Somnambule - Writing About Music

Three From American Clavé

The arrival of these three CDs presages the return of Kip Hanrahan’s newly rejuvenated American Clavé to the States. Astonishingly, the label has been without American distribution for almost a decade, with domestic fans having to really on imports to keep up with the musical auteur’s movements. Admittedly Hanrahan’s Pinero and DeLuigi’s Yo! have been available since 2002, but only in Japan. Each of these releases is very different from each other, but each bears the mark of a measured cosmopolitanism that’s singularly at odds with the globalised, corporate-sponsored multiculturalism that panders to the basest profit-driven common denominator. In case you’re unfamiliar with Hanrahan and his label, a whistlestop tour: established in 1979, American Clavé has released albums by a diverse roster of artists including Teo Macero, Astor Piazolla, Arto Lindsay’s DNA and a series of albums with Hanrahan as leader. Throughout its history, he has been something of an éminence grise with a role akin to that of a film director who assembles a cast and guides their performances and contributions to a sometimes enigmatic, highly literate, impassioned and original vision.

Horacio El Negro Hernandez and Robby Ameen’s El Negro And Robby At The Third World War is a studied case in point. Hernandez and Ameen are drummers and longtime friends, the former Cuban the latter Lebanese Palestinian. The first track of their album is a Cuban rock take on Sympathy For The Devil with Reuben Blades on vocal duties. It’s a clattering delight whose particular hybridity is but one convincing example of a series of assemblages which weave together strands of Latin, funk, hiphop, rock and jazz. A minority of pieces boast Spanish, French and English texts by guest vocalists. With the exception of the slightly awkard rap delivered by , not a single moment feels forced or staged, every second exists in relation to the leaders’ polyrhythmic tours de force. The result is a culinary delight for the ear, heart and soul. As El Negro says in the booklet “making music in today’s world”...

Silvana Deluigi is a singer of tango. I have to confess to knowing virtually nothing about the form. However, to this ignoramus Yo! is an impressive work of fragile pride and remarkable clarity. Fernando Paz and Alfredo Triff’s violins trace out exquisite melodies, Robby Ameen’s percussion is skeletal while Walter Castro and Haracio Romo’s bandoneons are opulent with latent passion. Deluigi’s voice is by turns beseeching, hoarse, swooning, humble and confident. Sonamos El Tango is quintessential Hanrahan material: filmic, pensive, passionate, but understated with the leader’s spoken narrative feeling as though it were delivered to each listener individually. Yo!’s gift is music redolent of rich shadows, dark experience and unexpected joy.

Pinero is a soundtrack for a biographical film about Puerto-Rican poet playwright Miguel Pinero. Hanrahan remoulds the music into a flow of fragments, a succession of glancing, allusive feints. Most pieces are all-too shortlived, but jewel-like all the same. The downwardly spiralling tragedy of Pinero’s life is echoed in the (deep) blue-tinged settings that alternate with lively rumba outings. As with Yo! and The Third World War, a spoken narrative closes Pinero – this time delivered wise and tired by Benjamin Bratt . The swell of strings in the musical dusk is hauntingly elegiac (as is, looking back, so much that’s touched by Hanrahan).

Colin Buttimer
October 2005
Published by Signal To Noise magazine