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by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

I think of myself as one of the faithful, one of those veteran fans of Cuban or Latin Jazz. I’ve been very lucky to have been able to see close up some of the phenomenal artists in the 1980s who increased the stature of this musical genre on the Island and presented its image on an international scale, as if by magic.

Chucho Valdés.

I’d like to refer to four events that stand out for their virtuosity, intensity, fantasy and originality: Chucho Valdés and Irakere; Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Proyecto; Arturo Sandoval and his band; and the fabulous Emiliano Salvador and his group. Arturo held his peña on a regular basis at the Sala Atril of the Karl Marx Theater and the others used to perform all around the city making sure that by the end of the 1980s, Havana had become a sort of unusual jazz laboratory, something that had never before happened in any musical genre.

Many of us thought (and we still think) that those Cuban jazz stars set the bar very high, not only for the brilliance of their performances but especially for the authentic sounds they were able to create under a veritable rainstorm of influences. Their contributions were long-lasting and they opened up the path for future generations. I’d like to comment on how the newest of Cuba’s jazz musicians have interpreted those paths and who those people who have taken off on this new musical adventure are.

When the first edition of JoJazz (the competition for young jazz musicians) appeared in 1998, the doors flew open for brand new improvisational talents to demonstrate their possibilities and take us into a future full of complexities and conquests. If we make a review of the eighteen editions that have followed that unique event, we’ll find a surprising result. A fairly high percentage of the musicians producing the newest jazz in Cuba today were winners in that competition and many of them have also sat on the juries.

This is a generation that has very distinctive traits. I’d like to focus on three of them. First is the speed with which they have matured and become established artists. The second trait has to do with their free-wheeling capacity to take on new sounds within the genre, especially when they use fusion to multiply the sense of universality on the basis of something that is distinctly Cuban. The third trait is associated with the spirit of camaraderie that bonds them together and turns every concert into a propitious interchange among talented virtuosos.

Harold López Nussa.

In this new batch of impressive jazz musicians produced in Cuba in the last ten years we find Jorge Luis Pacheco, Harold López-Nussa, Michel Herrera, Ariel Brínguez, Emir Santa Cruz, Janio Abreu, Miguel Ángel de Armas, Alejandro Falcón, Alexis Bosch and Rolando Luna.

At this point I’d like to comment on the special case of Zule Guerra, the true lady of jazz. Only twenty-seven years old, she has already won her first Jojazz and the Gold Medal at the International Baltic Stage Arts Festival in Latvia. She is also the leader of the Blues Habana band. Her main gift lies in being able to transform her voice into a thousand instruments, mixing funk, a dash of electronic music, Blues and Latin American sounds, all poured over a base of Cuban music. What results is a sort of mélange identifed as NuJazz.

Zule Guerra.

Also, most of the instrumentalists I have mentioned compose their own music, something that gives them a higher level of comfort in their performances. You can also often see how indebted they are to dance music. One thing is certain. Whoever lives in or visits Havana these days will always be able to find some night spot where they can enjoy the excellence of these artists. They represent the future and are an important part of Cuban jazz today.

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