Reprise of a Guarani Cacique – Trinidad Guardian

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by
Si­mon Lee
Agustin Bar­rios, the vir­tu­oso Paraguayan clas­si­cal gui­tarist and com­pos­er, last played in Trinidad more than 70 years ago in 1936. Four years pre­vi­ous­ly his al­ter ego-Guarani Chief Nit­suga Man­gor&ea­cute; (his Chris­t­ian name re­versed, fol­lowed by the name of a Tim­bu cacique) had al­so per­formed in Port-of-Spain, to rap­tur­ous ac­claim. Bar­rios/Man­gor&ea­cute; was a mes­ti­zo, proud of his in­dige­nous Guarani genes. Last Sun­day at Queen’s Hall, nei­ther the Guarani chief nor ‘the Chopin of the gui­tar’ made an ap­pear­ance but Bar­rios’ spir­it man­i­fest­ed for two glo­ri­ous hours, rein­car­nat­ed in a pro­gramme of some of his most out­stand­ing com­po­si­tions, per­formed by two colos­si of con­tem­po­rary Latin Amer­i­can mu­sic.

Berta Ro­jas, Bar­rios’ com­pa­tri­ot, is wide­ly ac­knowl­edged as the best Latin clas­si­cal gui­tarist, while Cuban-born Yan­qui res­i­dent and mul­ti­ple Gram­my-win­ner Paquito D’Rivera us­es clar­inet and sax­o­phones as in­stru­ments of di­vine il­lu­mi­na­tion, tem­pered by his root­sy Cuban hu­mour. Ris­ing mas­ter­ful­ly to the oc­ca­sion were two lo­cal mu­si­cians: pan­nist and eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist Mia Gor­mandy and drum­mer Sean Thomas. The lo­cal duo played the cur­tain rais­ing ‘Un Sueño en la Flo­res­ta’ (A Dream in the For­est) with Gor­mandy giv­ing the first ever in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Bar­rios’ de­mand­ing gui­tar score on pan. De­spite the very dif­fer­ent tim­bres of steel and string, Gor­mandy was able to mod­u­late her de­liv­ery, per­form­ing the piece with the ethe­re­al ro­man­ti­cism it re­quires.
Strange­ly, in terms of pro­gram­ming and the fo­cus of the con­cert, the lo­cal duo’s sec­ond of­fer­ing ref­er­enced Trinida­di­an pop­u­lar mu­sic, but this could have been a case of ‘all pro­to­cols ob­served.’

Berta Ro­jas, in per­ni­cious stilet­tos, launched in­to the Bar­rios’ canon she has be­come the fore­most ex­po­nent of since British gui­tarist John Williams, be­gin­ning with his last com­po­si­tion ‘Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios’ (Alms for the Love of God).
In­flu­enced equal­ly by the folk­loric dances of South Amer­i­ca and Eu­ro­pean Baroque com­posers, par­tic­u­lar­ly Bach, Bar­rios wrote in­tri­cate and dense­ly elab­o­rate scores suf­fused with emo­tion­al, some­times, as in this case re­li­gious colour, which must have test­ed even his vir­tu­oso skills. Ro­jas em­phat­i­cal­ly staked an in­dis­putable claim to be a wor­thy Bar­rios in­ter­preter from the first, with her com­bi­na­tion of thrilling tech­nique-break­neck tip­pling arpeg­giat­ed chords rip­pling over con­tra­pun­tal yet har­mon­i­cal­ly sat­is­fy­ing basslines-and at­tuned sen­si­tiv­i­ty.

To ap­pro­pri­ate the old Jazz adage-it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing-so flaw­less tech­nique can nev­er sub­sti­tute for the soul of mu­sic. Ro­jas sup­plied a suit­able hors d’hoeu­vre for the feast to fol­low, si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly ren­der­ing Bar­rios’ epi­taph while serv­ing no­tice that she came with mu­sic to smell, taste and savour, every­thing you might ex­pect from New World, cre­olised clas­si­cal mu­sic. Her breath­tak­ing­ly flu­id touch con­tin­ued in­to a Brazil­ian-style waltz be­fore she came to her so­lo fi­nale-Bar­rios’ mas­ter­piece ‘La Cat­e­dral, in­spired by a re­li­gious epiphany in Mon­te­v­ideo’s cathe­dral and heav­i­ly in­flu­enced by JS Bach. The war-torn Paraguay of his child­hood and ado­les­cence may well have in­spired Bar­rios’ in-con­cert wan­der­ings through­out South Amer­i­ca and even­tu­al­ly Eu­rope, ex­pos­ing him to the tan­go, ga­l­opera, chor­ro and oth­er gen­res en route and it was dur­ing a so­journ in Cu­ba, 19 years af­ter writ­ing the orig­i­nal score for La Cathe­dral, that he com­posed the Saudade (nos­tal­gia) pre­lude, an­oth­er Cre­ole voice through which we fil­ter the fol­low­ing An­dante Re­li­gioso and Al­le­gre Solemne.

If the au­di­ence by this stage was over­awed by Ro­jas, a per­fect bal­ance was pro­vid­ed in the sec­ond half of the pro­gramme with the in­tro­duc­tion of Paquito D’Rivera. A vet­er­an of both the Cuban na­tion­al or­ches­tra and found­ing mem­ber-along with el mae­stro Chu­cho Valdes-of Irakere the first Afro-Latin Jazz su­per­group, Paquito comes to any stage not on­ly as a vir­tu­oso soloist but al­so as a con­sum­mate­ly ur­bane per­former. Like Chu­cho and in­deed Bar­rios, he is con­ver­sant with the widest South Amer­i­can reper­toire. Start­ing with clar­inet, Paquito joined Ro­jas for the Mauri­cio Ocam­po arrange­ment of Bar­rios’ Chor­ro da Saudade, based on a tra­di­tion­al chor­ro from Rio de Janeiro, wood, reed and string per­fect­ly com­ple­ment­ing each oth­er.

The duo then segued in­to the play­ful Paraguayan pop­u­lar song Ca’aza­pa, with Paquito nudg­ing the tem­po along ready to dive in­to the riv­er flow of an­oth­er Brazil­ian rhythm, the Max­ixe, which Paquito ca­su­al­ly asked Ro­jas to trans­late for him, sub­tly de­fus­ing and hu­man­is­ing a qua­si-sacro­sanct per­for­mance. Recog­nis­ing Re­la­tor a few rows from the stage, he hailed him out and slipped a cou­ple of bars from the lo­cal bard in­to the Max­ixe, in­stant­ly es­tab­lish­ing par­ti­san au­di­ence rap­port. In­tro­duc­ing Bar­rios’ Pre­lu­dio en Do Menor (Pre­lude in C Mi­nor) Paquito cit­ed jazz leg­end Duke Elling­ton’s com­ments on arrangers by way of cred­it­ing Ocam­po, whose arrange­ment gave the flavour of tan­go great Piz­zaio­la. Ocam­po was al­so re­spon­si­ble for ar­rang­ing the next dizzy­ing Bar­rios’ piece Las Abe­jas (The Bees), with Paquito’s sax buzzing fre­net­i­cal­ly.

Be­tween pi­cong and ole talk (“I’ll be brief as I on­ly have 100 words of Eng­lish”) Paquito joked about “nev­er hav­ing played so well”-hav­ing been for­warned by friend Andy Narell of high Trinida­di­an mu­si­cal stan­dards. At Ro­jas’ in­vi­ta­tion Paquito de­part­ed briefly from the pro­gramme to reprise an im­pro he’d de­liv­ered at their pre­vi­ous con­cert in Puer­to Ri­co. Re­call­ing his jazz men­tor Dizzie Gille­spie (to whom he de­fect­ed dur­ing an Amer­i­can tour) he in­vit­ed the au­di­ence to join him in a typ­i­cal Dizzy call and re­sponse, which had Queen’s Hall ir­rev­er­ent­ly call­ing back ‘Salt peanuts’ to his scat­ting sax and off­beat foot­stomp.

The duo com­plet­ed their stun­ning per­for­mance with Demetrio Or­tiz’s Re­cuer­dos de Ypacarai (Mem­o­ries of Lake Ypacari) a Paraguayan pol­ka and Guiller­mo Breer and Ocam­po’s Pa­jaro Chogui a gal­lop­ing ga­l­opera be­fore be­ing joined by Gor­mandy and Thomas for the grand fi­nale of Bar­rios’ Dan­za Paraguaya. In less than the span of two hours the Queen’s Hall au­di­ence had trav­elled through South Amer­i­ca, ac­com­pa­nied by vir­tu­oso tal­ent-and hu­mour. The rush to buy post-con­cert CDs was on­ly cor­rob­o­rat­ing ev­i­dence of a mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mance. Adios Ro­jas y D’Rivera. When will Queen’s Hall fol­low up with a con­cert of the Cuban com­posers Caturla and Roldan? There is a whole canon of South Amer­i­can and Caribbean Cre­ole clas­si­cal mu­sic wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered by an ever-thirsty Trinida­di­an au­di­ence.

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