Music Guide. 3 May 2005. 

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