Baila! Gitano Baila!

Septo Roberto Rodriguez presented by the Skirball Cultural Center, May 26

By Mia Carino
Published on LatinoLA: May 11, 2005

Baila! Gitano Baila!

The Skirball Cultural Center?s World Mosaic series, featuring music from around the globe, concludes with a final spring performance. Percussionist, composer and Grammy nominee Roberto Rodriguez, brings his signature blend of Latin rhythms and Jewish melodies to the Skirball on Thursday, May 26, at 7:30 p.m.

He will perform with his ensemble Septeto Roberto Rodriguez in support of its latest album Baila! Gitano Baila! The septet features Rodriguez on percussion, Meg Okura on violin, Mary Wooten on cello, Matt Darriau on clarinet, Uri Sharlin on accordion, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone and Jennifer Vincent on bass.

Cuban-American percussionist and composer Roberto Rodriguez is a bonafide innovator, synthesizing Cuban rhythms and Jewish melodies into an entirely new music that breathes joy and melancholy with tremendous emotional clarity. Rodriguez also draws upon the influences of pop, rock, jazz, world music, avant-garde and classical. Roberto Juan Rodriguez was born in El Vedado Havana, Cuba. Before leaving Cuba for Miami with his family at age 9, joining millions of others in flight, he studied violin, piano and trumpet at Caturla Conservatory of Music in Havana, and also learned much from his father, the trumpeter and arranger Roberto Luis Rodriguez. Rodriguez began playing percussion professionally at the age of 13 in his father?s ensembles as well as with the legendary Israel ?Cachao? Lopez.

In Miami, Rodriguez encountered Jewish Holocaust survivors who had resettled there, many from Eastern Europe, as well as Cuban Jews from the island. He immersed himself in the culture of Miami?s large Jewish population, drumming at a small Yiddish theatre company and at bar mitzvahs. Rodriguez, who majored in jazz and studio music at the University of Miami, on a full scholarship, took keen notice of how Jewish immigrants were fascinated with the guajira, danzon and related types of Cuban music brought to south Florida by his father and his contemporaries. Rodriguez learned that a number of leading Latin pianists and trumpeters of the 1960s and 1970s had been Jewish, a discovery that strengthened his bond with those of the Jewish faith.

Rodriguez moved to New York and soon established himself as a must-have drummer in the jazz world. Jazz and pop notables with whom he has worked include Ruben Blades, T-Bone Burnett, Paquito D?Rivera, Julio Iglesias, Miami Sound Machine, Joe Jackson, Paul Simon, Lloyd Cole and Phoebe Snow. His deep interest in Jewish music was reinvigorated by the ongoing klezmer revival that started in the mid 1980s, by composer and alto saxophonist John Zorn?s series of Radical Jewish Culture recordings on the Tzadik label, and by playing drums in Jewish guitarist Marc Ribot?s Los Cubanos Postizos band.

When Zorn asked if he would like to record an album of Jewish music, Rodriguez jumped at the opportunity. Drawing on his experiences in Miami and New York bands, he began composing for the first time in his life. Soon enough, he enlisted the help of musicians like clarinetist David Krakauer and entered the recording studio. Overflowing with fresh, remarkable Judeo-Cuban music, El Danzon de Moises (The Dance of Moses) was released in 2002 to critical raves from DownBeat and The Village Voice. The album also garnered effusive praise from Rodriguez?s most prestigious predecessors in Cuban music. The legendary conguero Ray Barretto, for example, spoke highly of Rodriguez?s music, calling it ?completely enchanting, delightful?different for my ears?it?s something that I?d refer back to if I want to get into another kind of playing.?

Far more dance-oriented than the previous album, Rodriguez?s latest release, Baila! Gitano Baila!, goes beyond Havana, Miami and New York, drawing on Jewish and/or Latin music from South America, northwest Africa, and southwest Europe. Critical response to the new album has been overwhelmingly positive. All About Jazz called it ?a stroke of genius,? adding that it combines a ?fervid, swirling klezmer sound with the gentle and insistent percolations of Latin percussion.? Tom Hull of The Village Voice writes that Rodriguez?s ?synthesis of Jewish melody and Cuban percussion dreams of roots that never were, yet it is convincing enough that one can imagine generations of conversos gathering in private to keep the ancient secrets of their culture alive.?

Skirball Cultural Center presents
Thursday, May 26, 7:30 p.m.
$25 General, $20 Skirball Members, $15 Students

2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049
Located off the 405 Freeway; exit Skirball Ctr Dr
General information: (310) 440-4500 www.skirball.org
Advance tickets recommended: (866) 468-3399 or www.ticketweb.com

About Mia Carino:
Mia Carino is Assistant Director, External Affairs at the Skirball Cultural Center.

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