An Afternoon With the World’s Greatest Conta-Bassist
Before leaving for the concert at St. Phillips Episcopal Church I watched a concert on PBS performed by the great virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. As I listened to his eclectic repertoire – which ranged from Rachmaninoff to George Gershwin to the Beatles, I naturally thought of Carlos Del Pino, whose performance I would be attending within the hour. Both Bell’s eclectic program and his dazzling virtuosity conjured up comparisons with Carlos, whose concerts are also eclectic and wide ranging, and his virtuosity on the double bass violin is unparalleled.
A Contemplative Moment
The calm before the storm
From the opening selection we were treated to a composition that ranged from European classical music to jazz combined in exquisite proportions and with the greatest care to preserve the idiomatic nuances of each musical genre. Carlos dazzled the crowd with his blinding pizzicato riffs. Although the art of pizzicato playing on the double bass violin is the unique contribution of Afro-American jazz men to the art of double bass performance, as an Afro-Cuban Carlos del Pino was naturally drawn to it because the pizzicato converts the bass from a violin which is bowed to a rhythm instrument, a bull fiddle which is plucked and holds the pulse for the rhythm section. Afro-Cuban music, like jazz, is a poly-rhythmic neo-African music that was wedded to the dance
Making difficult passages look easy
Lost in the Ecstasy Of Making Music
Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq
Yet Carlos belongs to a tradition of Afro-Cuban musicians who have been extensively trained in European classical music; it is common place for them to play in both idioms without accent. Hence the music performed by Carlo’s conjuntos requires special musicians who are conversant with both languages. This becomes obvious early on when Anna Bermudez is featured on the electric cello, then switches easily to the claves and sings Cuban songs with great power and passion.
Anna Bermudez Makes The Electric Cello Sing!
Plus she is a fabulous vocalist too
Although my ears have long been attuned to the warm sound of viols produced by vibrating strings echoing inside a box constructed of carefully selected and varnished woods by master artisans, Carlos and Anna by some special sonic alchemy have managed to produce the same warmth with electrified solid body instruments. Some of Anna’s passages were so lyrical and moving they felt like sound waves to the soul and made our spirits dance.
From the composition of his ensembles one thing is clear: the only criterion Carlos employs in selecting musicians to work with is their musical talent; neither race, nationality nor gender matters. In his last band the Conga drummer was French, the violinist was Afro-American and the pianist was Japanese and a woman. In the present ensemble there are two women and three men, with a male singer featured on select tunes.
The pianist Chemi Nakhai is the only member of the last band who played this concert and her contribution to the overall sound of the group is indispensable. Like Carlos she is a paragon of versatility who is fluent in three musical languages. She is a product of what is evidently a top notch musical education system. I am constantly impressed with the young Japanese musicians who pop up in New York; they are universally excellent.
Chimi Nahki: a consummate keyboard artist *
Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq
Chemi is an impressive player whether she is performing on acoustic or electric piano. Small of stature with an unassuming personality, she becomes a ball of fire once she sits down to the keyboard. She is a brilliant accompanist and soloist whether she is swinging the blues in the Afro-American tradition or playing sizzling montunos in the Afro-Cuban tradition. And she can interpret Bach or other European composers with authority. The enormity of her talent can be measured by the extent to which she makes it all look so easy. If you heard her on a recording and didn’t know who it was you would never suspect that she wasn’t a native player in the tradition she is performing.
True to his Cuban roots Carlos provides a prominent place for the drums in his arrangements. And on this occasion he had two excellent drummers. One of them was Afro-Cuban, and he was extraordinary, playing drums in combinations and rhythmic configurations that I had never witnessed before. But in any case this is par for the course. Every Carlos Del Pino concert is full of musical surprises, featuring great instrumentalist doing fantastic things. And Carlos, the man behind the sound, a master of three major musical languages – Afro-American complex instrumental art music Jazz, European Classical and the Afro-Cuban Son – is the most fantastic of them all.
A Rare Performance
Playing Congas and Bata in Unison
Or the Trap Drums
Accompanying The Congero
Photo by: Hakim Mutlaq
Going with the flow
* Photo by: Hakim
The Bill Of Particulars
* To see Carlos in Performance click this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLwLPseckQ4
Text and all other Pictures by: Playthell Benjamin
Harlem, New York
July 30, 2010