The American-Cuban project Ninety Miles sans Cuba


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Ninety Miles (Sánchez, Scott, Harris)
  • Ninety Miles (Sánchez, Scott, Harris)
In 2010 American vibraphonist Stefon Harris and trumpeter Christian Scott and Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sánchez traveled to Havana, Cuba, to play some concerts and record with some strong local musicians. Last year the fruits of that labor surfaced on Ninety Miles (Concord)—named for the distance between Miami and Havana. The project was predictably hyped as an example of culture overcoming political tension, which is really pretty boring at this point. It was also unfortunate that the Cuban musicians were relegated to a minor support role in all of the packaging, with only pianists Harold López-Nussa and Rember Duharte even mentioned on the cover. Sánchez grew up on music from Cuba and these days many top-flight New York jazz musicians boast an intimacy with Afro-Cuban forms, which have long been a protean force in the development of modern jazz. The recording was nice but without surprises.

In late September Concord released the digital-only Ninety Miles Live at Cubadisco, which collects music from the concert on the same evening the studio sessions released on last year's album were made. Unsurprisingly, the performances are more fiery and exciting, although, again, hardly groundbreaking. On Friday night the project makes its first appearance in Chicago, following a solo set by Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who I wrote about in this week’s paper. Unfortunately, none of the Cuban musicians involved in the original project are in the current version of the band, although considering the logistical and diplomatic difficulties still visited upon Cubans by our outmoded policies, that shouldn't be surprising. The rhythm section appearing is very strong—drummer Henry Cole, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Ricky Rodriguez, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera (who is a Cuban expat living in New York)—but it kind of diminishes the impact of the whole American-Cuban collaboration. One substitution that does make this performance potentially exciting, however, is that Nicholas Payton is subbing for Scott—a major upgrade any way you slice it.

Below you can check out the live version of "City Sunrise."

photo: Jimmy Katz

Today’s playlist:

Various artists, Java: Court Gamelan, Volume II (Nonesuch)
Dinosau, A Little Crime (Propeller)
Benny Carter, Further Definitions/Additions to Further Definitions (Impulse)
Rolf Billberg, Darn That Dream (Dragon)
Philip Glass, Two Pages/Contrary Motion/Music in Fifths/Music in Similar Motion (Elektra/Nonesuch)


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