“New Throned King” 2015 Grammy Nominee

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The New York City Jazz Record

New Throned King
Yosvany Terry (5Passion Music)

by Tom Greenland
The impact of Congolese, Yoruba, and other African cultures on Cuban music is well documented, but a lesser known yet equally vital influence comes from the Fon of Benin, called the Arará by Cubans. On New Throned King, Cuban alto saxophonist/composer Yosvany Terry pays tribute to this rich heritage, influenced by his upbringing in the province of Matanzas, a center of diasporic Arará culture, and by his initiation into the Arará Sabalú cabildo (lodge) at the behest of his (recently deceased) padrino, Mario “Maño” Rodríguez. The album is thus a reverent rendering of traditional chants and toques (drum patterns) that honor and call forth various manifestations of Fon spirits. The title track, for example, is played for Asojano, an Arará version of the Yoruba deity Babalú (familiar to North Americans through Ricky Ricardo’s signature song on the I Love Lucy TV series). Terry’s group Ye-Dé- Gbé (Fon for “approval of the spirits”) includes pianist Osmany Paredes (Jason Moran guests on “Reuniendo la Nación”), bassist Yunior Terry (Yosvany’s brother), guitarist Dominick Kanza and drummer Justin Brown.  Author/poet Ishmael Reed performs spoken word on “Mase Nadodo”. The core of the album’s sound, however, comes from Pedro Martínez, Sandy Pérez and Román Díaz, who perform on a special commissioned set of Arará drums (similar in size and function to the Yoruba Batá drums). Martínez’ keening soulful vocals on tracks like “Ojún Degara” and “Healing Power” make this music highly accessible, and yet it is not a repertory project, for Terry has interjected his own jazz sensibilities throughout, especially in the piano chord voicings and improvised solos. The high production value of the recording also lends a contemporary sheen, belying the traditionally rooted, gritty essence of the music. What we’re left with is a compelling hybrid of old and new.

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