Some of the most interesting musicians are the ones that influence their peers but escape notice of the larger listening audiences around the world. These musicians catch the ears of similar artists due to some outstanding aspect of their creative output – musicians are generally exposed to a large body of work throughout their careers, they are not easily impressed. They need something extraordinary to hold their attention and keep them talking; once they find it word of mouth spreads like wildfire among their peers. The public needs a greater push to find music, and they generally lean towards easily consumable material. The jazz listening community will often stay open to more challenging repertoire, but they have access to so much music today that hard to find recordings may miss their attention. It’s a double-edged sword that sometimes keeps a musician from excessive popularity, but cements their connection to interesting and innovative music.
During the 1970s & 1980s, pianist Emiliano Salvador sat among the jazz elite in Havana, yet he missed the fame afforded his peers such as Chucho Valdes, Paquito D’Rivera, and Arturo Sandoval. Born in the small fishing town of Puerto Padre, Salvador moved to Havana in the 1960s to study at the Escuela Nacional de Artes. His musicality grew quickly and he soon caught the attention of several important Cuban musicians. This led to jobs working with Leo Brouwer near the end of the decade and then a tenure as arranger and pianist with the influential vocalist Pablo Milanés. By the late seventies, he had developed a unique approach to Latin Jazz, driving him to form his own group and record several albums. He joined the leaders of the Cuban jazz scene such as Valdés, D’Rivera, and Sandoval, as the new voice of a generation, forging a powerfully Cuban jazz aesthetic. Much of the world missed this revolution due to the Cuban embargo, but the world’s jazz musicians followed his progress and often joined him on stage. As his presence began to assert itself across the world scene, Salvador died in Havana in 1992.
Recent reissues from Bele Bele Jazz Club offer Latin Jazz fans an opportunity to investigate Emiliano Salvador’s work from two very different perspectives. Puerto Padre delivers a collection of Salvador’s original recordings, featuring mostly original compositions and two arrangements. Latin Jazz fans that have wisely followed Salvador in the past will recognize these tracks from his original albums, while listeners new to his work will enjoy a sampling of his best work. Arranger Juan Manuel Ceruto continues the outstanding series of tributes that he started on Gracias Formell with Puerto Padre: Tributo a Emiliano Salvador. His arrangements place Salvador’s work in a decidedly modern Cuban context and he includes some important contemporary voices on the Cuban jazz scene. Together, the albums serve as a look at Salvador’s work both through its original context and the eyes of a contemporary musician that felt his influence – in both cases, they are necessary listens for Latin Jazz fans unfamiliar with Salvador’s work.
This compilation disc pulls tracks from four different recording sessions over the course of ten years, so it includes a good cross section of musicians and compositions. Several artists currently known as Latin Jazz legends appear here in supporting roles; saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, trumpet players Arturo Sandoval and Jorge Verona, bassists Jorge Reyes and Feliciano Arango, percussionist José Luis Quintana, as well as vocalists Bobby Carcasés and Pablo Milanés all join Salvador throughout the album. Their dedicated and vibrant performances reveal their dedication to Salvador and their recognition of his importance as an artist. Cuba’s jazz scene during the 1970s and 1980s bristled with creative energy and Salvador contributed greatly to that feeling – his compositions always draw upon tradition yet they contain the improvisational freedom of jazz and experimental curiosity of contemporary classicism. Many classic compositions arise here, providing some interesting insight into Salvador’s work. It’s certainly not a complete set, but it does paint a broad picture of Salvador and his view of Latin Jazz.
The album includes a variety of significant elements that set it apart historically and musically. Bobby Carcasés’ “Luna Wanestein” features Salvador’s forward thinking improvisational voice that includes rhythmic tension, bebop phrasing, and dissonant clusters. His playing invokes the best of players that we know well – Chucho Valdes, Eddie Palmieri, and more – and then inserts his own original slant. D’Rivera’s inspired soprano saxophone solo on “El Montuno” reflects the pure energy apparent in Salvador’s groups; while D’Rivera fearlessly spins creative lines, Salvador pushes him and interacts with him almost telepathically. Salvador reveals the exploratory edge he developed during his tenure under Leo Brouwer in the Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC with the “Son en 7/4.” He cleverly wraps melodies, altered montunos, catchy coros, and passionate improvisations around the odd time signature, displaying a thoughtful construction process that bursts with energy. “Zapateo Para Una Bella Dama” places Salvador in a smaller musical context where he acts as the primary soloist throughout the performance. Once again, his distinctive voice and in-depth musicality allows him to develop an evolving performance that grows more interesting with each passing phrase. Each track contains important performances that provide insight into Salvador’s musical approach and the vitality of Cuba’s overall scene during this era.
This strong collection of Salvador’s finest recorded work clarifies the reverence he receives from Cuba’s well-known jazz musicians and the impact that he made upon Havana’s jazz scene in the 1970s and 1980s. His ability to closely accompany Cuba’s finest soloists and then push them past their comfortable limits shines throughout these recordings; from aggressive comping to constantly evolving montunos, Salvador changed his approach to fit the situation and gain the best musical results. As a soloist, he displays virtuosity, a never-ending creative curiosity, a rhythmic sensibility deeply entrenched in Cuban genres, and a distinct voice unmatched by any of his peers. His personality as a composer reveals an innovative urgency that prioritized the need for constant exploration and improvisational freedom. He avoided the strong dips into rock and funk favored by Cuban jazz artists from the era such as Irakere. Although he happily integrated electronic sounds into his music, he kept his rhythms firmly planted in Cuban tradition and his harmonies deeply intertwined with modern jazz. These qualities exist in multitudes on Puerto Padre, a wonderful introduction into a master musician that set the standard for Cuban jazz during a highly charged era.
Puerto Padre: Tributo a Emiliano Salvador
This 2000 big band date re-imagines many of Salvador’s most famous compositions through the pen of arranger Juan Manuel Ceruto and the performances of several Cuban jazz icons. Ceruto brings Salvador’s compositions into a contemporary setting, maintaining their initial integrity while adding slick arrangements and modern performance concepts. In some ways the arrangements lean more towards the refined aesthetics of modern Cuban timba than the rougher exploratory nature of 1970s Cuban jazz, but if offers an opportunity to see the songs through different eyes. Numerous major names in the current Cuban jazz scene jumped at the opportunity to recognize Salvador’s influence on the music; saxophonist German Velazco, trombonist Juan Pablo Torres, vocalist Issac Delgado, bassist Roberto Riberón, drummer Raúl Pineda, and conguero Tata Güines all participate in this heavy session. Several pianists, including Tony Pérez, Hernán López Nussa, and Chucho Valdés, show the lineage created by Salvador’s work with their creative performances. The album contains an overwhelming amount of energy that remembers Salvador’s legacy and then looks through it, keeping the sound firmly planted in modern Cuban jazz.
Several memorable performances keep this big band date fresh while the strength of Salvador’s compositions fill the session with deep musical material. Riberón takes a ferocious electric bass solo on “Puerto Padre” followed by an intense trombone improvisation from Torres and commanding vocal pregones from Delgado. Salvador fans get a treat with a version of an unrecorded composition, “Salseando,” largely a vamp tune with impressive percussion statements from Güines and Pineda. The elegant danzon “Para Luego Es Tarde” receives some coloristic wind writing from Ceruto and then benefits from his strong flute performance. An up-tempo comparsa foundation leads into a rhythmic melody on “Jazz Plaza,” which finds its way towards a typically virtuosic and engaging solo from Valdés. A string section supports the melody over a fast danzon feel on “En Una Volanta Actual,” until the band substitutes the funk feel found on the original recording with a jazzy cha cha cha for improvisations from Pérez and Ceruto. The album maintains an exciting edge through every song; this is a big band recording full of ingenious writing, heavy musicality and improvisational prowess.
While the compositions give the listener a healthy dose of Salvador, the arrangements and performances prominently reflect Ceruto’s artistic voice. The big band instrumentation requires carefully planned written parts, which Ceruto delivers with style and finesse. Intertwining horn lines, thick complex harmonies, and driving rhythm section work permeates the album, taking big band performance to a new level. Ceruto smartly interjects powerful and recognizable soloists throughout the album, filling it with both integrity and star power. These musicians dedicate themselves to Salvador’s music with inspired performances and follow his creative path by asserting their voices strongly. In some ways, the polished interpretations and celebrity appearances miss the point of Salvador’s experimental nature and improvisational edge, but the overall album hits the mark with a heartfelt dedication that introduces listeners to a genius of Cuban jazz.
These two recordings show us the vitality of Salvador’s original work and the respect that he earned from his fellow musicians, yet they fail to answer one simple question – why doesn’t the world recognize Salvador as a massive figure in the history of Latin Jazz? There are many possible answers here ranging from politics to accessibility, but the most likely answer lies in the simplest fact – Salvador died in 1992, living his legacy for the most part in an isolated Cuba. Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval both left Cuba and found success in the United States. As a result, they became mainstay figures in the greater Latin Jazz world and their histories with Cuban bands such as Irakere became public news. When travel restrictions were lightened during the Clinton presidency, Irakere traveled to the United States and Chucho Valdes recorded several albums for the Blue Note label. The popularity of documentaries such as Buena Vista Social Club and Calle 54 reinvigorated the presence of Cuban music in the United States, further engraining D’Rivera, Sandoval, Valdés, and others into the popular consciousness. While these musicians enjoyed success, Salvador’s legacy rested in Cuba, hidden behind the embargo and minimal communication. Fortunately, he was not forgotten completely, and we’ve got albums such as Puerto Padre and Puerto Padre: Tributo a Emiliano Salvador to help us remember this master of Cuban jazz.