The New York City Jazz Record
New Throned King
Yosvany Terry (5Passion Music)
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.
For more information, visit 5passion.com.
“New Throned King”
The call of ancestry, and its expression through folklore, has always been a potent preoccupation for Afro-Caribbean jazz musicians in the United States. Yosvany Terry, a saxophonist, percussionist and composer from an influential musical family in Camagüey, Cuba, is a leader among the current generation, which keeps finding ways of deepening its inquiry.
June 09, 2014
His latest album, “New Throned King,” amounts to an act of scholarship as well as musical syncretism, and some of his most arresting work since he moved to New York 15 years ago. Featuring his band Ye-Dé-Gbé, which performs Thursday through Sunday at the Jazz Standard, it’s a celebration of Arara culture, especially as found in the Matanzas province of Cuba. The Arara originated in the former West African kingdom of Dahomey, spreading through the slave trade; Mr. Terry’s study of their tradition dates to 2007, when he traveled to Matanzas and commissioned a set of Arara drums.
Mr. Terry, a skilled percussionist, plays one of those drums on “Ojun Degara,” the track that strikes the most equitable balance of ceremonial chant and modern-jazz inflection. Percussive duties are otherwise entrusted to Román Díaz, Pedrito Martínez and Sandy Pérez, with Justin Brown on a standard drum kit. Mr. Martínez leads most of the robust call-and-response chants on the album, including a few, like “Thunderous Passage” and “Laroko,” that hew to ancient form with scant deviation (like Mr. Terry’s silvery interjections on soprano saxophone).
Nearly every track pays homage to an Arara deity. “Walking Over Wave,” a sinuous number, hails Afrekete, an oceanic, maternal figure. “Dance Transformation,” with its rhythmic churn, is for Gebioso, a god of thunder. The title track refers to Asojano, known in the Yoruban orisha system as Babalu-Aye; “Mase Nadodo” celebrates Mase, whose affinity with the orisha Oshun is implied in a spoken-word interlude by Ishmael Reed.
The closer, “Ilere,” composed by Dean Badarou, presents a more general spirit offering, in rolling Afrobeat rhythm. Like “Ye-Dé-Gbé,” a phrase in the Fon language meaning “with the approval of the spirits,” it suggests a bold claim traveling under cover of supplication.
Thursday through Sunday night at Jazz Standard: Yosvany Terry & Afro-Cuban Roots: Ye-Dé-Gbé / Yosvany Terry – alto saxophone, chékere / Osmany Paredes – piano / Yunior Terry – bass / Justin Brown – drums / Pedro “Pedrito” Martínez – percussion / Román Díaz – percussion / Sandy Pérez – percussion / Francisco Barroso – dancer.
They’ll be playing the music from his album New Throned King, on 5P (a/k/a Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s label). There’s a nice review of it in the NYT today by Nate Chinen. I take some pleasure in seeing a sentence like this in the Times, becauseyou wouldn’t have seen this level of discussion of Afro-Cuban culture in the Timesof 25 years ago:
>The title track refers to Asojano, known in the Yoruban orisha system as Babalu-Aye; “Mase Nadodo” celebrates Mase, whose affinity with the orisha Oshun is implied in a spoken-word interlude by Ishmael Reed.
New Throned King is an Afro-Cuban jazz album based on original, primary musicological research. In the course of doing this project, which took a period of years and will clearly be ongoing in one way or another for a long time to come, YT, together with his brother Yunior Terry (also YT), were initiated in 2010 into the Arará (Dahomeyan) cabildo Sabalú in Matanzas, not known for its embrace of outsiders. This is original research into legacy music from Africa that we have not heard before. He commissioned a set of drums.
He’s bringing a hell of a band. Pedrito Martínez and Román Díaz are pretty well known these days, but attention: Sandy Pérez is going to be there too. Pérez played a key role in this project happening (see below), and he brings a whole other current of knowledge from Matanzas (via the Bay Area, where he now lives). Osmany Paredes is the perfect pianist and Yunior Terry the perfect bassist for this project, or just about any project, really.
I know all this because YT asked me to do the notes for the album. But as I started on them, I realized that a better way would be to do an as-told-to, so I did a long master interview with him and arranged it into notes, which I’m appending some of below. So it’s his explanation of what happened. What’s below is only part of the notes, but it’s the part that describes the idea behind the project.
5P made a deluxe package, something we don’t see much of in these days of self-production, beautifully designed. They did a great job with the notes. With illustrations by Bobby Carcassés. (!)
By Esther Callens
May 20th marks the release date of an invigorating new CD. From 5Passion Music is New Throned King, the exciting new debut from Yosvany Terry and his group Ye-De-Gbe. It is thoroughly groundbreaking!
Yosvany Terry has embarked on a journey that explores a new arena in Afro-Cuban jazz. Although the music is steeped in the Arara traditions which consists of sacred ritual music, Terry takes it a bit further by recording this ambitious project while at the same time keeping the contents as close to possible to its native sound. He states, “At the center of New Throned King is a desire to preserve the music of the endangered Dahomeyan culture of Cuba, known as Arara. But though the heart of it is traditional, I’m a composer, and I’m trying to portray the individual aesthetics of the different Arara deities, with my personal style and with twenty-first-century audio.”
New Throned Kings is all about rhythm. It offers a 10 track collection. The album is based upon chants and drums. Yosvany Terry is ingenious as he has given new life to some sacred ceremonial music.
Track listings: Reuniendo La Nacion; New Throned King; Walking Over Wave; Laroko; Ojun Degara; Mase Nadodo; Thunderous Passage; Healing Power; Dance Transformation; IIere.
Album Personnel: Yosany Terry “Sobo Jain”-saxes, chekere, wewe (5), Coro; Osmany Paredes-piano; Yunior Terry “Afra Jun”-bass, Coro; Pedro Martinez “Eshi Ni”-lead vocalist, apitli; Sandt Perez “Oya Ladde”-yonofo, Akoto (1,2,3,7,9,10); Roman Diaz “Asia Ana Bi”-wewe, coro; Dominick Kanza-guitar, Justin Brown-drumset (2,3,5,6,8,9,10). Guest artist: Jason Moran-piano (1); Val Jeanty-sound design, DJ (1,8); Gema Corredera caro (4,5,6,8); Iahmael Reed-poetry (6).
BY DAVIS INMAN
New Throned King
In 2010, Cuban-born saxophonist Yosvany Terry (who has lived in New York since 1999) returned to the country of his birth to study the Arará tradition in Matanzas (about 50 miles from Havana, on the other side of the island from his native Camagüey) with drummer-teacher Mario Rodríguez “Maño.” (Terry has dedicated this album to Maño, who died in 2011.) The saxophonist was joined by his brother, bassist Yunior Terry, and what the two of them learned during the yearlong initiation involved complexities that could confuse even an ethnomusicologist. The chants and rituals of the Arará Sabalú—one of three branches of a cabildo formed in the 1600s in Matanzas—come from the people who descended from the West African kingdom of Dahomey, modern-day Benin. Though the tradition is in some ways similar to the more well-known, Nigeria-derived Santería and Yoruba traditions, Arará has remained a fairly well-kept secret outside of Matanzas. Central to the music performed here is a set of specially commissioned Arará drums, played by Pedro Martínez (on the apitlí, or medium-sized drum); Román Díaz (on wewé, the smallest drum); and Sandy Pérez, who first introduced Terry to Maño and here plays the lead yonofó drum as well as the largest drum, akotó, on six of the 10 tracks. Despite the complexity of the proceedings, this stunning music will be completely accessible to anyone who enjoys Afro-Cuban jazz, folk music or any type of world music. Martínez serves as lead vocalist, supported by the coro (chorus) of both Terrys, Díaz and a fourth vocalist, Gema Corredera, on four tracks. The songs feature multilayered percussion, Martínez’s soaring chants and Terry’s fluid, post-bop saxophone lines. Each musician on the disc entered into a sort of crucible with Terry and the Arará tradition: Martínez and Díaz, each deeply embedded in Yoruban culture and its music, had to master new Arará chants and rhythms; Congolese guitarist Dominick Kanza was also open to adapting to a new style. (“It wouldn’t be Cuban without the Congo thing,” Terry writes in the liner notes.) The opening track, “Reuniendo La Nación,” features Haitian sound designer Val Jeanty and pianist Jason Moran, who help create an eerie underlying texture for Terry’s questing sax solo. (Terry’s longtime pianist Osmany Paredes is featured throughout the disc.) Terry calls this group Ye-Dé-Gbé, which translates to “with the approval of the spirits” in the African language Fon. By completing a serious study of folkloric traditions and then applying his own compositional gifts to the form, Terry should earn the approval of adventurous music fans everywhere.
Ritual Beating of the Drum
Yosvany Terry: New Throned King
This CD is perhaps the most gloriously inspired and significant, inventive and creative of the three recordings in this group. This has everything to do equally with music and musician. New Throned King is a very important addition to the literature of music. In it Yosvany Terry has awoken the spirit of the Arará tradition long held sacred by the people of Dahomey (now Benin), who were carried in slave ships to the Caribbean—Haiti and principally Cuba—where they settled in the Matanzas region and practiced worshipful chants for over one hundred years. Of course Arará is much older than that—perhaps a thousand years old and more. Its practitioners have a deep communion with God; Gnawas who also have the power to heal not only through their practice, but also through their spirit, even when they depart from this world. Two such persons were Dean Badarou, Yosvany Terry’s inspiration from Benin and Maño the majestic spiritualist who was born into the Cabildo Arará Sabalú de Matanzas. Maño was instrumental in acting as Mr. Terry’s spiritual director. He was introduced to Mr. Terry by musician and friend Sandy Pérez, when the saxophonist was struggling to bring these musical ideas to fruition. With Maño’s inspirational assistance the magic began to unfold and New Throned King, a name suggested to Mr. Terry by Mr. Badarou, and with rousing from Sandy Pérez and chiefly Maño the music began to unfold.
From the very outset, this music sounds wholly different from anything on this planet. It is percussive—most mystically so—yet when Yosvany Terry begins to blow his alto horn, it becomes highly evocative, tremendously melodic and also with a unique bass line melody that is poured out like a libation upon the various songs in the suite. Arará drums are thunderous. They may be played chiefly with sticks and they sound as if they would wake up the slumbering gods; much more so summon them to earth. Mr. Terry was born into this tradition coming from the region that practiced Arará worship since birth. But he was confirmed into the faith by Maño at the time of struggling to compose this music and come to grips with the chants. But it would be wrong to suggest that Mr. Terry has only come to the attention of the cognoscenti with this recording. 2011, Criss Cross Jazz album, Today’s Opinion is a masterpiece in its own right. It was from then that Mr. Terry established his vision; one that swept across Cuba and the mighty continents of the Americas and Europe. As an alto saxophonist, Mr. Terry’s voice is informed by a deep sense of tradition and it is constantly also looking forward. This is why it is possible to detect the secrets of Charlie Parker in the singularity of his alto saxophone that is played with such rhythmic intensity that it can sometimes leave the head in a dizzying spin.
This is why this record is so special: it combines the intensity of the spiritual with premonitions of future music that are, at times so phenomenal that this music sounds almost paranormal. Mr. Terry wails and dances and spins with his horn like a true master. But he is not the only significant musician on the record. His brother and bassist, Yunior, is special too. He plays with sublime technique and great invention and he keeps the spirit of the music alive with passion that is only equalled by Yosvany Terry and of course the insouciant Pedrito Martinez, who reappears as magically as he does on Michele Rosewoman’s recording. Here, however, Mr. Martinez is wildly different. His chants and supplications in the Arará tradition are powerful and shoot up to the heavens like spiritual arrows aimed at the Throne of God. In return, this God reveals his majesty and mystical power in the music that Mr. Terry has composed. Yet he is also a mysterious God; as mysterious as the title of the recording as well. Still, the enchantment and superior intellect of the music and the musicians shine through this principal character in the mighty realm of the heavens. If Mr. Terry is aware of this he remains inscrutable. This adds to the magnificent mystery of the music, its musicians and the recording as a whole. It bears mention that this package is also superbly enhanced by the illustrations of the multi-talented Bobby Carcassés, also known for his growlingly marvelous vocals and the unique howl of his trumpet. And there are also significant contributions form guiding spiritualist Román Diaz, the wonderful guitarist Dominick Kanza and the other guiding light Sandy Pérez, as well as the narration by the remarkable poet Ishmael Reed.
However, this is Yosvany Terry’s record. It is headed for stellar regions in music and will surely add to the growing reputation of its creator, who will, no doubt be decorated for his unbridled ingenuity.
Track List: Reuniendo La Nación; New Throned King; Walking Over Waves; Laroko; Ojún Degara (Jovellanos); Mase Nadodo; Thunderous Passage; Healing Powers (Asoyi); Dance Transformation; Ileré.
Personnel: Yosvany Terry “Sobo Jain”: saxophones, chekeré, wewé (5), coro; Osmany Paredes: piano; Yunior Terry: “Afra Jun”: bass, coro; Pedrito Martinez “Eshu Ni”: lead vocalist, opitli; Sandy Pérez “Oya Ladde”: yonofo, akotó (1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 10); Román Diaz “Asia Ana Bi” wewé, coro; Dominick Kanza: guitar; Justin Brown: drumset (2, 3, 5, 6, 8 – 10); Jason Moran: piano (1); Val Jeanty: sound design, DJ (1, 8); Gema Corredera: coro (4, 5, 6, 8); Ishmael Reed: poetry (6).
Label: 5Passion Records | Release date: April 2014
New Throned King
Terry and his group Ye-Dé-Gbé (meaning “with the approval of the spirits” in Fon), joined by guest pianist Jason Moran, open the album with “Reuniendo La Nacion,” on which Arará drumming and chants dissolve into Terry’s horn, setting the tone for this mystical journey. Based on a ceremonial drum pattern, the tune leads us from times long past into the 21st century through Haitian DJ Val Jeanty’s otherworldly sound design and the leader’s sax incantations. The jubilant, polyrhythmic title track follows, an arrangement of chants and drum toques that is Terry’s imagining of the coronation of the Orisha Asojano (a spirit of healing). The tune highlights the powerful vocals of Pedrito Martinez, who also plays the apitli drum, one in a set of traditional drums central to the sound of this album. Subsequent compositions portray the individual attributes of various Arará deities, conceived through Terry’s unique sensibility. “Laroko,” dedicated to the spirit of Eleguá, introduces chants never before heard outside Matanzas in traditional fashion, with vocals and handclaps only; “Mase Nadodo” features Ishmael Reed reciting a poem honoring Minos, the warrior women of Dahomey.
Playing saxophones, chekere and the middle-pitched wewé drum, Terry leads his band with vision; while documenting and preserving the Arará culture and rhythmic language, he artfully blends its traditional core with a contemporary approach, producing a captivating recording that engages the senses as well as the imagination.