By: Raul da Gama, Hot House
There are many moments on Cimarron (E7 Studios), the sophomore album from pianist Josean Jacobo and Tumbao, when you feel overcome by a sort of ancient spiritual magic. That is becaue Josean’s pianism is completely subsumed by the forces that have molded his spiritual heritage. That unique aspect of being Afro-Dominican seems forged into the ebony and ivory keys of the piano. It is, as he says, “The spiritual magic brought by the African slaves, mixed with the Catholic beliefs of their masters. So you may hear an explosive rhythm that might resemble an African culture mixed with chants that talk about the Virgin Mary of any of the Catholic saints.”
In what appears to be a fascinating break with almost all forms of Afro-Latin jazz, Josean’s music is organically bred by merging myriad inflectional varieties of rhythms used in the development of the language of Afro-Dominican music. “We have many different rhythms to work with,” he says. “When I say many, I don’t know the exact number of them, but I am sure there are more than 30. I have heard people say that there are around 90 different rhythms, but I cannot confirm that myself.” Still, listening to his music on Cimarron, you would think that the rhythmic variety was endless. You only have to experience the breathtaking re-invention of John Coltrane’s deeply meditative song “Lonnie’s Lament” on this recording to feel what he is talking about.
Rippling jazz grooves form from Josean’s piano, with a delicate curlicue of melodic and harmonic lines, as the rest of the group is roused by the thunderous collision of Afro-Dominican rhythms. All this produces music that has a cinematic quality launched almost entirely by broodingly percussive tumbling grooves. At his heart, it is driven by the impulse to create the spiritual magic that comprises Josean’s music. “Spiritually, you can find inspiration in music,” he says. “It fills the mind with ideas of hope for a musician, as well as for society, which is sorely in need of change.”
Josean’s music dances like the proverbial double helix. It is rooted in the very soul of Afro-Dominican music and it seems poised to revolutionize Latin jazz. He is diffident about praise, retreating to an interior space to explain what makes his music so eloquently different. “Unlike other Caribbean cultures like Cuba, in Afro-Dominican music the lowest pitch tambor does the improvising, so that when this drum plays a certain pattern you can feel the vibration in your bones,” he says. “Afro-Dominican jazz expression gives me the necessary tools to transmit to my Dominican people that we can free ourselves from the cultural boundaries that politicians and history has set for us. I believe that this can bring the world closer together and make us forget our differences and start focusing on our similarities instead.”