Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban Jewish All Stars - Tonight was where traditional Jewish music met traditional Cuban music with plenty of other influences from an all star band that hail from various corners of three continents and an island. I was expecting a good melding of klezmer melodies with Cuban rhythms with an overall jazz feel. On the simplest level, the sold-out crowd got every bit of that and then some. Rodriguez plays a drum kit that looks recognizable, but had a few twists. He had his left foot on a pedal with a cowbell and no hi-hats. He used plenty of ride cymbal and mixed his style of kit drumming and world beat percussion. His partner was on congas and their interplay was brilliant. Add the bass playing of the former player from the Tito Puente band and the rhythmic foundation was playful and rock solid. The rhythms were mostly 4/4 from what I could gather, but the three of them certainly maneuvered in complex patterns within the measure. The lead players were violin, clarinet, flute, and piano. The piano was the only instrument that did not quite cut through in the mix. But when the player switched to the accordion for a couple of songs and organ for one, he was loud enough and the playing was solid. His piano solos were clear, although he had fewer than the three people on winds and violin. The winds were effective and had an eerie quality as they were not overpowering. The clarinet player from Argentina occasionally captured that snake charming magic reaching my inner cobra. The Japanese woman from NYC on the violin had more than enough power for this band as her playing really cooked all night long. The jam packed crowd was loving it all night long and the dancing in the aisles steadily increased all night. The venue reminded me of the Scottish Storytelling Center in Edinburgh, which helps virtually no one picture what I am talking about. Basically it was a sharply tiered seated hall that fit around 260 some people. Roberto Rodriguez was enthusiastic and a great host. He leaped up at the end of one song and talked about his passion for the combination of Jewish and Cuban music (as he did in the interview I had with him last week). Early in the set, the music sounded a bit more klezmer, while later on it veered more toward Cuban jazz. But there was much more going on well beyond my simplistic descriptions. It was their variation of rocking jazz with Rodriguez playing well and pointing to soloists and doing the jazz version of conducting. They played 90 minutes of mostly instrumental music with some vocals in the last few songs from the three in the rhythm section (conga player doing more of the lead work). Simply, this was every bit as fun as I expected it to be. At worst, I figured it would be a great set of rhythmic music from skilled players. But at best, I expected to be intrigued with a few different musical forms working together, which is exactly what happened tonight. It certainly kept my mind working, but the toes were tapping, the hands clapping or tapping virtually the whole set. This is yet one more example of the fusion from sounds south of the US working with structures closer to home or in Europe and coming out in an exciting manner. Music lovers everywhere should be checking out the several acts that do this well, and those lists need to include Roberto Rodriguez.
Quote of the Night: Roberto Rodriguez discussing meeting one of his future collaborators... "In New York, I see this funky looking guy come up to me and say 'hey I like how you play'. Cool, thanks. 'I'm John Zorn'. OK (so who's that I wonder)."