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CHÉMBO: CON ORÚLA EN EL ALMA Y LA CLÁVE EN EL CORAZÓN

By CHICO ALVAREZ PERAZA

Thank God for independent minds and alternative radio stations. if not for them all this jazz tinged tropical music would cease to exist. For reasons that boggle the free thinking mind, the commercial radio market and the recording industry would invariably seal us all in a cylinder and ship us off to Mars. For that reason alone we should be thankful to the dozens of independent producers and artists who actively seek to control their own valid artfroms. Special mention must also be made of publications such as this one for believing in us. It is because of their efforts that we are much richer, and I don’t mean money-wise either. I’m speaking about cultural enrichment.

True, not everything is rosey, which makes me want to quote a famous one-liner – “it ain’t easy”. The good news is that there is still a ray of hope, as more and more artists seek to take control of their lives. Latin percussionist Chémbo Corniel is at the top of his game, and this time around he pulls no punches. While most congueros simply play congas, Chémbo plays the music. His latest venture into the world of Afro-Cuban-Jazz is the culmination of years of hard work, preparation and paying dues. Of course, being a native New Yorker is always a plus. Sinatra hit it right on the head – “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”. or something like that. Chémbo’s independently issued recording on Chemboró Records, “For The Rest Of My Life” is sure to come out a frontrunner for this year’s Grammy, and in my opinion it is already a winner, in every sense of the word. This is largely due to the impetus with which Chémbo has approached the whole production (and life for that matter).

Musically speaking, Chémbo Corniel is a mover and a shaker. While most percussionists concentrate on playing their instrument, whether it be the conga drums, timbales or what have you, Chémbo’s approach is more hollistic. As clave conscious as he may be, he has never been content with just being a timekeeper, nor does he look to hog the solo spotlight all for himself. He views his input as part of a group effort, and therein lies his forté. Indeed, group thinking comes to the fore on this recording, and the proof of their devotion to the artform is in the final mix of this most ambitious project. Both Chémbo Corniel and the musical collective known as Grupo Chaworó have braced themselves for the long haul, and with so many recordings out there to choose from, and so little air time available it is a wonder that we get to hear any of it at all. Without a doubt, the music contained in this CD is sure to catch the attention of avid listeners and journalists alike. I highly recommend it to anyone who takes this music seriously.

The selections vary in hue and include eight original compositions and two cover versions. The first is a standard out of the great American songbook, “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?”, hence the title of the CD. The second is actually a tribute to Emiliano Salvador, “A Puerto Padre Me Voy” (here it is simply titled “Puerto Padre”). Trumpeter John Walsh contributed “Chaworó En La Calle” , “Nuyorican Groove” is by saxophonist Ivan Renta, and “Rejuvenate” is by Latin Jazz legend Bobby Porcelli. Pianist Oscar Hernandez penned “Freedom Drive”, while vocalist Pedrito Domech (obviously inspired by Grenet’s “Drume Negrita”) gave us “Sueña Negrito”. And last but not least is the group’s regular pianist Tino Derado. who offers us his “Melodies”, while also collaborating with Chembo on “Moon Temple-Ochun “. Chémbo himself puts the proverbial icing on the cake with the very spiritual “Orunmila”. Orunmila is the orisha of divination, and is sometimes referred to as Ifá, the embodiment of knowledge and wisdom and the highest form of prophecy among the practicioners of Santeria. In both Cuba and the US, Orunmila is also known as Orúla. Although Orunmila is not actually Ifá, a close association exists, because he is the one who leads the priesthood of Ifá. The priests of Ifá are called babalawos (fathers of secrets). It is certainly no secret that Chémbo Corniel is a leader in the renaissance of Afro-Cuban jazz, but who would have divined this phenomenon twenty years ago? Why, Chémbo Corniel of course. In present-day West Africa, Orunmila is recognized as a deified ancestor who was present both at the beginning of creation and as a prophet who taught an advanced form of spiritual knowledge and ethics. While Chémbo may not have been around during the creation of the so-called Latin Jazz movement, he is certainly looked upon as a teacher and a leader in that movement, a visionary who views his music in terms of its spirituality as well as an art form for the entertainment of the masses. A humble man, short in stature but colossal in talent, Chémbo walks the streets in real time, yearning for the day that rootsy music like this will return to its rightful place among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. In his soul resides the spirit of Orúla, and in his heart beats the clave of guaguancó. The rest of the story is yet to be told.

READ Raul de Gama’s review of Things I Wanted To Do at Latin Jazz Network

Marc Meyers review of Things I Wanted To Do at JAZZWAX