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‘Halcyon Presents’ w/ No Regular Play+Francis Harris

Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap favorites No Regular Play draw on the radio sounds of their childhoods in Prince’s Twin Cities and time in Havana studying Afro-Cuban music to create some of the most effective basslines in house. Francis Harris—behind Matter-Form parties, the Scissor & Thread label, and the Proustian Leland album—engineered No Regular Play’s forthcoming album. With Los Angeles’s Modesty.

Fri., Aug. 17, 10 p.m., 2012

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Creole Choir of Cuba

Across their music, this 10-member vocal ensemble from Camagüey makes the sounds of old and new Haiti blend with the rhythms of pre-revolutionary Cuba. The Choir—whose Cuban name, Desandann, means “descendents”—sings freedom songs in Spanish, French, and (most of the time) Creole on their uplifting Real World debut, Tande-La, formalizing and embellishing music made by Haitian slaves brought over to harvest sugar.

Sun., Oct. 2, 7 p.m., 2011

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Summer Guide: The Ballet Nacional of Cuba Steps Into BAM

After the Ballet Nacional de Cuba finishes its run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, June 8 to 11, the question won’t only be “When will these dancers return?” but also “Which of these dancers might stay here?” The last time the company came through New York, in 2003, five dancers defected. The previous year saw triple that count. In 2005, Rolando Sarabia made a high-profile jump, walking across the border from Mexico and heading for Miami, where most defecting dancers go to await nearly guaranteed political asylum. In Toronto this March, five more made the break, and the possibilities for defections this visit are as alive as the troupe’s nonagenarian founder, Alicia Alonso.

Defection: It’s such a 20th-century term, especially in the vocabulary of ballet, where it trails associations with Nureyev, Makarova, Baryshnikov, and a time when ballet was front-page news. The Cubans grabbed headlines back then, too; in 1966, in Paris, 10 defectors embarrassed Alonso and her patron, Fidel. But as Communist Cuba has outlasted the Soviet Union, ballet defections live on with it oddly, relics of the Cold War, like so much else in U.S.-Cuba relations. Wet foot, dry foot, pointed foot.

Now as then, dancers cite “artistic freedom” as their motive, the chance to stretch themselves in contemporary works not approved by the authorities. Less stressed is the fact that, for example, the four 2003 defectors who ended up at the Cincinnati Ballet were soon making twice as much in a week as they would’ve in a year back home. Post-defection comments acknowledge the lure of international stardom more openly, the desire to join the many Cubans showing off their envied, state-funded classical training in the world’s top companies. There are the defectors whom the Cuban government might or might not ban from returning home—the Feijóo sisters in San Francisco and Boston. And then there are those who received Alonso’s permission and can come and go freely: Carlos Acosta, a superstar in London and a hero in Havana; José Manuel Carreño, whose solid 16-year run with American Ballet Theatre ends June 30.

Alonso was in at Ballet Theatre’s founding; by the time American was appended to the front, in 1956, she was in exile from the Batista regime. She returned to Cuba three years later, on the heels of the revolution that converted her Ballet Alicia Alonso into the Ballet Nacional and incited the U.S. embargo that kept ABT out of her International Ballet Festival for a half-century. A lot happened in those 50 years, but ABT’s trip to Havana last November was evidence of what used to be called a thaw. So is the ¡Sí Cuba! Festival in New York, two months of Cuban arts and culture with the Ballet Nacional at the end.

Ann Rosenthal of MAPP Productions, which brought the treasured Afro-Cuban rumberos Los Muñequitos de Matanzas back this month after a decade-long absence, describes a loosening of restrictions after the Bush administration, which had denied visa applications or just let them languish. Even under Obama, though, the visa process is mysterious: “We’re never really told exactly what is going on.” The Muñequitos were approved, individually, a week before their tour began. On the island side, as the Muñequitos are seen to pose little defection risk, the Cuban authorities were more concerned that the group’s members—who under U.S. law cannot be paid—would be adequately accommodated.

La Magia de la Danza, the Ballet Nacional’s program at BAM, is a gala-type patchwork of excerpts from the 19th-century classics that the company maintains the way Havana mechanics do finned Chevys—as vehicles of pre-embargo style, in the mode of Alonso’s prime. It’s a program, that is, apt to display the value of the troupe’s dancers on the international market and also why they might want to flee. Viengsay Valdés, the reigning ballerina, will doubtlessly be effervescent in her endless balances. Yet excepting her, reports on La Magia in London last year spoke of deterioration, decline. Castro, enfeebled, has ceded power to his brother, but Alonso, whom career-long blindness has never stopped, will name no successor. Now, as the Cuban state begins to retrench, its storied ballet troupe may have to look to its defectors for guidance on how to thrive in a freer market.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba, June 8 to 11, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Street, Brooklyn, bam.org

Summer Dance Picks

Gotham Dance Festival

June 1–12
Another festival? Well, it’s one way for up-and-coming choreographers to build audiences at the midsize Joyce without the gamble of a week on their own. Here, four deserving troupes—led respectively by Brian Brooks, Monica Bill Barnes, Kate Weare, and Patrick Corbin—each get two or three evenings to fill, while two weekend matinees sample six more groups. Weare’s is the most promising, but Corbin’s has a ringer, the man who replaced (and surpassed) him as God of Paul Taylor Land: Michael Trusnovec. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, joyce.org

Trisha Brown Dance Company

June 9–11
Here’s an inspired idea. Forty years ago, Brown scattered a “Roof Piece” across the tops of Soho buildings, a kind of relay in semaphore, a magical stunt in public art that was captured on film but not repeated since. How about if she did it again, but all around the High Line, a public park that already plays perspective games with the area’s architecture? That’s what’s happening, and it’s as close to a sure thing as any event this serendipitous gets. The High Line, Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street, trishabrowncompany.org

Susan Marshall and Company

June 9–11
For her troupe’s 25th, the MacArthur-winning imagist brings her two most recent works to New York. The visual wit of Frame Dances springs from how she corrals her cast in a series of tight spaces, while a video camera frames them from other perspectives. For Adamantine, the canvas is theater-large: wind machines, revolving curtains, swinging sandbags. People collapse, slap each other softly. Blackouts come like blinking, masking small and disorienting changes. Shadows behave independently. Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, bacynyc.org

Ben Munisteri Dance Project

June 16–19
Munisteri is a formalist, a real patternmaker, capable of distributing a design of engrossing complexity across multiple bodies or just one, and making it legible. Catalog, from 2009, sets its clockwork to Radiohead songs. Binary 2.0 matches its counterpoint partnering to Debussy. The mechanical character of those dances carries into at least the title of the premiere, Robot vs. Mermaid.
Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, dancetheaterworkshop.org

Mariinsky Ballet

July 11–16
While still rare, a visit by the Mariinsky isn’t the geopolitical, glimpse-behind-the-Curtain event it was back when the marquee read “Kirov.” One of St. Petersburg’s prima ballerinas, Diana Vishneva, is now a regular guest with American Ballet Theatre, and most of the ballets in the luggage this trip are by Alexei Ratmansky, the international top dog who just signed on for another decade at ABT. Those stagings, though, are Russian-themed and new to us—The Little Humpbacked Horse and Anna Karenina, a comedy and a tragedy. How our Mariinsky-trained Balanchine gets handled (Symphony in C) will be another gauge of a great tradition’s health. Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, lincolncenterfestival.org

Merce Fair

July 16
Imagine a loved one with a terminal diagnosis but no evidence of decline. Every appearance of the Merce Cunningham company, scheduled to disband at year’s end, is precious. This day-long bazaar packs together a company class, DIY workshops for regular folks, music concerts, screenings, lectures, exhibits, and the evening performance of a few mid-career gems. More going on than the mind can take in: very Merce. Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway at 60th Street, lincolncenterfestival.org

Lincoln Center ‘Out of Doors’

July 27–August 14
Apart from Eiko and Koma barely moving in the reflecting pool, what’s most enticing about the dance selections this year is the accompanying music. The Idaho-based Trey McIntyre isn’t at his best doing ersatz Big Easy, but the Preservation Hall Jazz Band can handle the authenticity part just fine. Who knows how Gabri Christa’s conductor-led improv will work, but Greg Tate and Don Byron can be trusted with the aural side. David Dorfman’s got the Family Stone—sans Sly, but still! Lincoln Center, lincolncenter.org

Mark Morris Dance Company

August 18–20
The Music Man at Mostly Mozart—mmmm. It’s a fixed point on the dance calendar, recompense for sticking around in August. This program balances a we’ll-see premiere (set to Stravinsky’s Renard) with two in-case-you-missed-them recent winners: Socrates, severe and beautiful, and Festival Dance, playful and snowballing. Rose Theater, Broadway at 60th Street, mostlymozart.org

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Septeto Nacional Ignacio Pineiro de Cuba

Named after the bassist and prolific composer who formed this seminal son combo in Havana in 1927(!), Septeto Nacional Ignacio Pineiro de Cuba plays hardcore pre-revolution dance music with a suavecito swagger. The instrumentation–percussion, guitar, and trumpet–ensures a tight connection to son‘s rumba roots. Indeed, the group’s latest album is titled Sin Rumba No Hay Son! (Without Rumba There Is No Son!). The group makes their second US appearance in 76 years as part of the citywide ¡Si Cuba! Festival.

Sat., April 16, 10 p.m., 2011

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NYC Pianist Arturo O’Farrill Finds Himself In Cuba, and Brings His Father Home

When the steel door to Kennedy Airport’s Gate 8 slammed shut, Arturo O’Farrill was on the wrong side. With his wife, sons, and mother in tow one Monday in December, he was bound for Miami, then for Havana via charter flight. And though far from early, the O’Farrills weren’t exactly late—the plane began rolling toward the runway 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Inside the cabin of American Airlines Flight 1141, Eric Oberstein—the earnest, babyfaced executive director of O’Farrill’s four-year-old nonprofit organization, the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance—asserted himself.

“You’ve got a Grammy-winning pianist and his family out there waiting to get on this plane,” he pleaded to the crew. “All 18 of the musicians in his orchestra are here. . . . He’s waited eight years for this trip, worked with the American and Cuban governments . . . headlining the Havana Jazz Festival . . . bringing his father’s music back to Cuba. . . .”

None of it worked. Off the plane went, with a faint apology from a flight attendant. Out on the next flight, Arturo made it to Miami in time, his family intact: his wife, Alison, a classical pianist; his two sons, 19-year-old drummer Zack and 16-year-old trumpeter Adam; and his mom, Lupe, the widow of Chico O’Farrill, a Cuban-born composer, arranger, bandleader, and longtime New York resident who was a towering musical figure in both places. Arturo shrugged off the airport fiasco. It was just the latest and, frankly, the least forbidding of doors to slam in his face.

The dream was simple, really. Through the support of his Alliance organization, Arturo wanted to bring the orchestra he leads in his father’s name back to Cuba, which Chico left for good in 1959. He had toyed with the idea for some time, but it became a firm goal, a mission, in 2002, after his own first visit to Cuba. “I’m going to do this,” he’d told me toward the end of that trip. “And even though Chico never made it back to the island physically, his music will be played there. I feel like he’ll be there with us. The people will embrace his music. And somehow, to some degree, all will seem right with the universe to me for just a split-second.”

Within a year, such momentary righteousness was politically wrong and, in practical terms, impossible. After Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés headlined Manhattan’s Village Vanguard in December 2003, no Cuban musician wishing to return to his country performed in the U.S. until 2009; meanwhile, American musicians who would regularly travel to Cuba were denied the necessary license from the U.S. Treasury Department. The Bush administration had effectively shut down all cultural exchange. The Havana International Jazz Plaza Festival, which, a decade ago, hosted American musicians from pianist Herbie Hancock to Arturo O’Farrill himself, was off-limits.

Since the U.S. embargo of Cuba began in 1961, the ability of Cuban and American musicians to travel back and forth has shifted with the political winds. In 1985, President Reagan took a hard line. In 1999, under Clinton, the doors opened again, especially for artists, in an effort to encourage “people-to-people exchange.” Bush reversed that policy; artists protested. In a widely distributed 2007 letter, Alicia Alonso, director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, wrote, “Let us work together so that Cuban artists can take their talent to the United States—so that a song, a book, a scientific study, or a choreographic work are not considered, in an irrational way, a crime.” Soon after, on “Democracy Now!,” Arturo told host Amy Goodman, “For us to be denied access to this source of cultural sustenance is absolutely insane.”

By 2009, the U.S. had loosened those travel restrictions once again. “Almost immediately after the Obama administration took office, there were folks at the State Department willing to work with us,” said Bill Martinez, an attorney who specializes in such matters, and who handled the details of Arturo’s December trip. “It was still a minefield—there is still an embargo—but Obama was beginning to come through with his commitment to cultural exchange.”

In November, a group of dancers from New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theater performed at the 22nd International Ballet Festival in Havana, with Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s Alonso holding court. A month earlier, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis had brought his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to Havana for a five-day residency, working with Valdés, who then came to New York to perform. And now, Arturo was on his way to Havana for six days, as Valdés’s guest, for a Jazz Plaza Festival dedicated to Chico’s memory, and with official sanction from both countries. It took a little less than a decade.

“I wasn’t sure about making this trip,” said Lupe O’Farrill as she waited in the customs line at Havana’s José Martí airport. Arturo had to convince her. It had been a half-century since she last set foot on Cuban soil. She didn’t know what to expect, how to feel. Yet she smiled, her thoughts drifting back to how she, then a young singer born in Detroit and raised in Mexico City, met Chico O’Farrill. “Love at first sight,” she said. At the time, she didn’t know that Chico had earned a reputation as a first-rate trumpeter and bandleader in Cuba, and that, after forgoing the trumpet to focus on arranging and composing—the jazz orchestra was Chico’s real instrument—he’d risen quickly through the ranks of American jazz upon his arrival in New York in 1948. She was unaware then that Chico’s composition “Undercurrent Blues” scored a hit for clarinetist Benny Goodman (who’d given Chico his enduring nickname), or that work with Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Frank “Machito” Grillo soon followed, including the masterful “Afro Cuban Jazz Suite,” a 10-section extended piece recorded by Machito’s orchestra and featuring alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, and drummer Buddy Rich. By then, Chico had made six landmark 10-inch recordings (since reissued on Verve as the two-CD Cuban Blues) of his own. She’d find all that out soon enough, and would even sing with his band in Mexico. But at first, “He was just a gentleman who became my hero.”

[

Jazz is full of heroes, and requisite hero-worship. Marsalis certainly received such a welcome in Havana. Halfway through his October visit, barricades stood before the Mella Theater to handle an overflow crowd; the JALC Orchestra’s grand gesture of cultural exchange had become a popular phenomenon. And yet it all came down to intimate encounters. “This is all personal,” Marsalis said then. “Chucho Valdés came to my house in 1996 and became like a father to me.” Referring to a young Cuban trumpeter who had spent a year at Juilliard, he added, “Yasek Manzano came to my house, and now he’s like a son to me.” Marsalis’s visit was touching and significant—heroic, even. But, as the trumpeter repeatedly insisted, it was “strictly about music, not political in any way.”

Marsalis was trailed throughout his trip by both a documentary team and a 60 Minutes crew. In December, Arturo also had filmmakers in tow. Diane Sylvester, an Afro Latin Jazz Alliance board member, is producer and director of Oye Cuba! A Journey Home, a documentary she decided to make the moment after Arturo told her of his plans for the trip. “The most important part of this story has always been personal,” she said. “It’s about an artist seeking his own understanding of where his art comes from, and about his making a political and social statement about what that art means to him.” Arturo was talking about literal fathers and sons. And he had pointedly political messages to share—about cultural exchange, U.S.-Cuba relations, and even jazz’s provenance. That became clear just hours after landing in Havana, during a reception at the home of Charles “Chip” Barclay, deputy chief of the United States Interest Section, our rough equivalent of an embassy.

“I needed to complete a musical, spiritual, and cultural journey for my father,” Arturo said as he stood before the small crowd seated in Barclay’s living room. “In some ways, the relationship between jazz and Afro-Cuban music has still not been understood. We’ve only begun to uncover the relationship between these two places. And there are those who will pay lip service to this, by performing it one or two times a year, or who will write a paragraph about it, or a chapter, or a page. But the truth of the matter, which I think my father exemplified, is that these relationships are inexorably tied together. The thing that made my father such a misfit, and the thing that has made me such a misfit, is that we are still looking to find where we belong.”

Arturo further spoke of “a particular allegiance to a yearning, and a search for the home where all great musicians should occupy. So coming back and bringing some of my father’s great music, it also raises the question: Who is Chico O’Farrill?”

Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill was born in Havana in 1921, son of a lawyer, in a family of means with Irish and German roots. For all his later renown, Chico’s first arrangement was “Tuxedo Junction,” prepared for the Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia. It was something of a fashion at the time for prominent Cubans to send misbehaving boys to American schools. He’d listened to the sounds drifting from a dancehall down the street in his Vedado neighborhood, soaked in the rhythms present everywhere in Havana. But it was in Georgia, while listening to radio broadcasts of American swing bands, that Chico decided to take up trumpet and began turning his attention away from the law career his parents expected, and toward music.

[

Chico’s music is, in some ways, definitive of the marriage of American jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms, which makes sense given the criss-cross of his life experience. Really, his music combines those elements in novel ways, as well as wide-ranging European classical influences, and is marked by what earns distinction in all those realms: mastery of form, an ear for stirring melodies, and the spark of pure innovation. More than fusing the sounds of two nations, Chico O’Farrill revealed innate connections imagined anew.

He moved to Mexico in the 1950s, then back to Cuba, then to Mexico again. He performed in Havana in April 1959 at the theater of the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Cuba, then left Cuba for good. (“After the revolution, they told us one thing,” he explained to his daughter, Georgina, years later, “but did something else.”) He moved with his family back to New York in 1965. And though Chico would do more high-profile music (most notably with Count Basie), by the 1980s he had settled into mostly television and advertising work. His was the musical voice behind Latin-market ads for McDonald’s and Bumble Bee tuna. He made no recordings under his name from 1967 to 1995. Still, musicians admired Chico, and he had much music left in him. Bassist Andy Gonzalez—anchor for an astounding number of Latin recordings over the past 25 years, and a close friend of Arturo’s—brought Chico to Todd Barkan, a record producer and Jazz at Lincoln Center adviser; the 1995 Milestone album Pure Emotion was the beginning of Chico’s final, triumphant chapter. Arturo began championing his father’s work. Marsalis invited him to Lincoln Center. And in 1996, the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra began the Sunday-night sets at Manhattan’s Birdland club that continue today under Arturo’s direction. Chico O’Farrill died in 2001, at age 79, of congestive heart failure.

If the U.S. was never quick to accept Latin jazz as its own, neither was Chico’s son Arturo. Born in Mexico, raised in New York, and educated at, among other institutions, the Manhattan School of Music, Arturo toured Europe in the big band led by avant-garde composer Carla Bley while still in his teens. “When I first began to play music, I rejected my father and my inherited culture,” he said. “I didn’t want to play no clave,” a reference to the elemental five-beat pattern that grounds Afro-Cuban music. “But a magical thing happened when my father got elderly and he needed help. I got past all the resistance and the fear, and I heard the music as if it was new to me.”

In the mid-’90s, Arturo approached Marsalis with the idea of creating a repertory group specifically for Latin jazz. In 2002, Marsalis took him up on it. Much like Jazz at Lincoln Center’s flagship group, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (a separate ensemble from the one in Chico’s name) was a working band meant to reinforce and extend historical repertory, including Chico’s own ambitious works. But after five years, the two groups parted ways—Arturo created his own organization, with a performance season hosted at the Upper West Side’s Symphony Space. He still feels pride and debt toward Marsalis and Lincoln Center, “But ultimately, as in the larger American culture, the Latin group became nothing more than a stepchild,” he said. In the liner notes to the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s new CD, 40 Acres and a Burro, he writes, “We are grateful to our hosts for our birth home, but it is definitely better to be the master of your own tidy cottage than a guest in someone else’s mansion.”

The 19th-century neoclassical building on the corner of Cuba and Chacón streets in Old Havana was once a mansion, built by Ricardo O’Farrill’s grandson, Rafael, and now refurbished as the Palacio O’Farrill hotel. When Arturo showed up in 2002, “I just assumed that since my father is an expatriate, the people of Cuba would bear resentment toward him,” he recalled. “Or maybe that Castro had filtered out his memory.” The last thing Arturo expected was a royal reception, but hotel staff lined up in the street to welcome him. The warmest greeting came from Rafael Fernández Moya, a dark-skinned man with a warm smile and an air of authority—the author of such studies as The Irish Presence in the History and Place Names of Cuba.

In front of the Palacio on Wednesday morning, the O’Farrills pack into a small bus with Moya, heading out of Havana proper. As a tour guide describes points of interest—“Here’s the house Ernest Hemingway bought in 1940”—Moya delves into more focused history. The first O’Farrill in Cuba was Ricardo O’Farrill O’Daly, whose ancestors were from County Longford in Ireland. Born on the island of Monserrat, he arrived via Jamaica, and worked for the South Sea Company—a slave runner and, later, a sugar-plantation owner.

[

The bus stops. Suddenly, Moya and Lupe exchange heated words. “This can’t be right,” Lupe insists. “It looks different.” Of course it does. The lovely house on what once was Casañas—or, as they’d call it, simply la finca (the farm), where Chico and Lupe spent most of their first year of marriage—is now a tannery’s headquarters. Gone is the bell atop the central house that distinguished the place. Most of the walls are now in ruins; one is covered by a pro-Castro mural.

We head to the town of Tapaste, where Arturo gets a tour of the church built by another O’Farrill ancestor. By the time we get to San José de las Lapas, his orchestra is warming up around a cement gazebo filling up with plastic chairs. Bassist Gregg August sandpapers the fingerboard of his borrowed instrument. Children fresh from school, dressed in white shirts and tan pants or skirts, mill about. “Chico’s father was born here,” Moya says, “and Chico’s grandfather is buried here.” Before long, the town’s historian has unfolded and laid on the ground a handwritten genealogy tracing eight generations of O’Farrills. Soon, a crowd of some 200 assembles and, just like that, a concert commences, the orchestra jammed into the gazebo, with Arturo on a Korg electric keyboard. The hour-long performance ends with “Afro Cuban Jazz Suite.” Afterward, Oberstein sets off to connect with his own personal history. A cousin of his leads us to the teal-colored house nearby, where his mother was raised (she moved to the U.S. as a child). It was built by his grandfather, whose father had owned tobacco farms in the area.

“I’ve played that suite so many times,” drummer Vince Cherico says during the bus ride back to Havana. “But when we went to that town, I saw some old women who clearly have lived through it all—the revolution and everything since. They had their eyes closed, and they were swaying. I felt like I understood something new about the music.”

Like so much in Cuba, Havana’s Amadeo Roldán Conservatory seems a study in former glory and present decay. In the lobby sits a bust of Chico’s great-great-uncle, Dr. Juan Ramón O’Farrill, once the city’s mayor and the school’s founder. “It’s funny I didn’t know about this,” Arturo notes. “But I guess I’m doing now the same thing he was doing.”

Roughly 100 students, some holding instruments, file into a cavernous auditorium. “How many of you improvise?” Arturo asks. Not many raise their hands, but several take the stage and flash their chops admirably. Finally, Arturo coaxes 15-year-old Tama Zulveta, who wears a pink sweater and fuzzy headband, into playing a bass solo. But the empowerment soon runs deeper, and toward something that might seem radical to his American colleagues. He leads them in a chant: Jazz no es norteamericano, es panamericano!

Thursday night, the orchestra plays its first formal jazz-festival concert at the Teatro Nacional. The crowd is a little sparse, owing to late schedule changes. Yet the show is stirring, working through several of Chico’s classics, and one of Arturo’s compositions. Though distinct, Arturo’s “40 Acres and a Burro” extends an often overlooked aspect of Chico’s musical legacy—the humor embedded in his music. But this trip is first and foremost about Chico’s works. During “Manteca Suite,” Chico’s expansion of a tune made famous by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, Arturo puts his whole body into his father’s arrangement, his arms stretched wide in the final brass exhalation.

The performance grows more masterful and emotional with a closing rendition of “Afro Cuban Jazz Suite.” It’s an astounding piece, introduced with stark, slightly dissonant horn hits, followed by a tender melody set atop an ambling bolero rhythm. As it walks through various styles, it toys with the clave beneath a mambo, winks at Stravinsky’s harmonies, and touches on 12-tone serialization. It manages to sound both personal and grandiose without ever losing its flow.

“My father spent a lot of time bent over a table putting dots on paper,” Arturo said later that night at a reception. “And he taught me to appreciate those who bring those dots to life.”’

Musicians revere those dots in turn. “Chico was a stone genius, on the level of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus,” says trombonist Sam Burtis, who was a member of the earliest iteration of Chico’s final orchestra. “He’s really one of the masters of American composition and Cuban music in any genre. And he’s different from all the rest.”

The next day, during a stop at Varadero Beach—once the getaway for wealthy Cubans, now dotted with hotels catering to foreigners—Arturo stops to admire the view. “My father didn’t express his feelings much,” he says. “But I remember him weeping openly at the memory of this beach.” He reflects on his reasons for going on this trip, and on the criticism he has received—some pointed and personal—for having gone.

[

Saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, who left Cuba for the United States in 1980, had authored a widely circulated email before the Jazz at Lincoln Center trip. “You should know by now that every single activity there is related and connected to a political goal,” D’Rivera wrote, “and relevant names like Wynton Marsalis will be used, no doubts about it, for propaganda matters, to help legitimize the 50-year-plus-old dictatorship.” Subsequently, he contacted Arturo directly, insinuating that his trip to Havana would forever tarnish Chico’s legacy; for D’Rivera, these are unshakable points, and yet not connected to the music itself. He joined the Lincoln Center orchestra in Mexico, right after their Havana residency, and he is a guest soloist on Arturo’s new CD.

Arturo squints into the sun and explains that, late in his life, after his father’s career had revived, Chico was ready to go back and play his music. He wanted to return. “But then his health took a really bad turn,” Arturo says. “It became impossible. So I’m completing that trip for him.” But this isn’t just a personal matter, he explains. “I’m not interested in making light of the fact that Cuban politics is rife with corruption and political imprisonment. I’m also not delicate about communicating that America is a nation built on tremendous bloodshed and continuous imperialism. I don’t think those are things that should be run from or ignored. They’re just historical facts. Anybody who’s half-awake in the world will understand the brutality of both sides. Music courses through and above all that. We need to connect, not disconnect.”

On Sunday afternoon, his final day in Cuba, Arturo is in Havana’s Mella Theater, working on the piece he’d composed especially for this trip, “Fathers and Sons: From Havana to New York and Back.” Cuban trumpeter Alejandro Delgado is practicing the opening section with Adam O’Farrill. Two Cuban saxophonists and two trombonists from the conservatory take the stage; 18-year-old trumpeter Kalí Rodríguez shows up, too. “More young musicians!” Arturo shouts from the stage.

Just then, Chucho Valdés, an eminence among Cuban musicians—and, at six-foot-four, an imposing figure—arrives. Arturo yields the piano bench as Valdés sits down to look over the piece, which includes sections during which he can improvise.

“Anyone have a pencil?” he asks.

Valdés begins sketching in chords and harmonic ideas for his cadenzas and solos. Meanwhile, at the other end of the stage, Arturo reviews musical cues with the young horn players. When Valdés starts playing, the saxophonists hold up cell phones and cameras to capture the moment.

Later that night, the 1,500-seat Mella Theater is packed, up through the balcony formed from an organic sweep of rough plaster. “Fathers and Sons,” the last piece played on this, the final night of the trip, is introduced by an angular, vaguely classical-sounding melody, played rubato, which then gently gives way to a clave-based rhythm, and finally forms the basis for individual improvisations. Each young trumpeter takes a different approach: Rodríguez, pensive and fragile; Delgado, fiery and bright; Adam O’Farrill, confident and in search of harmonic adventure.

These same Cuban musicians, including Valdés, had performed in October with Marsalis to the crowd’s delight. Then, Rodríguez expressed wit and concision on a bluesy bebop number. One of the saxophonists, Emir Santa Cruz, had traded phrases elegantly, as if in conversation, with Lincoln Center tenor-sax player Walter Blanding on a Count Basie tune. But here, Arturo was inviting Valdés, an elder master, and these young players, including his sons, into the final form of his newest piece—spanning borders and generations to create something new, in real time, just for this Havana audience.

Back home, Adam and Zack are up-and-comers on New York’s jazz landscape—deservingly so, based on the assured new CD, Giant Peach, from their jointly led band. Arturo’s new Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra album, 40 Acres and a Burro, is more ambitious and better than its Grammy-winning predecessor, Song for Chico. With his February 26 Symphony Space concert featuring alto saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., his orchestra will highlight New Orleans as an essential influence on whatever “jazz” and “Afro-Cuban” mean in this country. From its roots as a repertory group, the orchestra has grown to embrace wide-ranging new works. Meanwhile, Oberstein wants the Alliance to create a jazz-education exchange involving Cuban and American faculty, plus students from both countries. That goal is well served by the Obama administration’s formal announcement, published in the Federal Register last month, of a renewed “people-to-people” policy, specifically enabling such programs.

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Two months later, Arturo’s orchestra members are still processing the trip to Cuba. Percussionist Roland Guerrero feels “humbled, in the best of ways, in terms of the things I know about this music.” Trumpeter Jim Seeley was inspired not just by the sight of his good friend Arturo realizing his dream, but by the sheer tenacity of young musicians who triumph over the flaws of instruments in awful disrepair. Zack O’Farrill has “grown to appreciate a little more what went into my grandfather’s music and who he was, since I never really got the chance to know him.”

Arturo is still sorting out his feelings. “I’ve been thinking long and hard about this,” he says. “The reason I went was not to canonize my father. I did want to hear his music in Cuba and to see my mother there. But there’s another thing: I want jazz to stop dying this awful death, this strangulation. I think the future of this music has to do with the acceptance of a larger picture of it, which has always been the deeper truth anyway.

“I think it would be arrogant to call myself Cuban. I didn’t grow up in Cuba. I was born in Mexico, but I’m not Mexican. Raised in New York, yet I’m not exactly American. My father never quite found his home, either. He was a little pink Irish-German-Cuban guy without any directly Hispanic features who nevertheless was thrown in the Latin heap. He loved New York, but he wept for Cuba. He loved jazz, and he wrote incredible Afro-Cuban music. There’s got to be a way to define those of us who don’t really have a home, those of us who don’t have but who insist on having an entry point into the conversation—which is most of us, really.”

That final Sunday night in Havana, after the premiere of his new piece, the Mella’s massive brown curtain drew slowly shut, until finally only Arturo was visible. He was speechless. He simply waved. The curtain closed. The door had been thrown open, the larger conversation to come.

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LIFE, SHOT-BY-SHOT

Traveling the world for the fashion magazine W, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia has photographed subjects ranging from exotic dancers in Havana to Marc Jacobs in his bedroom in Paris. For the first time ever in his 30-year career, the American photographer and reinventor of street photography will exhibit 11 of his fashion portfolios that he and W magazine’s long-time creative director, Dennis Freedman (who is now the creative director at Barneys), worked on together. Featuring locations such as a cockfighting ring in Bangkok and a museum in Cairo, the images will transport you to another world.

Feb. 25-March 5, 2011

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A Bluffer’s Guide to globalFEST 2011

Internationally themed music festivals have it tough. Like any fest, they’re tasked with providing not so much a concert as an experience, but they also have to appease connoisseurs of a dizzying range of geographically and musically disparate traditions, while also wooing a general public that’s often apathetic about or, worse, alienated by such a dizzying range. Perhaps most arduous, however, is the job of sketching a picture of the sprawling, nebulous, and frustratingly titled “world music” genre that still manages to feel cohesive and coherent.

The annual one-night, three-level Webster Hall spectacular known as globalFEST usually responds to this conundrum by focusing on cutting-edge innovators. But this year, the fest has tempered its quest for the new with passionate traditionalism: The lineup veers from the song-and-dance heritage of Cuba’s Haitian community (the Creole Choir of Cuba) to the rock ‘n’ roll Vodoun chants of RAM (which sounds like an Afro-pop glee choir). At first, this diversity feels hodgepodge, a cursory nod to several corners of the world. Upon deeper listening, there’s a delicate common thread, a mutable lineage that lives, breathes, and grows. Tradition and innovation, in other words, are not mutually exclusive, but engaged in a rich partnership that hinges on productive tension.

Several globalFEST 2011 acts portray this relationship with particular vibrancy. Here are a few highlights.

Novalima

Tension between the past and the future reigns here, as explored by ex-pat Peruvians who came together around one of their nation’s lesser-known, most localized traditions, a heady storm of African, Andean, and Spanish musical elements; intricate poly-rhythms; and attention-demanding percussion like the cajita (a little box played with a stick) and the quijada or donkey jaw (an actual donkey’s jaw played by rattling and scraping its teeth). Starting there, Novalima refracts Afro-Peruvian music through the prism of club grooves. “Most people still think Peru is only panpipes,” says guitarist/keyboardist Rafael Morales. “This is our interpretation of traditional Afro-Peruvian music, forward-thinking but without losing the soul and tribal rhythms of its roots.” Musically, it sounds like a chic yet welcoming party, pulsating with warm rhythms and cool beats, the donkey jaw adding a surprising, slinky clatter.

Chamber Music: Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal

This new collaborative effort, making its U.S. debut at globalFEST, pairs a griot master of the West African kora with a French dub-hop cellist. Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal find a good deal of common ground in their “Chamber Music”: trilling rivulets of elegant sound, gorgeous hopscotch plucking, and moments of exquisite hush.

Rhythm of Rajasthan

This song-and-dance collective unearths a dense network of “roots” music, a swirling mix of strings, drums, and the twanging morchang jaw harp, here joined by spiraling dancers, vibrant costumes, and sometimes even puppetry, showcasing not only India’s culturally rich Thar desert region, but also the musical birthplace of the Rom (a/k/a Gypsy) people.

Red Baraat

Bhangra is beloved for its funky folk beats, often appropriated by hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, and Asian dub artists. So why not kick that funk-folk connection up a notch and reinterpret those dance-oriented Punjabi grooves through the ears of a New Orleans (by way of P-Funk) brass band? That’s the concept behind New York’s Red Baraat, and it will convert you. The syncopated trot of the dhol sticks surprisingly well to the swinging ribs of a funk brass section, marking time for an epic global street dance.

The 2011 edition of globalFEST takes place at Webster Hall January 9

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Osmany Paredes Quartet

The Zinc’s “New Dimensions in Latin Jazz” series continues with this Havana-born pianist. Trained first by his father, the conga player Guillermo Paredes, Osmany Peredes studied at Havana’s National School of Music and worked in Enrique Jorrin’s charanga group before heading west. His muscular yet lyrically nuanced sound embodies the entire Afro-Cuban jazz tradition… and then some.

Wed., Nov. 24, 9:30 p.m.; Thu., Nov. 25, 9:30 p.m., 2010

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AT LAST

In 1996, World Circuit Records’ Nick Gold booked studio time in Havana to record an historic collaboration of some of Cuba’s and Mali’s finest musicians. When the Africans didn’t show up, some local legends were plucked out of retirement as lucky substitutes on what became the Buena Vista Social Club, which has sold eight million copies to date. Fortunately, the African players who missed the plane back then—Bassekou Kouyate (ngoni) and Djelimady Tounkara (electric guitar)—got a second chance to join singer-guitarist Eliades Ochoa. Along with the amazing Toumani Diabate (kora), Lasana Diabate (balafon), and Kasse Mady Diabate (vocals), the hybrid ensemble known as AfroCubism recorded a more or less live album—with a heightened emphasis on laid-back polyrhythms—in Madrid. It’s a spacious sizzler, full of languid downhill riffs, gracefully rustic soloing, and Cuban-country charisma. This show marks the 13-piece group’s U.S. debut.

Tue., Nov. 9, 8 p.m., 2010

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Gary Lucas

The inventive guitarist adds his new score to a 1931 Spanish-language version of Dracula that was filmed at night on the same set, over the same period, as Tod Browning’s famous Bela Lugosi production. YouTube clips from the work’s Havana premiere (available on Lucas’s website) reveal an eerie melange of looping psychedelia, backwoods macabre, and bloodthirsty vampiric soul.

Sat., Oct. 9, 9:30 p.m., 2010