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JULY 2015: The Havana Suite

JULY 2015: The Havana Suite


The origin of Ahmed Dickinson Cardenas’ 2011 release, The Havana Suite, was a tour the previous year as part of Making Tracks, where he was accompanied by the Cuban percussionist Hammadi Rencurrell and the violinist, Emma Blanco (aka Trio Mestizo), and together they featured the music of their fellow Cuban, Eduardo Martín. Through this tour the musicians developed a deep affection and understanding of the music which they have brought to this outstanding album.

The album is an exploration of the music of Edward Martín, a renowned Cuban composer and guitarist, with whom Dickinson Cardenas studied (and also toured with this year). Clearly this is music close to his heart, as it takes flight time and time again. The compositions have manifold personalities from art music to a more folk-inflected idiom, and is interpreted with as much variety, from the trio, to mixed duos with guitar, to solos and even a vocal.

For me the heart of this recital is the beguiling and intimate Canciones del calendario, for solo guitar. These are 12 short but memorable vignettes celebrating the months of the year. Dickinson Cardenas lays bare the simplicity of the songful melodies which linger long after we have travelled into another season. It is hard to pick favourites but I was taken in from the start with the melting plaintiff charm of 'Enero' and the restrained Cuban joie de vie of 'Junio'.

But before taking this excursion we are greeted by the trio with the laid-back beats of 'Chacumbele' from Divertimentos tropicales. This is delightfully engaging (foot tapping) music arranged by the ensemble, with the freedom and authenticity of a Cuban band. Its a shame we have to wait till the end of the album to hear them again but I shouldn’t complain as we are treated to more examples of outstanding artistry.

In De la rumba son guitar and percussion duet in an utterly compelling manner, the players dancing around each other musically engaging and soloing. But then the tempo of the music and the sound changes as we are moved back into another era, with the delightfully nostalgic Suite Havana. The four short pieces are cleverly scored for guitar and violin, and whereas in the 'Rumba' the percussion provided the rhythmic backbone, in Havana Suite it’s the guitar that gives the the violin room to sing. At times languid, at times breezy this is music with a heart played from the soul. Then the violinist Emma Blanco upstages herself with the surprising solo, Trazos en el aire, before the more earthy sounds, of Hasta Alicia baila with its rasping chanting vocals.

This is a very well-conceived album that has been rightly critically well-received. There is also an unstoppable vivacity and spontaneity that shines through every bar - this is music born of live experience but delivered with studio precision; truly the spirit of Cuba bottled in London! 



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