DEJF: La Timbistica, Chopteeth and Fertile Ground at the 9:30 Club
Review below; videos and photos forthcoming.
"The future of la musica is assured," a beaming Jim Byers informed the 9:30 club on Friday night.
Byers, the host of WPFW's "Latin Flavor," spoke after a stellar performance by La Timbistica, a high-flying salsa outfit also known as the Berklee College of Music Latin Jazz All-Stars. The group alternates between five-piece Latin jazz unit and full-on Salsa band. In both formats, they are astonishing. Juan Maldonado deserves special mention for his efforts on the six-string bass, as does Kalani Trinidad for his searing flute (how often do you hear those two words together?) and fine voice, both of which cut admirably through the bright wall of the high brass. Throughout, the band exemplified a classical precision infused with lively improvisation—most notably by Alex Brown, whose eclectic work on the keyboard kept the band from retreating, anonymous, into a genre that too often overshadows its practitioners.
This was good, jazzy salsa, in other words...and consistently up-tempo, to the delight of the D.C. Casineros, who took over the dance floor and put the rest of the audience to shame.
The Timbistica crew were passing out promo materials and enjoying a few well-deserved beers when Chopteeth took the stage. The D.C.-based group, which calls itself an "Afrofunk orchestra," launched into a groovy set that veered between the reedy guitar dance-lines of classic Fela Afrobeat and a sophisticated brand of ska. "Struggle," the first track on their latest LP, was a highlight, as was their funky reinterpretation of Duke Ellington's "Digeridoo." Led by the magnanimous duo of Anna Mwalagho (vocals) and Michael Shereikis (vocals and guitar), Chopteeth bounced and rolled for close to an hour, with fat sounds from the Korg organ sailing under the snarling five-piece horn brigade. They smiled, danced, colored the two Kenyan songs with neat accordion lines, and took audience requests. ("The dancers want more Fela," Shereikis laughed at one point.) Their set was the high point of a beautifully eclectic evening—kudos to the DEJF for espousing a "jazz without borders" mentality.
Fertile Ground closed out the night with a jazzier variety of what some people call "neo-soul." With the caveat that this music usually strikes me as way too smooth, I have to say that Navasha Daya was mesmerizing as frontwoman, strutting under her headdress and leading the band as much with the rhythm of her hips as with her commanding, sinuous voice. "Yesterday" was powerful in its ambience, and "You Take Me Higher" (from the 2002 Seasons Change LP) took me pretty high. Daya can build a single syllable from a lyric for several bars and then launch into a weird scat, or an island-tinged rap, or a series of grace notes cued impeccably to the drum breaks, while James Collins' synth bass holds it all together. (His right hand, meanwhile, cooks up artful keyboard patterns with the same maddening rhythmic persistence that kept Chick Corea flush for several decades.)
"Jazz is not a listening music, but an organic music," Collins told the modest crowd, chiding them to dance. "And since Duke Ellington's from this neck of the woods, I'd hate to believe that the folks in Tokyo know how to move to this music better than y'all.
"It shouldn't exist in the classroom," he added, "but on the streets and in the minds of our children."
Collins then kick-started a nice version of "Be Natural," on which the crowd sang along, before a closing, anthemic but eerie rendition of "Roots, Rock, Reggae." Synths aside, the groove had vitality. And the song, a tribute to cross-generic unity, may have struck the perfect coda for the evening.
Photo courtesy of chopteeth.com