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CUBA Alfredo Rodriguez y Los Acereko: Cuban Jazz

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From the key of the gulf to the city of light

Born in 1936, under the astrological sign of the Scorpion, in the Havana neighborhood of El Fanguito, classically trained pianist/composer/arranger Alfredo Rodriguez (affectionately known among his numerous friends as Alfredito) left his native island in 1960 and moved to another island called Manhattan, where his love of jazz led him to take lessons with Bill Evans and Albert Dailey.

From 1964 to 1972, he played with some of New York’s top Antillean acts, including such fellow expatriates as the masterful flautist Belisario Lopez (described by his piano-playing disciple as "an old-fashioned gentleman known for his irreproachable honesty and honorable conduct") and the eccentric vocalist Victoria Yoli, alias La Lupe or La Tirana (The Tyrant). Characterized by her trademark sensual groans and uncontrollable swing, La Lupe had become famous years earlier in Havana for her exhibitionist and dramatic stage behavior.

In 1973, Alfredito moved to Miami, the Floridian city colloquially known among Cubans as their island’s séptima provincia, or seventh province. For the next couple of years, he worked with the Miami-based charanga led by the legendary flautist José Fajardo (1919-2001). Collaborating with such a perfectionist taskmaster proved to be a wonderful learning experience for the young Havana-born pianist, according to his own testimony: "Playing with Fajardo was a fantastic experience because he would never tell you in advance which tune you were to play next."

Upon returning to the Big Apple in the mid-1970s, Alfredito continued his career as a highly sought-after session player and live performer.

His incomparable command of the various Cuban piano styles was particulary documented in "Ready for Freddie" (Latin Percussion), his 1976 vinyl with Carlos "Patato" Valdes, a diminutive bon vivant from Havana who had managed to transcend the tumbador’s time-keeping status by developing a unique melodic approach, long before he gave Brigitte Bardot an onscreen mambo lesson in the 1956 film "And God Created Woman."

Since 1985, Alfredito has resided in Paris. "I had always dreamt of moving to Paris since I began to study French in Havana at the age of 15 or 16," explains the francophile pianist, responsible for elaborating five outstanding recordings as bandleader during the next 13 years. He pioneered the Havana-made session titled "Cuba Linda" (Hannibal/Rykodisc), which was publicly acclaimed as "one of the greatest Cuban recordings of the 1990s." As a matter of fact, "Cuba Linda" marked the triumphant return of Alfredo Rodriguez to his beloved homeland.

I met Alfredito for the first time in the mid-1990s, when he played a prominent role in Jesús Alemany’s early "Cubanismo!" recordings, which sold 300,000 copies worldwide by successfully capturing not only the spirit but the letter of Cuba’s pre-Castro big band swing.

Our second meeting took place in Miami last summer, when he was featured in an unprecedented gathering of twenty exiled luminaries of Cuban music, assembled by Juan Pablo Torres and collectively identified as the "Cuban Masters" in their Grammy-nominated album ("Los Originales", Pimienta, 2001). Juan Pablo’s dream team included many of Alfredito’s former mentors and accomplices, such as Fajardo, Patato, Cachao, Chocolate and Rudy Calzado, the latter of whom described that 2001 summit as "la tapa del pomo" (the frosting on the cake).


The previous description offered by Calzada can also be applied to "Acerekó," Alfredito’s premiere recording for the label Naxos World. Propelled by his blistering piano solos, percussive attack, and crunching extraterrestrial scales, Alfredito’s intricate arrangements blend diverse Cuban genres and styles (son, danzón, guaracha, rumba, descarga, etc) with compatible jazz, blues, and classical elements. The resulting mix of criollo classics, U.S. standards, and original compositions is enriched with the presence of scat extraordinaire Bobby Carcasés (Cuba’s number one jazz vocalist) and the two greatest living legends of Cuban percussion: Aristides Soto (alias Tata Guïnes), the most influential tumbador of all time, and Jose Luis Quintana (a.k.a. Changuito), whose incendiary trap/paila techniques ignited the rhythmic component of the 1970s songo revolution conceptualized by Juan Formell.

It is quite difficult to explain in simple words the multiple charms and delight generated once again by the direct heir of one of the founding fathers of the Cuban piano school, the one and only Pedro "Peruchín" Justiz (1913-1977). Nevertheless, considering the enchanting essence of the recording, one could easily predict that 2002 will be remembered from an artistic perspective as the year that Alfredo Rodriguez - Montmartre’s best kept secret - rose and shone like a new star in the sky.

Luis Tamargo

California, 2002

A contributing editor of LATIN BEAT Magazine, Luis Tamargo is an irreverent anarchist writer whose sardonic liner notes have appeared on the albums of Irakere, Paquito D’ Rivera, Chucho Valdés, Amadito Valdés, Alex Acuna, Jesus Alemany & "Cubanismo!", Rudy Calzado, Arturo Sandoval, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, C. "Patato" Valdés, Oaktown Irawo, Giovanni Hidalgo "Manenguito", Mario Bauzá, Justo Almario, Mongo Santamaría, Bamboleo, Cuban Masters "Los Originales", Cal Tjader, Juan Pablo Torres, and more.

Alfredo Rodriguez y Los Acerekó

This album is, in a sense, the continuation, almost the offspring of "Cuba Linda" (Alfredo Rodriguez’s previous CD). But this time, Alfredo took the reverse step: he did not go over there, on the island, to find his "soul brothers" to record; it is them who came to join him.

Acerekó?... Above all, the Aceres*. Years of friendship. Different roads, criss-crossing, separate and finally meet together again. A port of embarkation: Paris.

The adventure begins on an evening in June ‘88. The group Van-Van are in Paris. Alfredo plays with his quintet. Changuito (the timbalero of the Van-Van), who became friends with him three years before, joins him for a memorable gig — piano and percussion express themselves in an amazing dialogue. The same musical feeling animates both "acere"... They will see each other again but won’t find the opportunity to play again. Some years later, Bobby Carcasés comes to Paris. He joins Alfredo on stage for just one song. A strong and magic moment. The feeling passes between them. Another link is attached to the chain.

Then, it is the encounter with Tata — still taking place in Paris, this time playing for two concerts. A real camaraderie is established between the two men. Later, in Havana, for the recording of "Cuba Linda" and the tour which follows, Alfredo and Tata are reunited and have now become irreversibly "acere."

Over the years, Changuito continues his career within the Van-Van, and then decides to take his own road. And so, from time to time, Tata and Changuito, "acere" forever, share the same stage, for concerts, descargas, in Cuba or elsewhere.

The year 2000 brings tremendous news! Alfredo learns that his "acere" are coming soon to France to do a Master Class. He gets i
Disc: 1
Scene d'enfant
1 Con el sabor de la tierra
2 El Niche
3 Caravan
4 Consuelate
5 Blues guaguanco
6 Maleta y Nylon
7 All the Things You Are
8 Pa' gozar
9 Scene d'enfant
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