"When my band plays live, some people jump up and dance, others just groove and listen. I like that - connecting and communicating."
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.