Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Confluence of Paquito D’Rivera

Fittingly titled “Streams Converge,” Paquito D’Rivera’s concert last night (repeated tonight) at Jazz at Lincoln Center was a night of connections and confluences. Programmed as a mix of jazz and classical performances, it was a night when many elements came together.

D’Rivera of course is a jazz artist of the highest order, an NEA Jazz Master, who became an international figure when he defected from Cuba in 1980. D’Rivera had been inspired by the sounds of American jazz from a young age, when he eagerly sought out underground tapes and clandestinely listened to Willis Conover’s Voice of America broadcasts. Fittingly, a collection of Polish jazz posters are currently on display in J@LC, right outside the Allen Room, where D’Rivera performed. In Poland, jazz was more faced less restrictive circumstances than under other Communist countries, but the message of freedom was unmistakable to musicians and listeners. Jazz became a kind of signifying, a secret form of rebellion with clues only the hip would pick up, and many of the later Polish poster artists would follow that lead.

D’Rivera led an international ensemble of musicians from America, Korea, Israel, and Italy through a set of Brahms, Stravinsky, Mozart (by way of Paquito), and others, thoroughly blurring the boundary of jazz and classical. Soo Bae on cello and Alon Yavnai on piano, D’Rivera performed straight, but lovely performances of Brahms.

At one point in the program D’Rivera joked about being upstaged at his own concert by the cellist, a talented and beautiful musician. D’Rivera is known for his good humor and it was on display Friday night. In another connection, George Wein of Festival Productions was in attendance and D’Rivera acknowledged him warmly and asked him a question about Benny Goodman. The clarinetist had taken the impresario to task for a festival screening of a documentary which whitewashed Castro’s regime in an open letter in Latin Beat magazine. Happily, fences seem to be mended.

From Brahms, the jazz factor started to increase. Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” was also performed quite straight, but the rhythms made it clear why the composer had been drawn to jazz, writing “The Ebony Concerto” for the Woody Herman band. Rivera brought the real thing for “Adagio on a Mozart Theme,” his exploration of the blues in Mozart. It is more than a John Kirby style jazzing up of a classic melody. One could call it a jazz contemplation of Mozart that blended the strings with a jazz rhythm section.

Bernstein’s “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,” originally composed for Benny Goodman, another clarinetist jazz and classical double threat, seemed to have less room for improvisation, but showed the composer’s interest in jazz’s syncopated rhythm. D’Rivera concluded with an original (an original original) “Fiddle Dreams for Jazz Violin and Piano,” composed with Regina Carter in mind, for which classical violinist Nicholas Danielson nicely meets the challenge of filling those shoes.

Paquito D’Rivera is in fine form and his presence inspires his ensemble. It was a night of connections of diverse genres, and artists from various countries—some where the jazz survived underground—meeting at Columbus Circle, where it is celebrated. You can hear them play again tonight. If you have not been to Allen Room, already famous for its spectacular view of the Park and Central Park South, you need to check it out sometime. This is an excellent show to start with.