Street Date: August 25, 2023
Label: 577 Records
JARDINEROS (GARDENERS) searches beyond the forms and codes of Cuban musical structures by reimagining syncretic, rhythmic and poetic materials into personal improvisational and instrumental practice. Far from ritualism, mysticism and traditional constraints, JARDINEROS is a poetic declaration to freedom, a landscaping of new grounds for uncompromising dialogs among Cuban Improvisers. Hery Paz was able to complete this by summoning two kindred spirits from his diaspora: master percussionist Román Díaz, (also featured on vocals) and veteran drummer Francisco Mela. This amazing album was produced by 557 Records and will be available on August 25, 2023.
Cuban musicologist Lea Cárdenas elaborates on JARDINEROS: “Approaching this album pretending to listen to what we traditionally understand as Cuban music would be a mistake. The revolutionary nature of the instrumental formats used, the novelty in Paz's writing to graph the musical content through unconventional notation, the creative freedom that he offers to each of the musicians who accompany him on this journey, open new stylistic pathways.”
Paz comments on the music’s origin: “long before elucidating any musical ideas for this project there was a very concise poem I wrote with the same name…
in a ritual of tongues • they savor soil
between their lips & spit • invoking the
hallucinating nostalgia of the midday sun
…those words conjured feelings of nostalgia from my life back home in what I can only describe as sensorial abstractions. Not quite memories, these are tactile feelings taking root somewhere deep between my imaginarium and reality. My back on a cold cement floor, the brass tasting water of a well, the burning smell of a charcoal pit or the paralyzing lethargy of the high noon heat… This music is my humble attempt to portrait those feelings and events in all their poetic mystery.”
“His solos are imbued with purpose, a sense of patience and a willingness to venture into the unknown… Paz's melodic lines are made with art, his lyricism does not fit anything you anticipate listening to, having the ability to surprise."
For JARDINEROS, Hery convenes two of the most unique veteran voices in Jazz and Afro-Cuban music from his diaspora. Featured on drums is Francisco Mela, who has been a frequent and close collaborator of Paz since his arrival on the New York scene. Mela is a favorite amongst jazz's elite instrumentalists including Joe Lovano, McCoy Tyner, Chucho Valdez, Cooper Moore, and Willian Parker, to name a few. “Mela is a true Cuban original, he has distilled the sounds and intricacies of our music into a consummate improvisational language of his own that dismantles any stylistic barriers” comments Paz.
Completing the trio is master percussionist Román Díaz, who is a living repository of Afro-Cuban culture initiated by his elders into the ancient African brotherhood of the drum. He is an internationally renowned ambassador of Cuban music, an important Olú Aña or “keeper of the sacred drum” and a great innovator. “Román is a poet in every sense of the word, I’m extremely honored that he wrote “El Real de las Palmas” for me, so I had to find a way to include it in the musical narrative of the album,” Paz reflects.
"...Hery is a revelation, a musician of extraordinary strength"
By way of introduction, “Calle Libertad” pierces through the silence with Paz on flute. Echoing melodies that encapsulate the enigmatic elements of Cuban Danzón but translate into the 21st century, resembling in their angular nature works by Cuban contemporary composers like Alejandro Garcia Caturla. Paz is accompanied by the warm and free beat of Díaz on the Bonkó-Enchemiyá drum from the Abakuá culture.
Next comes “Jardineros”, the work that gives the album its name and the first in which the group comes together as a trio. Paz explains: “The title track is a call and response dialog where I provided Francisco and Román with a numbered series of symbolic drawings to play and interpret in response to the conducted melodies on woodwinds.” This track best displays Paz’s poetic lyricism and melodic inventiveness on keeping close to the laid-back phrasing typical of Rumbero singers establishing undeniable links between his work and the musical tradition to which he is indebted to.
“Arroyo Lajas” and “Miel de la Tierra” represent some of the most primal and visceral improvisation of the musical selections. These duets between Paz & Mela showcase them in full flight and command of their technical capabilities. Always in service of the music, their unmatched expressiveness and intricacy serve as a testament to their long musical relationship. “The method of fragmenting common elements from our culture to inform the architecture of the duo improvisations became standard practice giving us a clear template to develop”.
The contagious and uplifting “Conga Espirituana” is presented as an impression of a carnival Comparsa in which some of the formal genre structures prevail. The distinctive sound of the Corneta China (Chinese Suona) played masterfully by Paz transports listeners to Santiago de Cuba, the birthplace of the genre. A shattering opening call is delivered by Paz simultaneously wielding two different Suonas alluring dancers to gather a la Rahsaan Roland Kirk, before delivering a powerful improvised exposition.
Next, Paz offers his interpretation of a classic Cuban Trova song: “Pensamiento,” written by Rafael Gómez “Teofilito”. In an extremely personal and intimate solo saxophone performance, once again Paz unfolds. This time singing not only from the saxophone, but with his own voice on what is the only true ballad of the set.
Offering new timbres and dramaturgical elements, “El Real de las Palmas” and “Barrio del Jobo” surprise. The poetic element from orality, in the voice of Díaz, and Paz’s creative use of the piano with echoes of Amadeo Roldán, complement the proposal. With two texts (authored by Díaz and Paz respectively) that recall the style of the great Nicolás Guillén, these works reveal a nostalgia for "the land", for a distant but close past, for the neighborhood, for its people. “Barrio del Jobo” is Paz’s metaphoric account of his family and neighborhood history.
JARDINEROS offers a recontextualization of Cuban popular music, based on the use of sounds and interpretive resources belonging to the most experimental musical styles. It is a return to the roots, the reaffirmation of an identity, of an idiosyncrasy that is consolidated and preserved from memory and life experience. “It fulfills a shared necessity among Cuban contemporary artists to establish new dialogues to explore and expand our folkloric constituents beyond their traditional form. So, I set out to create a flexible compositional space, for us much like GARDENERS to cultivate and maintain that conversation.”
For: Jardineros (Gardeners)
"With an uncanny ability to mix freedom and substance, the Cuban-born, New York-based multi-instrumentalist and painter Hery Paz surprises and enchants at every step of his new recording, one that evokes his fascinating, rich and complex cultural identity." Check out the full review here.