my band plays live, some people jump up and dance, others
just groove and listen. I like that - connecting and communicating."
Today, bassist Harvie S is experiencing a joy precious
few jazz musicians have felt with any regularity in recent
decades. The music he and his group make satisfies fans
on several levels. He's found a formula for connecting
with club patrons that hasn't been a prominent part of
the jazz scene since the 1940s. When the dance-oriented
style of jazz that engaged fans first and foremost on
a visceral level dramatically evolved to an esoteric listening
experience that left many cold, the music lost much of
its core audience. Thanks to his embrace of Afro-Cuban
rhythms and other Latin American-rooted styles, Harvie
S proves night after night that it is possible to create
artistic and intellectually satisfying music that appeals
to both the head and the feet. Not to mention hips, fingers
and toes. And those little muscles that can turn a frown
into a broad, beaming smile.
A musician who has spent most of their career outside
the close-knit community of Latin musicians does not tread
without some trepidation into these exotic waters. Extensive
experience in mainstream jazz carries little weight when
one enters the labyrinth of tropical Latin music, with
its wealth of rhythmically intricate styles. Missteps
are easy to make. This particularly true for bassists,
upon whom much of the burden is placed for interpreting
the complex rhythms that give the music its unique character
and driving pulse. Making a transition from jazz to Latin
is, as they say, no walk in the park.
"I had to learn a new set of rules musically,"
Harvie readily admits. The eclectic and electrifying performances
on Texas Rumba, his new Latin jazz-style recording, proves
the rules were well learned. "Now," he adds,
"I bend them frequently!"
In the beginning, however, he had to master the bass rudiments
of various types of Latin music, from salsa, the urbanized
Afro-Cuban dance style, to more musically progressive
varieties of Latin jazz. "I started listening and
learning, gigging and experimenting," he recalls.
"I played gigs anywhere I could -- on club dates,
salsa dances and with Latin jazz bands." Fortunately,
his on-the-job experience was gained under the watchful
eye of some of the Latin world's most respected leaders,
including Ray Barretto, Chico O'Farrill, Juan Carlos Formell,
Paquito D'Rivera, Ray Vega, Arturo Sandoval and Bobby
Working with New York City's leading Latin jazz luminaries
only whetted his appetite. In 1996, he traveled to Cuba
to absorb the essence of the music in one of its most
important breeding grounds and study with local master
musicians. "I came home and started writing,"
he recalls. He was hooked for good. "I am not dabbling
in this music," he states matter-of-factly. "There
are many established Jazz musicians who have touched on
this music, but not to the extent that I have. I've been
finding a way to combine modern jazz with Afro-Cuban in
my own personal way. I want my music to have fire and
finesse. I use complicated forms and harmony, and I also
use simple forms and simple harmony. I draw from many
sources from the Caribbean and its African roots.
Such is the charm of Harvie's creations and performances.
Texas Rumba is quite different from virtually every other
album that's carried the Latin jazz label. Rather than
repeat familiar forms to the point of tedium, every one
of the album's 11 tracks has its distinctive character.
Sometimes, the Latin connection is boldly stated, as on
the title tune, "Facil" and "Good News."
More often than not, however, Harvie's approach is subtle
and sophisticated, as on "Before" and "From
Now On," on which the leader's bowed bass states
the elegant melody.
For "Curved Corners," the band steps outside
of the Latin box completely for a bluesy beauty with a
haunting, catchy theme. Altering the basic quintet format
by adding a trumpet on several tracks and reducing the
scope of the sound on two works to a bass solo (Monk's
Mood) and bass-piano duet (Before) makes the program even
more rewarding. The supporting cast is sensational, from
pianist Kelly, whose Latin and jazz chops are equally
impressive, to percussionist Thoms, whose fiery rhythmic
outbursts spark the group's most energetic forays and
exciting saxophone work by Scott Robert Avidon.
"One of my very favorite musical works that I listened
to as a teen was 'Spiritual' played by the John Coltrane
Quartet," Harvie comments on the natural, historic
link between jazz and Latin idioms. "The work developed
through a repeated bass line, like a Cuban tumbao. This
concept was employed throughout much of Coltrane's music,
and it's the cornerstone of the role of the Latin bass."
The performances on Texas Rumba underscore that long,
if often unspoken, relationship between Latin and jazz.
It's become a particularly important tradition in contemporary
music, one that Harvie S wants to continue to explore
and build upon. "I would like to think that I am
helping to bridge a gap from Afro?Cuban to Modern Jazz,"
he states. "I studied with the masters of the music
and continue to do so. From my point of view the investigation
is coupled with innovation. I am now sort of the distilling
vessel for Latin, jazz, funk, Brazilian, African and free
music -- all marinated in a heavy dose of self expression."
And, he's keeping those fans dancing, moving, grooving