Yasek Manzano: MUSIC IN TRANSIT, CONTINUAL IMPROVISATION
By Roxana Coz, Photos: Eric Politzer, Francesco Meliciani, Ivan Soca and Susan West
Cuba, as an infinite musical power, has been praised by many many of those who since the founding centuries of the nation began outlining art in which the boundaries became blurred between academic tradition and the so-called popular music, embedded in the military bands and orchestras of sacred chapel music or entertaining African saints from the skin of the drum.
All this multiplicity of roles within music has been an element present until these days in the work of talent who, like Yasek Manzano, propose to be musicians in the widest sense of the word. Manzano delights the listener, making full use of all possible instruments in the trumpet family, from a resounding beat with a piston trombone to the subtlest version of a baroque concert performed with piccolo. Everything through the filter of a virtuoso improviser.
When in 2010 the Havana public gathered together in Teatro Mella to hear the jazz orchestra from New York’s Lincoln Center together with eminent Cuban musicians led by Chucho Valdes, the result was a cultural brotherhood between both places. Wynton Marsalis appeared on stage and at his side his disciple Yasek Manzano, who had returned to the island after two years of study at the Julliard School of Music. His particular way of approaching jazz is fundamentally connected to the knowledge gained in that period, but it cannot be forgotten that while still an adolescent, his mentor, the renowned Cuban jazzist Bobby Carcasses, would guide him and include him in his jazz concerts after discovering in him a special sensitivity and exceptional conditions.
At age 17 he started working with the group directed by Oscar Valdés, who would accompany him in the first edition of the Jójazz Competition in 1998, coming out as the winner. Many of the projects that have led prestige to the contemporary jazz scene, both nationally and internationally, have had his collaboration. And in that sense, it is worth highlighting his work with the pianist Arturo O’Farrill and his Latin Jazz Orchestra, appearing regularly on important New York and Havana stages; the Afrocubans All Star directed by Orlando Valle (Maraca), participating in events in Mexico and France; along with César López in Barranquijazz in Colombia; and with the Canadian Jane Bunnet and Maqueque. For Cuba’s celebration of International Day of Jazz on April 30, 2017, UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute under the direction of the famous jazz musician Herbie Hancock invited him to join the Latin jazz band, allowing an exchange with artists like Marcus Miller, Quincy Jones and Esperanza Spalding.
Alongside his work as a jazz musician and producer, In Transit has in recent years constituted an alternative project in which he has borrowed elements of electronic music fused with improvisations and jazz’s own resources, a little less traditional. It is a space of constant interaction for jazz musicians such as Daymé Arocena, Héctor Quintana, Yissy García, among many others. But undoubtedly, the permanence of DJ Wichy D’Vedado has created an excellent binomial already common in the main sessions of electronic music in Havana, such as Havana World Music and Hape.
On the other hand, the September Baroque and Winter Baroque events, of great relevance in the promotion of this music, have opened space for their current project, the Dúo Real Maravilloso.
Classical music is approached as the journey towards the light as the writer Alejo Carpentier suggested, with the magic of freeing the interpreter to express a wide diversity of emotions and moods. From that eclecticism and versatility common in Cuban architecture and in the musical work of Manzano, we find a range of possibilities and styles all interesting to the appreciation of sound. Constancy and creativity solve the anxieties of an ambitious musician, whose production, like Havana, weaves an authentic and marvelous kind of continual improvisation.