Mold breakage, transgression, radical change. Irakere broke into the momentum and effects of a revolution in the Cuban musical life of the 70s of the last century. While opening floodgates to new lines of development, it assimilated old chores, collected inherited fruits, and recognized delayed values, so that Irakere should also be discussed as a result of continuous evolution. And as it has always been on an island that resists cooking in its own juices and has historically emblazoned a universal vocation, Irakere could not stop looking, or rather, listening, the predominant sounds in the international environment at the time of his emergence
All that's Irakere. All this can be seen in this double album that illustrates willingly, although without anthological pretensions or retrospective intentions, the guidelines set by the Cuban band founded in 1973 and led by Dionisio de Jesús Valdés, Chucho (Quivicán, October 9, 1941 ), in a period that essentially covers its first two decades of existence.
Irakere was born for jazz and popular dance music, well defined both fields of action from the same starting point. There has been much speculation about the bidding of factions inside the band to make one or the other line prevail, but the truth is that its director was already an integral musician, still very young, but with relevant professional experiences and a coherent vision of what he intended to project at that height of his career.
Cuban music needed to revitalize the scope of a culturally assimilated expression as a reality immanent to the dynamics of national identity itself, and the same urgency was raised in the grounds of vernacular dance genres.
Within the Latin styles incorporated into mainstream Jazz in North America had recognized the so-called Afro-Cuban jazz as a prominent area, not only for the proverbial meeting of Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie or the wake left by the orchestra of Machito and Mario Bauzá, but also for the substrate provided by those from the Island exchanged the codes of jazz with the bolero, those of the blues with the mambo.
However, that Afro-Cubanism was only the tip of the iceberg of what could be achieved by jumping beyond the established formulas and ways of doing. Chucho himself had pre-announced them with a work from the early 60s, in which a totally revealing speech was forged: Mambo influenciado, and got on a radically unprecedented scale with the first version of Misa Negra, a work that we will discuss later, and a real surprise for critics and the public who attended the Jazz Jamboree festival in Poland in 1971, where Chucho, in front of a quintet formed by elements of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, had an impact Internationally.
If in jazz the crisis - remember that every critical moment, well understood, is a turning point that must generate qualitative changes forward - it had a rather institutional character, due to the reduction of spaces for its practice (clubs, theaters) and the misunderstanding of the cultural authorities of the time about how to assimilate that expression in the policies of programming and artistic development, the crisis of dance music, although also influenced by these factors, had to do with the lag caused by exhaustion of the previous sonero reef, the stagnation of musical talent, and the peculiar way in which it occurred in a Cuba blocked and isolated from the international circuits of the music industry, contact with pop and rock.
In this area, a vanguard was beginning to glimpse: the creation of Los Van Van by Juan Formell in 1969 warned of new sound and rhythmic possibilities in dance music, at the time when a Rumbavana ensemble, with Joseíto González in front, made it look how it was feasible to refresh the aesthetics coined by Arsenio, Chapottín, and the Casino Complex, towards the middle of the century. This last road would find its climax towards the end of the 70s with the figure of Adalberto Álvarez, who returned with Son 14 the salsa to its main place of origin.
From that context, Irakere emerged, not without going over bureaucratic obstacles, because most of its initial members were on the payroll of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. Symptomatic is the fact that his first "rehearsals" with the public took place in the Mambí room, an area adjacent to the famous Tropicana cabaret that in those years became the laboratory where dance music groups tested their tune with the public.
Now, his first concert with all of the law took place in February 1974 at the Amadeo Roldán Theater in Havana. The initial formation was composed of Chucho, pianist, keyboardist and director, guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, bassist Carlos del Puerto, trumpeter Jorge Varona, drummer Bernardo García and percussionist Oscar Valdés, also vocalist. Almost immediately, they were barely licensed by the Armed Forces where they served the mandatory military service, the saxophonist Carlos Fernández Averhoff, the trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and the drummer Enrique Plá joined.
From then on the history of Irakere, the comings and goings of its members, its brilliant international successes, the insertion in the dome of the jazz movement after the conquest of Grammy Awards in 1979, constitutes a known and accessible saga.
It is worth, however, to note, from the audition of this double album and without addressing each of the themes, why at the beginning of this note we granted Irakere an absolutely revolutionary hierarchy in the territories of his artistic exercise. Here paradigmatic pieces of Afro-Cuban jazz of all time are registered. If we had to do without the rest of the jazz material and we would stay with Misa Negra, that single work would be enough for Chucho and Irakere to appear in the most demanding anthology not only of Latin or Afro-Cuban jazz, but of contemporary musical history.
The telluric force that comes not only from the polyrhythmic contributed by the Yoruba culture transplanted to the Caribbean by the forced African diaspora but also from its liturgical songs and prayers, is unleashed properly structured in sections of balanced dynamics and an intelligent and sensitively conceived instrumental arrangement. If in other Afro-Cuban jazz pieces of a rhapsodic character the African is incorporated into jazz, in Misa Negra The jazz language is the one that is subsumed in the African-Americanity that marks the central pattern of the sound discourse.
But you should not forget the particular enjoyment of a less widespread work: Tierra en trance. Since the beginning of the presentation of the initial theme by the electric bass of Carlos del Puerto, a special timbral atmosphere has been woven that gives way to controlled instrumental solos in the middle of a structure in which percussive accents are displaced by this family of instruments such as keyboard and breath.
In the antipodes of such complexities, it is necessary to emphasize the subtlety that is breathed in the version of Reverie, from Debussy, many more attentive in these times when Chucho has turned impressive lyrical achievements to the piano.
It has been rightly said that Chucho demands from his musicians a virtuous quality, that in order to interpret his arrangements it is necessary to live up to what the pianist writes according to his own extraordinary qualities as a performer. This is perfectly audible in the blocks in which they sound in unison or when they weave a harmonic network of high density in the notation.
But it is not only observed in the jazz aspect. One of the great merits of Chucho and Irakere in danceable popular music lies in developing virtuous passages in the mambos. The other, and perhaps older, is to anticipate what came next with Formell, José Luis Cortés (by the way, participant in these recordings as a member of Irakere, David Calzado, Pachito Alonso, Juan Carlos Alfonso et al. with the call timba.
The dance pieces, worth the redundancy, are danced - sones, congas, guarachas and several crossed species - adjusting to the changing and renovating choreographies of the dancers. But at the same time they can be heard as if they were concert works.
A phrase could be said: Irakere marked a before and after in contemporary Cuban music. Only one correction would fit: the after Chucho and Irakere is still going on.