The year 2010 could not have begun better for Cuban culture, as world renowned jazz figures, led by famed Cuban flutist Orlando Valle (aka Maraca), gathered in Havana in early January for a unique concert that demonstrated each artist's virtuosity.
The Garcia Lorca Salon of Havana's Grand Theatre, nerve centre of the Cuban National Ballet, ceded space for the Maraca & Monterey Latin Jazz All Stars project. The project, a modern repertoire of adaptations of works by great Cuban composers and original Maraca compositions that was introduced at the Monterey California Jazz Festival, had captivated audiences in the USA and Colombia in 2008 and 2009.
Cuban fans proved just as enthusiastic as they avidly applauded the instrumental solos and successful performances of the 12 difficult pieces in the show.
Maraca & Monterey Latin Jazz All Stars began with Camerata en guaguancó, a catchy tune by composerdirector Guido López-Gavilán, performed with Havana's Chamber Music Orchestra and Maraca's indispensable flute.
Maraca himself selected several of his compositions for the show: Afro, Balada de marzo, Danzón Siglo XXI, Presentación, Bembé, Noche de batá and Nueva Era.
Among the soloists, famous Puerto Rican percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo was greeted with loud cheers from those familiar with his work with Dizzie Gillespie, Tito Puente, Paul Simon, Eddie Palmieri and Freddie Hubbard, among many others.
Trombonist Hugh Fraser from Vancouver, one of the most respected in his craft, also earned applause. At this, his tenth visit to Cuba, Fraser verified he is the friend who always returns to share the stage with Cuban musicians. He met Maraca in London in 1998 when he played with pianist Chucho Valdés and the Irakere Band at the Ronnie Scott Jazz Club.
Japanese violinist Sayaza, playing with Greek keyboard player Yanni, was also warmly acknowledged for her innovative spirit.
The performances by Puerto Rican sax player David Sánchez and Cuban drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernández were also impeccable.
In addition, the Cuban hosts were represented by the polished piano style of Harold López-Nussa, the great trumpet of Julio Padrón, Feliciano Arango's serious bass, the rhythmic.guiro (open-ended percussion instrument) of octogenarian Enrique Lazaga and the precise baton in the hands of Iván del Prado leading the string orchestra.
The brilliant finale, Parque Central, was a gift from Valle, in which everyone demonstrated their interpretive skills, putting their mark on a stage that will long preserve this vibrant reflection of Latin Jazz.