Elio Villafranca is at once profoundly connected to the roots of his Cuban musical heritage and hungry to explore elements of other, non-Cuban folkloric traditions. Using syncopated bass lines, intricate jazz harmonies, and rhythms derived from the rich Americas and the Caribbean-African Disapora, Villafranca delivers a unique Pan-American sound.
In Incantations/Encantaciones, Elio Villafranca expands his compositional horizons by approaching American jazz, Latin jazz, and Latin American folkloric musical genres as inextricably linked. Supported by a powerhouse rhythm section and the tremendous contributions of Pat Martino, Terell Stafford, and Jane Bunnett, Villafranca storms the Latin Jazz scene with a debut album that is at once tightly orchestrated, compositionally impressive, and improvisationally rich. A testament to his broad emotional palette, musical expertise, and defined sense of taste, this album reflects Villafranca’s attempt to defy the borders of conventional Latin jazz by intertwining his Cuban musical heritage with eclectic American traditions.
Description of tracks:
Negrita, Prende la Vela, the most recent composition on the album, is a version of the Mapalé song entitled “Prende la Vela” written by twentieth-century Colombian composer, Lucho Bermúdez. Villafranca was inspired by the similarity between this Afro-Colombian musical form and the Afro-Cuban music, Makuta, from the Congolese culture, which had a strong presence in his hometown of San Luis, Pinar del Río, Cuba.
Cacique, one of Villafranca’s most complex compositions, was created in early 2002 after Villafranca heard John Coltrane’s composition, “Miles Mood,” which inspired him to ask “What would Mingus or Coltrane do if they went to Cuba?” It is one example of the fusion of the three primary musical genres that have shaped his artistic development: Western classical, Afro-Cuban, and American jazz. The piece is based upon the Twelve Tone principle, a compositional technique developed by Arnold Schoenberg in the early Twentieth century. An additional layer of complexity is created by the multi-metric interplay between the traditional batà drums whose rhythms are in 6/8 and the 7/4 meter of the melody.
Orishaoko and Oguere’s Cha are both based on traditional Afro-Cuban religious music. Oko is the name of the Orisha (god) of agriculture in Santería. In Oguere’s Cha, Villafranca rearranges an old Afro-Cuban lament by infusing it with the rhythm of the popular dance style ChaChaCha and adding a minor blues influence.
The heavy rhythmic aspect of Pat Martino’s composition, El Hombre, motivated Villafranca to introduce himself to Martino after a performance by Joey DiFrancesco’s trio featuring Martino in early 2002. Martino not only offered the composition to Villafranca, who wanted to create an arrangement of the piece, but he later agreed to record Villafranca’s version of El Hombre on this album.
Martino also appears on Assumption. Paquito D’Rivera described this piece as “reminiscent of McCoy Tyner’s style.” Recorded in a single take, this piece exhibits the lush technical expertise and alternating exchanges of ideas between Villafranca, Stafford, and Martino.
The ballad, Something Nice to Say About You, was originally scored for a full band, though it is recorded here in a duet piano-trumpet version. Villafranca and Stafford develop an intimate musical dialog, replete with unique harmonic explorations.
In the blues, You Spoke Too Soon, Villafranca’s nimble independence, Bunnett’s agility, and Martino’s virtuosity combine for playful jaunts over the air-tight rhythm section, enriched by Villafranca’s powerful, sporadic piano montunos.
It’s Not That Serious highlights the pairing of Bunnet’s spirited contributions on flute with Stafford’s sophisticated facility on the trumpet in a composition that reveals a more lighthearted aspect of Villafranca’s persona.
The title cut, Encantaciones Cubanas, Villafranca’s personal favorite, was the first piece he composed upon arriving in the U.S. It resounds with the contemplative nuances of memories of a homeland left behind, recalled in the context of new experiences with American jazz music. Through this composition, Villafranca makes melodic journeys marked by his signature doubling of the melody and piano bass lines.