Elmer Ferrer, without the basic, we are directed
Lying down, lights off ... I enter a mined area, a war of sounds that invades. Randomly, because my player so chooses, the Básico, No Básico y Dirigido tracks hit (me) hopelessly.
It has been 15 years since I heard Elmer Ferrer do his thing ... and I say 15 because since Fango Dance (2005) I had not accessed a production of his authorship conceived with such levels of creativity and daring.
It seems that as time passes he lets himself be pushed further towards the edges. Because if we are sure of something when we finish listening to this album, it is that everything fits in the wide musical register that this composer and arranger takes and molds to his liking. Without fear. Because only then one has to launch to create.
From its title and image - by Daniel Delgado - Basic, Non-Basic and Directed (2019) announces that this is a flight at your own risk, pure and simple imagination. A trip in which we will not be in control and we will rise at the mercy of the winds in an airplane still to be assembled, almost as if we were taking it out of its box for the first time: the central body as a stylized projectile, the wings and its propeller as well they confirm it. Image that suddenly brings back to those who like Elmer we knew (and suffered) in the "golden" 80's the normalization of the sale of toys with those coupons (basic, non-basic and directed) whose classification intrigues today and already belongs to the domain of derisory , but that was the wakefulness of our parents trying to buy more (with less) and that "we were happy here" ...
Ten years it took Elmer to re-produce an album almost entirely his own - on the phonogram, except for Third Stone From The Sun (Jimi Hendrix) and Santana / L'Isola Misteriosa from arrangements to fragments of Santana (Alfredo Varona) and L'Isola Misteriosa (Gianni Ferrio), or Royal Hut composed of Elmer Ferrer, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, the rest of the songs were composed and arranged by the solo guitarist. Despite being one of the most collaborative Cuban musicians in studio sessions, since his No guitars allowed (2009), of which I confess I just heard some songs online, he hadn't made up his mind. Let us remember that part of his good work is heard in Cuban productions nominated for international awards and in others no less magnificent, although not as well recognized. Given the diversity of his timbre and the genres he manages to play with equal dedication, he leaves the (traditional) Cuban rhythms and becomes “individual… [because he also] likes rock and he likes blues and he likes jazz ".
However, unlike No guitars ... which included the voice and collaboration of Canadian singer of Nigerian origin Ndidi Onukwulu, Básico... returned fully to the instrumental. And it is surprising how this album becomes a kind of melodic canon, compared to its previous productions. In fact, it is possible to find traces from one production to another that speak of dialogue and at the same time of structural and compositional variations.
Why not follow the threads that lead us from Bonus track (Apagón) in Fango... to Interludio of Básico ...; or E-blues from Fango... to Here inside of No guitars ...; or Pimpao from No guitars... to Guanibarrana from Básico ... How not to repair the phrasings, syncopation and related melodies, and at the same time different in scale or measure, in themes such as the homonyms No guitars allowed , Básico, no Básico y Dirigido and the arrangement from Third Stone From The Sun from Básico… ? Like a canon, the recent record production is the natural counterpoint heir to three decades of work, in which this interpreter has emulated the work of composer and arranger with equal relish.
Elmer, trained in classical guitar although with an electric mind, could almost say that he molded himself from the most diverse influences. It was not until almost the mid-1990s that the ENA, from where he had graduated in 1992, founded the specialty of electric guitar and invited him as a teacher. However, throughout the 90s until he founded his Elmer Ferrer Band (EFB) in 2004, he was part of several groups such as the legendary Estado de Ánimo (along with Roberto Carcassés, Descemer Bueno, Ruy López-Nussa), accompanying the great Santiago Feliú, to Temperamento (by Roberto Fonseca), Habana Ensemble (by César López), and later collaborating with X Alfonso, those of Habana Abierta and Interactivo. Yes, each one had its mark, but it is not the same.
Thinking and making your own music and for it to contribute something, takes time. In 2003, Metrópoli (Unicornio) got out of his hands and, unsurprisingly, was awarded the Best Jazz Album at Cubadisco that year. Boost that would follow Fango Dance and that would close the decade with No guitars allowed.
The exact date on which I stopped seeing the EFB announced in the jazz spaces of Havana escapes me, I do not know if it was before or after 2012, the truth is that it is missed. It is known that jazz rock and its derivations have not had so many followers in Cuba, and the EFB with its ineffable quality promised (and fulfilled) to fill that gap. The new stages of production and circulation of his music, after settling in Canada, further expanded his horizons in terms of musical collaboration, visibility and creative conditions. It is not that his doing did not accuse before the influence of various musicians of the world with whom he shared the stage inside and outside Cuba, but listening to Básico... that bench of references and sounds of the one he casts feels broader with ease and joy. From Cuban rhythms and timbre to the blues/rocker riff, from the Celtic chords and metrics to a Dominican quasi-merengue, all capable of being divided, re-composed.
Hearing how hybrid this volume sounds it seems that Elmer dropped and glided to land. From the succinct prologue (barely 47 seconds) we feel that the structure is going to explode, and thus the presumed framework of jazz (the basic ) will see, in what follows, its "limits" detonated. The percussion and bass marking the beat of this initial track, to which the clear and precise guitar is superimposed almost atonal, is rarefied by an expansive sound effect as if we were bombarded, and when we least expect it, a string quartet colors the end with hasty apocalyptic tones. To immediately move on, without time to recover, to the song that gives the title to this album. As expected Básico, no básico y dirigido is a bomb... Good (Latin) jazz-rock with a fast-paced syncopation marked by the congas and that firm drums that harmonizes with the trumpet or lead guitar. Fingers that decisively go up and down that endless, electric arm: the guitar alternates in strong solos with the drum moving forward or backward, depending on how you look at it (or listen to it). Tight , just thight . The orchestration makes use of all the “coupons” at its disposal, adjusting to its rhythm, guiding us from the dark to the light.
Shortly after, Royal hut comes upon us: a polyphonic cyclone that drags the Cuban key first on tiptoe and then makes it flow fully in the metric and speed of Celtic violins. The tone and color of each tradition here amalgamate surprisingly, creating something else. I confess that when I first heard it seemed bold, I would almost say suicidal. Because to this also add a certain southern air that emanates from melodically imitating the clapping of the gospel or the step dancing of the United States, to suddenly fall into the middle of a circus ?: there are sounds that resemble the trotting of animals, or an elephant screaming? Percussion - like violins, like guitar, like bass - strives to be heard, to be exhibited, in this music fair where we can also dance and (un)mark the time. A true jam. No doubt.
And as if the download should not stop, A 220 brings us the following theme, which may be a tribute to Juan Luis Guerra, but also to that festive and overwhelming Caribbean, of which we are part. Here the bass, percussion and guitar also incorporate, although not directly, airs of the Caribbean steel bands . And the piano adds to the "tumbao" with the special tone of the Rhodes. Flawless.
After such abreaction, it is time to level. And a theme like Donde vive lo que no pasa is an unexpected but necessary cut. The calm and serious tone of the winds and the strings from the initial minute, feel the mood that will radiate the piece completely. The guitar, like the bass and drums, embedded in the melodic line will go softly intoning, plucking here or there, but the trumpet will be the protagonist in this displacement towards the unfathomable —that place (of memories, perhaps) -, and the percussion comes down closing, like someone touching land / port. The end.
At the height of the sixth track, and close to himself, Elmer comes home. As if it had never left, Guilto is that jazz with which we will move rhythmically in each "section", in which the guitar asks and the piano responds, or the flute reels gently in a tasty dialogue with the acoustic (thick) bass in the background and the rhythm marked by the self-assured drums. Everything announces a “school” apprehended and metabolized with grace… something that could well become a standard of Cuban jazz to which each new performer will add his mark.
Getting home is for this guitarist to return to his native Sancti Spíritus, and Guanibarrana as Trova are proof of this. The first is a 'punto cubano' of a new type, because this area of Cuban geography has a long tradition of peasant music, and it is fixed from the introductory voice of the subject. Cuban soul that is felt on the guitar and on the tres with its characteristic timbre, although the melody fragments, accelerates or calms, relaxing with the strings, drums and bass behind. Here, meter and rhythm go de/recomposing a soundscape in which, when immersed, the zapateo tickles our feet.
ith Trova we go down to the city. The clean but sentimental sound of his "perjured" classical guitar is entertaining note by note that troubadour vein that almost all of us carry inside. When the drums, the cello and the bass enter next to the philharmonic, we feel that Elmer once again walks streets and alleys, squares or squares known by heart. And we flow carried in the melody to retrace the afternoon-night or before dawn. With the light soul of one who has seen his oasis.
And lo and behold, when we are more relaxed, after an “interlude” that feels like a coda (or in this case, a transition) we move to another universe in less than a minute. What ensues is El regocijo del fula, a theme that in exponential dialogue with the extreme prologue what is rarefied lives around. Psychedelic and dodecaphonist, this track is worthy of an electroacoustic music laboratory: sounds of diverse origin and intensity, repetitive, synthetic and percussive, sometimes played against the hand, with tremendous bad vibes. If the joy of evil is to sound like this, he nailed it.
Finally, we enjoyed a re-interpretation of the Third Stone From The Sun by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in the hands of a "big" Cuban jazz band, where each breaks a little (among them, in bass and voice Alain Pérez is heard) and joins the resounding orchestration. Elmer's arrangement, much more harmonious than Hendrix's original, is a disturbing tribute that the tumbadora (Chendy León), like the drums (Kiki Ferrer), are charged with sustained intensity, and that the guitar and trumpet (Yumar Bonachea) achieve to spice a little.
However, despite the fact that the actual closing of this album, Santana (Pasacalle Espirituano) - L'isola Misteriosa , is also an emotional reinterpretation of Elmer on the work of another composer —and is understood in this third part of the volume, where the previous track is included— does not feel right to me. If it had been spelled out as a bonus track, just as Apagón was for Fango Dance , perhaps I would appreciate it in another light. Horses... you know.
The truth is that in that mysterious isola that is the music of the Elmer Ferrer Band, off the basic, we are the target: infinite receivers where vibrate what does not die.
Nahela Hechavarría Pouymiró
Curator curated by cinema, music and dance, in that (dis)order.