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Sunday, May 02, 2010

In the back of my mind there is a place I can walk into where Juan-Carlos Formell and Johnny's Dream Club are always playing. Who knows what I am doing there-- maybe I ducked in for a drink, or to get out of the rain. Maybe I''m making myself scarce, waiting for things to cool off. Chances are I'll have something with rum in it-- beer doesn't work in this climate and the fruit juice in a Planter's Punch cuts through the syrupy emotionalism that fills the air in the these latitudes.

The sound of strings does too. Guitar, bass and violin sound different in the context of Latin jazz, but the piano in this group is another thing altogether, something I wish Bud Powell had lived to hear. The trombone sounds like it just drifted in over the air, which is more or less what happened-- like most Cuban jazz this is the sound of cross-pollination, and the trombone reminds us that the sound of New Orleans has been transmitting into the Caribbean for as long as there has been radio. I think I need more trombone in my life.

This is music like a Marquez novel, full of influences from everywhere, but a thing utterly unto itself. Just the look of the band is terrific: percussionist Jorge Leyva is a sort of dark-haired and handsome Ricky Ricardo type; Lewis Kahn, doubling on violin and trombone could be the brother that doesn't want to talk about Dick Cheney. On piano, Elio Villafranca, dreadlocked and nimble, his fingers a blur. Pedro Giraudo is on bass, taciturn in the tradition of bass players, although he occasionally raises an eyebrow just to show that he knows exactly how good this music is, and how indispensable he is to the making of it. At the center of it all is Formell, a versatile guitarist with a soulful tenor. For ten years Bruce Eaton has been producing shows at the Albright-Knox Art of Jazz series, almost certainly the most important cultural series in the region, in any art form. These shows are like being a baseball fan who lives in Alaska, and then the Yankees come to town. Sure, we can can get our jazz on in other ways, but the chance to hear the best in the business live and in a room in a world class gallery is something remarkably special.

| Comments:
A great review of a great show -- the comparison to a Marquez novel very apt -- Johnny's Dream Club is the magic realism of music.
FYI -- Nobody in Cuba drinks Planters' Punch or anything like it (they drink rum straight) -- beer is the beverage of choice, and it's one of the few things they do well there.
 
Cuba's on my list, but I suspect the beer is like the beer in other Caribbean places: good enough if it's cold enough.
 
I love this review
Becca Pulliam, WBGO, 3/30/2012
 

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