Orquesta de Jazz

Its Alright, Its Only Music

Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico
Socos, a duo of young male musicians.

I knew it would be difficult to drag myself away from the singles events that are the final day of The Ryder Cup, so I very carefully double checked the advert for the Sunday evening live musical event I had been looking forward to and learned, with a sinking heart, that it was only loosely described as taking place at Avenida Playa Honda, and that free seats would be available until full. Still, I eschewed watching any of the afternoon’s golf, preferring instead to play tv catch up later on without knowing any of the scores.

So, ever hopeful and full of the island’s ‘there’s always manana’ spirit, we parked up behind the shopping centre and headed down towards the beach. Assuming that the venue would be somewhere along the sea-walk, we indeed found it only a couple of hundred yards away. Lanzarote always manages to provide stunning settings for live events and we well remember the floodlit walls of decrepit buildings that lent such a location to the Heineken Jazz Festival in Arrecife last year.

Here at Playa Honda was another perfectly appropriate venue. The back curtain of the stage was provided by a beautiful beach and gentle sea, and the seats were laid out under huge gazebos, With restaurants and bars in easy reach and plenty of space around the seated areas, there were three or four hundred people already listening to, and enjoying, an opening spot by a local trio of percussion, keyboards and guitar, playing a set of funky fusion jazz.

I find that tracks in this genre are, to me, indistinguishable from one another but that is not to deny the passion or the expertise of these players, nor the sinewy rhythms and sensuality of their music. By the time they handed the stage over to the main guests of the evening there were perhaps another three or four hundred people in the audience in the gazebos and surrounding areas. The support act had more than done a good job.

Fifteen suited gentlemen took to the stage after having been introduced as Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico, but it seems they are an orchestra who do more than simply play jazz. They also seek to constantly remind new generations of fans and musicians of those trailblazers who brought jazz to such commercial prominence in the twentieth century.

This orchestra researches the attitudes and styles of those past masters and serves concerts, usually based on the works of one giant of jazz, to highlight the influences and innovations within a body of work. In doing so they hope to give new entrants in the field the necessary tools to further develop the music of a particular jazz pioneer, and tonight they were going to shine the spotlight on The Duke Ellington Band.  Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington was an American composer, pianist and leader of a jazz orchestra from 1923 until his death aged 73, a career spanning more than fifty years.

Without being able to explain why, I always seem to hear similarities between The Duke Ellington Band and the music of The Glen Miller Orchestra, and that happened again with the opening couple of numbers here. However, as the concert continued we began to hear the African sounds that Ellington experimented with, and that came to be a major signature of his music, around his recording of Black, Brown and Beige, his musical story of African American slavery.

Such a great musician was ‘Sir Duke’ (remember the song of that title that Stevie Wonder wrote and recorded about him?) that I and many critics think his music was beyond the categorisation of even a genre as wide as ‘jazz’. So great a contribution did he make to the progress of jazz music, in fact, that he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Special Prize Award.

Despite the whispered aside of an audience member in front of me that he had ‘always found Ellington a little too fast for jazz,’ tonight’s programme offered plenty of light and shade and changes of tempo.

There were lengthy introductions between numbers, in Spanish, that I’m sure were informative and interesting observations of Ellington’s work but I’m afraid I cannot shed further light on them. I would have found them both interesting and helpful, and it was noticeable by their attire, movements, dance and rapt attention to these introductions that there were scores of jazz players amongst this huge audience. I later learned that usually these introductions are normally made in English too, but a departure flight scheduled at 10.00 pm, only fifty minutes after the close of the concert, left too little room for discussion.

Most of the members of the Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico had taken prominent solo spots, and had all delivered expertly with verve and assurance, before a young vocalist from Lanzarote was introduced. He took what had already been a fantastic audience-friendly performance to a thrilling climax.

In a deep, powerful voice and with a dynamism that totally belied his small stature and baby face this young man urged us, from his first song, to Jump For Joy. This was the title song of another of Duke’s musical explorations of African American identity.

It was immediately clear how the Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico had to play in a slightly more restrained fashion to support a vocalist, but they delivered with no less flair or attitude, and this was an example of highly skilled vocal and musical technique.

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore has long been one of my favourite songs, and I have heard it delivered in a hundred different attitudes. It is easy to make the song sound forlorn and resigned in the sense of being a song for a lost love. Here the song was delivered in the tone of someone who has found love and is therefore content to not ‘get around much anymore.’ This song has been recorded by the greats, like Ella, like Louis and like Tony Bennett, and more recently by Harry Connick Junior.

The vocalist seemed, in his introduction to his next song, to reference a previous Sinatra version and then delivered a bright, bouncy and breezy Sunny (Yesterday The Sky Was Filled With Rain). I best remember this song as a recording by Marvin Gaye but it was also covered by Boney M and, I think, Georgie Fame. It was written, lyrically anyway, by a black artist, Bobby Hebb, who recorded it on the night Kennedy had been assassinated. The song speaks about solace and reconciliation as much as it does about the weather.

There was a presentation of a plaque to the band by a representative of the ayuntamiento to commemorate this event and then a prolonged encore to a rapturous standing ovation from inside and outside the seated areas. As we looked back we could see throngs of people dancing in the street and to the sides of the gazebos were scores of mums and dads and little ones bopping along too. Every single orchestra member took a solo spot in the course of this encore and deservedly so. They all promised to be back next year, and we promise we will be there to learn more about whichever jazz great they then introduce us.

We arrived back in Playa Blanca in time for a meal at our favourite Mama Rosa, on the walk way, (near the statue of the poor, jazz-playing clown with the broken trumpet), between the harbour and the town beach. We then ensured we were back home to tune in to the Sky re-runs to see if Team Europe had managed to cling on to their lead in the singles round of the golf.

They had, and we British were so proud to be European. So good were Sergio Garcia and Jon Rham et al that I even think Europe could beat the combined USA and British side should the format change, post Brexit !

I dropped a quick line to the Orchestra’s facebook page to advise their followers to look out for a very favourable review on these pages of Lanzarote Information. Their musical conductor responded and between us we agreed to stay in touch so he could keep us informed of future visits to the island, as the orchestra is based on Tenerife.

I have also been in touch with my former co-presenter in the UK of the ‘all across the arts’ radio programme. Steve Bewick is a huge jazz buff and currently presents a jazz programme called Hot Biscuits on fcum radio which you can find via your favourite search engine. There are a huge number of jazz magazines published in America and Europe and I wondered if Steve might have heard of this Orchestra. He hadn’t, but as he loves the ‘big band sound’ I’m hopeful he’ll look up their work and play it on his show.

However, much as we had enjoyed the huge big band blast, we would learn only a few days later that as few as two disparate instruments can create equally compelling sounds. Musical events over consecutive weekends took us from loud, attention-seeking music delivered brilliantly by Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico to the more introspective and unassuming music by Socos, a duo of young male musicians.

It was back to the Casa Museo del Timple in Teguise for this one, and I should remind you that, as the name implies, this is a venue offering not only concerts but also a gently informative look at how the Timple and other musical instruments on the island are made. There are drafts and manuscripts and even works in progress inviting you to marvel at the craftsmanship inherent in the building of hand-made instruments.

Placed centre stage as we entered the auditorium was a huge xylophone type instrument and, by comparison, a very tiny seeming cello. The large instrument was in fact a marimba, a percussive item, with its set of wooden bars struck with drumsticks, or mallets, called knobs, to produce its musical notes. The resonating pipes that are hung below the bars serve to amplify their sound.

The marimba works in both woodwind and brass ensembles and, since finding greater favour with contemporary composers in recent years, is now being included in jazz and orchestral works.

To be honest I was still trying to imagine what sound a marimba might make, (and this one had all sorts of tiny bowls, pots etc laid out on its top surface to further confuse the issue) when played in conjunction with a cello when the two musicians quietly took to the stage. Cesar Martin took his place behind the marimba and Ciro Hernandez sat down with his cello.

Cesar began stroking, teasing and caressing the lids and surfaces of that strange prepared collection of items and immediately created a harmonious and musical version of that strange ringing noise we hear when people start rubbing fingers along the rims of their drinking glasses to upset a boring speaker! As the last lingering notes of this introduction faded away Cesar suddenly had two ‘mallets’ in each hand and began playing his keyboards. The cello eased in to underscore his melody lines.

For the next hour or so, these two highly skilled musicians, who individually and collaboratively composed all eleven tracks on their current album, Mantra, re-created that recording’s sonic sound-scape, taking us not only on flights of fancy around the world, It also felt as though they seemingly took us back in history the very beginning of Time. Through titles like Back To The Land, (one of their collaborative compositions) they took us on endless journeys, telling the stories that were more about lands themselves than the peoples who inhabited them.

There exist clearly defined ways of taking what are called ‘closed’ readings of literature, music and film. Nevertheless, most of us cannot help but shape our interpretations around that which is familiar from our own lifestyles, effectively taking an ‘open’ but perhaps less objective reading Thus, as I listened to this moody, magnificent, music with its notes that seemed to hang in the air, reluctant to leave, before being eventually replaced by newer, more freshly struck notes, I was reminded of a drama series I am currently watching on BBC 1.

Black Earth Rising is a hugely disturbing programme about the Rwandan genocides of thirty years ago, and the fictive central characters are all purporting to reveal ‘the truth’ even as they further conceal it. All were complicit in the atrocities visited upon that land it might be argued, and somehow this music set me contemplating all the tangles and knots the programme has tied me in over recent weeks.

Whilst the marimba suggested geographical and cultural tones through its music, the cello provided the emotions of the land. At times, the stringed instrument soared like a bird on a warm day and at others it cried like a mother for her lost children.

The marimba and cello were at times seemingly deliberately discordant, as if in horror at some dreadful aspects of history, but for the most part they were in harmony and celebration of how land seems to rest oblivious to the imperfections man would seek to impose on it. Bear in mind, this is only my open interpretation, not a precise, objective reading of the works solely of  notes and delivery.

‘Ambience’ set me thinking of how various parts of the world seem to rise and fall in levels of wealth, health and strategic global importance and I was wondering why we allow that to happen, when ‘Catharsis’ suddenly offered me respite from all this melancholia and allowed me to enjoy the sight of Cesar wielding his drumsticks as if he were a jazz drummer, like the late Buddy Rich, and revelling in the re-generation his music seemed to be suggesting.

I misinterpreted his introduction to ‘Desperation And Dream’ as Aspiration And Dream and even that slight shift in title would have led to a completely different critical interpretation, but there seemed little doubt to me that this was telling the story of a land struggling against climate and calamity wrought by Man, and the joy that might be brought about by more positive vision.

As a primary school child in the UK, more decades ago than I can remember, I was in a class invited by Mr. Wilson, our music teacher, to listen to a recording of the various performances on The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst, and to explain then to our teacher how we envisaged that planet based on our response to the music of its title. What was wonderful about all that was that Mr. Wilson, a guitar playing folkie as I now recall, allowed us to believe there was no right or wrong in our findings. He might demand to know what evidence we had for our suppositions but so long as we could prove we had been paying attention and listening, he was happy. It was the most valuable lesson of my life in a way, to learn that not only can music transport us and take us wherever it wishes but also that we can take the wheel sometimes and steer the music towards where we want to go.

The music performed here by Socos Duo sometimes led, and sometimes followed, but always haunted. The acoustics of the room maybe helped, with notes disappearing into the dark recesses of history, or was it merely into the corners of the room? We, or maybe only I, somehow heard the sound of bells, the calls to prayer and the speaking of the elders.

The musicianship seemed superb, and a strong bond was evident between the two players. When collaborating on the writing or even simply playing each other’s work there must be sudden switches of lead and follow, of give and take and of domination and submission. This is the music of the old and the new in confrontation, of the stand off between tradition and modernity, and although it doesn’t always make for easy listening there is a strange reassurance that we need not worry, for history has seen all this before.

I briefly spoke with Cesar after the performance and told him how cinematic the music had seemed to me. He smiled and said that is a common claim amongst audiences, and that he and Ciro find that extremely reassuring as they had immediately felt that as they heard the first music they produced together.

This was a little bit of a sidetrack or detour from the main highway of twenty first century music but was a road well worth taking, and full credit must be given to whoever decided to put on this show in such a wonderful setting.

I think what Dee and I have learned here on Lanzarote is that exploration of the landscape, its people and their culture is invariably well rewarded. However, one of my favourite songwriters, John Stewart, who wrote Daydream Believer, once told me an interview that, when it comes to music, ‘people like what they know but don’t know what they like.’

Tonight has been a slightly less than full house, perhaps because the music is difficult to classify and therefore potential audience members couldn’t feel sure they would like what they did not know.  However, we have never seen a performance at this venue that we have not enjoyed, and the quality of musicianship here is always outstanding. The venue and the musicians they bring to their stage will invariably reward our trust and support, whether we are born and bred on Lanzarote, tourists passing through or new residents here.

On these pages we will always try to report on what our readers know and love, but now and again, as in this feature, we might also just try to reassure you that even if we step off the beaten track from time to time there is nothing to be afraid of.

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