Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jazz Two Ways at the Morelia Music Festival

 Es asombroso cómo un compositor como Abraham puede ser tan versátil, enriquece mucho el lenguaje de mi instrumento. says HORACIO FRANCO, Mexico's gift to the recorder world. He was complimenting the H3A pianist-composer's accomplishment in enriching the language of the recorder.

You can be sure Franco also dressed flamboyantly at the concert too
Here Franco and the other members of H3A -- the name of the jazz quartet comes from the initials of their first names -- are practicing. At the concert, Franco uses first one, then another of the six recorders he brings. To my surprise the piccolo recorder makes the best jazz instrument.

I was very taken with the skill of bass player Aaron Cruz. Drummer Adrian Oropeza not only used many percussion techniques during Barrera's work but also composed the final number H3! played.

My take:  It was evident H3A takes jazz seriously, but I'm unsure that this should have been my main perception. The recorder as a jazz instrument? Maybe, but for me, some of the most tantalizing parts came when the 3As played alone. Sometimes I missed the mellow sound of a clarinet. But watching Franco's switch from the body language of a conductor leading a performance of Bach's Passion of St. John (I saw him do that a month before) to that of a jazz player was fascinating. 

In the words of this adventurous recorder player, "The technique isn't different, but the state of mind is."

For HELEN SUNG, jazz has been a state of mind since she first heard Tommy Flanagan play. After earning her masters in classical piano, she took a right turn from her formal training by applying to the inaugural class at the Monk Institute in Boston where for two years it was jazz from morning to night. After working under some of the jazz greats, she now she has her own band, the Helen Sung Quartet, in New York City.
Helen bravely started with a light silk dress but added a jacket on the cold night
If Helen doesn't love what she's doing, she's a mighty good actress. Born in Austin, the daughter of mathematicians, she clearly enjoyed inserting her basic Spanish as she introduced the numbers. Earlier she told reporters, "Jazz is fun!".She likes it for its swing, its forward movement without being rushed. "Music is magic, mystical. Swing is part of that." 

In Morelia, her band would be playing with Juan Alzate, a popular saxophone player from Morelia and Rodrigo Nephtali, guitarrist, currently teaching at the Conservatorio de las Rosas. "We haven't rehearsed yet!" she exclaims. then adds, "We all worked hard to get where we are. We'll be able to play together." She picks musicians for her own four piece band that will bring the music alive, saying "That's a great ability." 
Morelia saxophonist Juan Alzate (2nd from left) and guitar player Rodrigo Nefthali (right) added to the swing 
Although her Asian heritage has led her to value hard work, Helen smiles and says she's what is known as a banana, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. She may be changing though. In 2011, Sung played with the Mingus Dynasty Band in the city where her parents grew up in Taiwan. "We played the outdoor jazz festival, and there were more than 2000 people there, all of them going crazy for jazz,.a simply incredible experience!" she says. "It was a really cool. They were so excited that I was Asian. I felt a connection with them - and I felt connected to being Chinese - in a way I had never felt before."

In fact, this joint venture of New York and Morelia musicians got a great response from the audience. In the first half, with Helen coming on strong in the opener, we listened to the players from New York. In the second half Juan and Rodrigo joined them. The expanded band first played Helen's versions of classic jazz numbers, with Rodrigo's riff on the electric guitar the most memorable for me. The US-Mexico event ended with a so-so piece with Cielito Lindo phrases inserted ) At the end: a triumphant La Cucaracha as it has never been heard before. 

Congratulations to the Festival for daring to dream this up.