Afro-Cuban music and other Latin forms carry on a tradition shared with mainstream jazz 50 and 60 years ago when it dominated America’s popular music scene: patrons loved to listen dance to it.
Through the years, veteran New York composer/bassist Harvie S found that whenever he got a chance to work with a Latin band it was nearly impossible for musicians and fans alike to not get caught up in the lilt and sway of the music including the steamy energy created on stage that is instantly absorbed by those compelled to dance and party hearty.
S did not step lightly into the Latin jazz scene. In 1966, he traveled to Cuba to study with some of the island’s master players. Ever since, he has been working to blend the essence of Latin music into his original musical concepts within a modern jazz context that includes swing, melody and complex harmonies and forms.
Funky Cha is his fourth such project since 1999 (following Havana Mañana, New Beginning and Texas Rumba). It has emerged as the best in this very fine series of recordings featuring his music that has been developed and transformed into this unique hybrid.
Harvie states “Jazz and Latin music have the same African rhythmic roots-- therefore there is always this deep bonding. It is how you mix it that will fuel the music. I always both loved the swing in Afro-Cuban music and the adventurousness and harmonic complexity of jazz. I have also studied the song forms in both traditions. My blend varies project to project, but both traditions are alive in my music.”
Harvie has been fortunate to work in the Latin jazz context and learn from some of its great bandleaders and players, including Juan Carlos Formell, Stan Getz, Paquito D'Rivera, Bobby Sanabria, Chico O’Farrill Ray Barretto, Dave Valentin, Ray Vega and Arturo O’Farrill, with whom he still works today.
“I learned from the Latin world and from the jazz world. I know it is rare to change over mid-career, but it just happened. I got hooked on this music and felt I wanted to be a part of this great tradition,” (Harvie S)
And his efforts have been welcomed and embraced. For example, his composition “Facil” from his 2004 ZOHO Music debut Texas Rumba has been recorded by a number of other artists, including Annette A.. Aguilar, Virginia Mayhew, and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers, which also recorded “Good News” and “Para Mongo”.
The Harvie S Band on this "Funky Cha" session consists of the leader on bass,
Daniel Kelly on piano, William “Beaver” Bausch on drums, Jay Collins on tenor, soprano and flute, and guest appearances on several tracks each by Scott Robert Avidon on tenor, Phillip Dizack on trumpet, and Wilson "Chembo" Corniel and Ernie Colon on Latin percussion.
The session opens with Beaver Bausch’s arrangement of the Thelonious Monk bop classic “Rhythm-a-ning.” It remains quite Monkish and instantly recognizable in this rumba setting. I’d call it Monk en clavé with some particularly adventurous keyboard runs by Kelly during this trio workout. “It lets you know ‘OK, I think I get the idea where this group is going,’” Harvie says. “It sets the pace for what will follow.”
The second track “C7 Heaven,” the first of six Harvie S original compositions, is a rather traditional and fun Latin jam session tune a descarga if you will. There is great rhythmic interplay within the ensemble and the staccato rhythmic breaks add a great effect. This one brings Jay Collins into the mix on soprano sax and Chembo Corneil on percussion.
Harvie’s original “Mariposa en Mano” (Spanish for Butterfly in Hand) was inspired by a photo of his wife Catherine as a college student, standing with a butterfly in her hand. It was a very delicate moment captured for posterity. The tune first was recorded as a bossa nova on his earlier CD Until Tomorrow but Harvie rewrote it as a traditional son montuno and added new sections that feature a little charanga vibe and some hip jazz harmony and solos. In addition to the rhythm section, it features Jay Collins on flute, Dizack on trumpet, Corniel on conga drums and Colon on guiro+clavé.
Daniel Kelly’s “Earquake” is a hard-hitting burner with advanced harmonic changes. It based on a traditional rhythm guaracha but is basically a jazz tune. “It is not as clavé-conscious as the others,” Harvie says. “We bend the rules to make the two styles work. We respect the clavé, but sometimes we mess with it in a good way.” Check Harvie’s solo on this one.
The appropriately named tune “S” represents the purest crystallization of Harvie’s blend of Latin and modern jazz. It features Jay Collins on soprano sax with the rhythm section on an original composition that is very heavy into both clavé and jazz playing of six-bar phrases containing complicated turnaround chord changes.
The title song “Funky Cha” is exactly what the title says a cha cha that is funky, built around a jazz-tinged 14-bar phrase. It’s a natural showcase for Collins’ tenor work, showcasing his mastery of Latin, jazz, rock and funk in many associations ranging from the Harvie S Band to Jacky Terrasson, Andrew Hill and the Allman Brothers.
The Monkish tune “A Bright Moment” was first recorded on his New Beginning CD. While the original recording featured a piano solo, this update features sax, bass and drums. “It is very much a Jazz-Latin tune.“ The bass plays the harmony line with the sax while alternating a tumbao at the same time. Harvie sets it off with the first solo, followed by a hard hitting tenor solo and a timbale-like drum solo.
Throughout a lot of jazz and Latin Jazz, the solo order on tunes is so rarely changed. “I believe in being more democratic and it isn’t always necessary that everyone solos on every tune. I orchestrate the bass within the band to make it a vibrant part of the overall concept. Sometimes the bass is doubling melodies, playing melodies, soloing, playing counter melodies, playing harmony lines, but of course mostly I play a supporting role.”
Cole Porter’s classic standard “What is This Thing Called Love?” is a quintet piece featuring Scott Robert Avidon on tenor sax and Phillip Dizack on trumpet. Harvie considers it a pure jazz track with a strong Latin underpinning. It was recorded in one take and one take only. It is ballad-like at times with an ethereal sort of beauty throughout, featuring some of Harvie’s elastic bass effects. He also plays the melody on the head out.
Harvie wrote “Coco Loco” as a fitting acknowledgement to his “loco” dog Coco, a Papillion. This descarga is a fun tune with a nice Latin groove and another opportunity to feature Daniel Kelly on piano and Chembo Corniel on congas .A fitting ending cut which leaves the listener wanting more.
One thing is apparent throughout this project. The more players work together in a jazz context, the better they are able to read each other’s minds and find creative common ground and surprise each other and the listeners with their magic moments.
Harvie S Photo by Brian Walkley.
Today, bassist Harvie S is experiencing a joy precious few jazz musicians have felt with any regularity in recent decades. The music he and his group make satisfies fans on several levels. He's found a formula for connecting with club patrons that hasn't been a prominent part of the jazz scene since the 1940s. When the dance-oriented style of jazz that engaged fans first and foremost on a visceral level dramatically evolved to an esoteric listening experience that left many cold, the music lost much of its core audience. Thanks to his embrace of Afro-Cuban rhythms and other Latin American-rooted styles, Harvie S proves night after night that it is possible to create artistic and intellectually satisfying music that appeals to both the head and the feet. Not to mention hips, fingers and toes. And those little muscles that can turn a frown into a broad, beaming smile.
A musician who has spent most of their career outside the close-knit community of Latin musicians does not tread without some trepidation into these exotic waters. Extensive experience in mainstream jazz carries little weight when one enters the labyrinth of tropical Latin music, with its wealth of rhythmically intricate styles. Missteps are easy to make. This particularly true for bassists, upon whom much of the burden is placed for interpreting the complex rhythms that give the music its unique character and driving pulse. Making a transition from jazz to Latin is, as they say, no walk in the park.
"I had to learn a new set of rules musically," Harvie readily admits. The eclectic and electrifying performances on Texas Rumba, his new Latin jazz-style recording, proves the rules were well learned. "Now," he adds, "I bend them frequently!"
In the beginning, however, he had to master the bass rudiments of various types of Latin music, from salsa, the urbanized Afro-Cuban dance style, to more musically progressive varieties of Latin jazz. "I started listening and learning, gigging and experimenting," he recalls. "I played gigs anywhere I could -- on club dates, salsa dances and with Latin jazz bands." Fortunately, his on-the-job experience was gained under the watchful eye of some of the Latin world's most respected leaders, including Ray Barretto, Chico O'Farrill, Juan Carlos Formell, Paquito D'Rivera, Ray Vega, Arturo Sandoval and Bobby Sanabria.
Working with New York City's leading Latin jazz luminaries only whetted his appetite. In 1996, he traveled to Cuba to absorb the essence of the music in one of its most important breeding grounds and study with local master musicians. "I came home and started writing," he recalls. He was hooked for good. "I am not dabbling in this music," he states matter-of-factly. "There are many established Jazz musicians who have touched on this music, but not to the extent that I have. I've been finding a way to combine modern jazz with Afro-Cuban in my own personal way. I want my music to have fire and finesse. I use complicated forms and harmony, and I also use simple forms and simple harmony. I draw from many sources from the Caribbean and its African roots.
Such is the charm of Harvie's creations and performances. Texas Rumba is quite different from virtually every other album that's carried the Latin jazz label. Rather than repeat familiar forms to the point of tedium, every one of the album's 11 tracks has its distinctive character. Sometimes, the Latin connection is boldly stated, as on the title tune, "Facil" and "Good News." More often than not, however, Harvie's approach is subtle and sophisticated, as on "Before" and "From Now On," on which the leader's bowed bass states the elegant melody.
For "Curved Corners," the band steps outside of the Latin box completely for a bluesy beauty with a haunting, catchy theme. Altering the basic quintet format by adding a trumpet on several tracks and reducing the scope of the sound on two works to a bass solo (Monk's Mood) and bass-piano duet (Before) makes the program even more rewarding. The supporting cast is sensational, from pianist Kelly, whose Latin and jazz chops are equally impressive, to percussionist Thoms, whose fiery rhythmic outbursts spark the group's most energetic forays and exciting saxophone work by Scott Robert Avidon.
"One of my very favorite musical works that I listened to as a teen was 'Spiritual' played by the John Coltrane Quartet," Harvie comments on the natural, historic link between jazz and Latin idioms. "The work developed through a repeated bass line, like a Cuban tumbao. This concept was employed throughout much of Coltrane's music, and it's the cornerstone of the role of the Latin bass."
The performances on Texas Rumba underscore that long, if often unspoken, relationship between Latin and jazz. It's become a particularly important tradition in contemporary music, one that Harvie S wants to continue to explore and build upon. "I would like to think that I am helping to bridge a gap from Afro?Cuban to Modern Jazz," he states. "I studied with the masters of the music and continue to do so. From my point of view the investigation is coupled with innovation. I am now sort of the distilling vessel for Latin, jazz, funk, Brazilian, African and free music -- all marinated in a heavy dose of self expression." And, he's keeping those fans dancing, moving, grooving and listening.
Recorded live at Sweet Rhythm in New York City on May 20 and 21, 2003. Paul Bagin and David Ruffo,engineers. Mixed at Peaceful Waters Studio by Wayne Warneke.
Mastered at Bang Zoom Studios by Steve Vavagaiakus. Produced by Harvie S. Photography : David Lee Boehm. Package design: 2712 Design Ltd, New York. Executive producer: Joachim Becker.
Harvie S endorses The Realist bass pick-up, La Bella Strings, Acoustic Image amplifiers, and the AMT Microphone.
Adam Weber endorses Istanbul Cymbals and LP percussion. Renato Thoms endorses LP Percussion.