Nu Deco Ensemble serves up a wide-ranging salute to Cuba

By Lawrence Budmen

Elena Galvan performd Jorge Martin's "A Cuban in Vermont" at the Nu Deco Ensemble concert Friday night.

Elena Galván performed Jorge Martin’s “A Cuban in Vermont” at the Nu Deco Ensemble concert Friday night.

The Nu Deco Ensemble, Miami’s contemporary music orchestra, is a group of wide-ranging versatility. One minute this enterprising group, composed of many of the area’s best freelance players, can sound like a neo-Baroque chamber orchestra and the next like a rocking big band. 

Likewise the music of creative artists from Cuba covers a wide range of genres and styles. Those two diverse artistic impulses came together Friday night at The Light Box in Wynwood for a Global Cuba Fest 2017 concert, presented by the Miami Light Project and FUNDarte.

Conductor Jacomo Bairos opened the festivities with perhaps the most familiar piece of Cuban music—“Malagueña” by Ernesto Lecuona. Co-artistic director Sam Hyken’s arrangement mixed a brassy dance band sound with deeply resonant string figures over Maria Zdralea’s pianistic arpeggios. Bairos and the players brought maximum energy to Hyken’s hybrid chart.

Composer Jorge Martín has lived in the United States since he was six years old. Now dividing his time between Vermont and New York City, Martín has channeled the sadness and nostalgia of  being a refugee in his song cycle A Cuban in Vermont. (Martín’s opera Before Night Falls will be presented by Florida Grand Opera beginning March 18.) 

Originally conceived for soprano with piano accompaniment and performed in that version at a 2010 Miami recital by soprano Elizabeth Caballero, the composer has recast the score for string orchestra and the result greatly enhances this already strong work. The Nu Deco performances marked the premiere of the orchestral version. Dance rhythms and long, winding melodic phrases run through this appealing series of four songs which clearly touched many listeners. Martin was present to share in the audience’s enthusiastic response.

Soprano Elena Galván, a member of Florida Grand Opera’s Young Artist Program, was the outstanding soloist. Although she was standing at the rear of the orchestra and was amplified, her clear, bright tone and spot-on coloratura gave voice to the creature’s flight in “Sing, sweet bird.” She brought intense feeling to the “Nocturno” with the lines “Where is my home?” receiving emphatic impact. She registered both joy and sorrow in “I love another love.” Martín’s string writing is deft and expressive. The repetitive figures to the text “we live happily…happily” are particularly intoxicating. Galván gave a memorable performance, both expressive and agile. 

Jazz pianist Dayramir Gonzalez has a monster technique that could be the envy of many a classical keyboard artist. Whether playing fast runs, keyboard spanning octaves, soulful romantic themes or complex changes of meter, Gonzalez whizzes through it all with accuracy and a sense of daredevil showmanship. With the release of a new album Grand Concourse and a Lincoln Center debut scheduled for June, Gonzalez career is on an upward trajectory.

His post-minimalist fusion crosses rock, pop, jazz and Afro-Cuban traditions in an original and striking manner with Gonzalez’s phrases taking unexpected paths. Minimalism meets Latin jazz in his up-tempo Smiling.

Transicíon was originally written when Gonzalez was 16 years old. The tune suggests blues infused with a romantic touch. The music gradually becomes more animated and unhinged. Just when one expects Gonzalez to conclude with thundering chords, a calming neo-classical theme is introduced. The scoring added instrumental richness to Gonzalez’s powerhouse keyboard riffs. The steady beat of the percussion players kept a relentless pulse that was totally improvised.

Following intermission pop vocalist Danay Suarez joined the ensemble for a four-song set. Her Cuban alliteration of urban rap is mixed with blues and soul of a particularly Latin variety. She added traditional folk rhythms with a jazzy beat to the mix for her closing song “Wakeup,” which, at blaring volume, certainly accomplished that for any drowsy audience members. Suarez’s sultry timbre and snappy dexterity comes from the high end of mainstream pop.

The two-and-a-half hour program concluded with Hyken’s Danzas Cubana, a medley of dance music from the Caribbean island encompassing the mambo, cha-cha and Afro-Cuban funk. Gonzalez returned to the piano to pay tribute to legendary pianist and band leader Chucho Valdéz, his mentor, with some dazzling improvisations. Hyken’s arrangements added a touch of wit to idiomatic big band sonorities. A roaring and wailing trombone solo by Gabriel Colby brought cheers. Throughout the concert, Aaron Lebos’ electric guitar solos radiated red heat. With the ensemble’s top-notch percussion battery at full force, the festive evening closed with cheers and the audience on its feet.

Nu Deco Ensemble repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at The Light Box, 404 NW 26 Street in the Wynwood arts district of Miami.

Florida Grand Opera presents Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls Match 18-25 at the Arsht Center in Miami.



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Sat Mar 11, 2017
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