“Latino” is not one culture. From the Caribbean to Mexico, down to Venezuela and Colombia, through Brazil all the way down to Argentina, there are many varied styles. We can group them under “jazz”, but musicians have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of different rhythms and dances to be able to play it all.
Local Venezuelan-American pianist and arranger José Manuel García and Colombian-American singer César Augusto have unveiled a new project, Capricho Music, ambitiously spanning the whole of Spanish and Portuguese-language jazz from all across the New World. They were joined by Chris Riggenbach, upright bass, Jerry Fields, drums, and Brevan Hampden, percussion. Beyond enthralling a capacity Gwinnet County crowd of Hispanic expatriats with the band’s deft arrangements, nimble playing, and romantic singing, they put forward two themes: “diverse” and “inclusive.”
Steinway Artist Maestro José Manuel García was born and raised in Venezuela, of Italian and Spanish parents. He earned music degrees at Clayton State and Georgia State Universities, and his doctorate in piano from the University of Georgia, and is now a “proud American citizen”. He’s the director of the Gwinnett Symphony Jazz Orchestra.
César Augusto, with his classical background, sings tenor with a light, rapid vibrato that sounds quite different from the jazz crooners you are used to. It fits very nicely into all the styles on display. And he’s certainly got that romantic thing going. The set was interspersed with his vocal numbers (all arranged by García) ranging from love songs to “national hymns” well-known to the audience: “Venezuela,” by Pablo Herrero Ibarz and José Luis Armentero Sánchez; “El Camino de la Vida,” by Héctor Ochoa Cárdenas, and “Colombia, Tierra Querida,” by Luis Bermudez. Most surprising was the inclusion of García’s totally-unexpected Cuban rumba arrangement of the 19th-century German-language art song “Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai” by Robert Schumann, the original version of which is well-known to anybody who has studied singing in college.
The most fervent applause was reserved for the instrumental numbers, where the band, especially the percussionists, could stretch out. Staggering, in a literal rhythmic sense, was a romp through “Criollísima” in a Dominican Republic-style merengue rhythm warped into 5/4 time. García’s original “Danzón para QQ” was dedicated to his wife. Composer Antônio Jobim’s bossa nova from Brazil was represented, as was Argentinian tango-master Astor Piazzolla. The audience went wild for a little duet between García on piano and Jerry Fields on cajon, on a Venezuelan folk song called “Pajarillo por Burlería.”
The band closed out the show with Augusto leading the crowd in a sing-along of “Mujer Divina” by Héctor Rivera, García’s instrumental “Locamente,” in Afro-Cuban son rhythm, and finally a pair of classic Mexican pop songs, “Estrellita” by Manuel Ponce and “Granada” by Augustín Lara.
García and Augusto are ready to tour this show, and they are thinking far beyond the USA. “I think music is heading globally, not only to be presented everywhere but to be inclusive like Cesar is saying,” says García. “I think that that’s a crucial factor for music to be alive, to be a fusion of different elements. I’m happily married to a Chinese. I have had the opportunity to travel to China many times and perform in China as well. There’s a jazz craze right now, in fact Beijing just opened a Blue Note club. It’s a big stage, and people respond very positively with joy to anything that’s different as opposed to just mainstream. They love Latin-American music. They love rhythm.”