Importing the sound of Cuba
by Andrew Gilbert, Boston Globe
November 25, 2005
No one is likely to mistake the chilly, well-preserved streets of Boston for the sweltering decay of Havana, but when Cuban pianist Osmany Paredes arrived in town in 2003, he felt a jolt of recognition walking around the Berklee College of Music campus.
His student days were long behind him, having graduated from Havana's National School of Music in 1991, but Paredes was immediately transported back in time by Berklee's vibrant energy, the same hustling environment that inspired him during his years at Cuba's leading conservatory.
''Berklee felt a lot like the Escuela Nacional de Música," says Paredes, 33, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. ''It's a very studious environment, the students are trying to become better, to get ahead. One of the differences is that information is much more available here. There are books, videos, DVDs. In Cuba there is information, but it's a little more complicated to get it."
Drawn to Boston by the presence of several other Cuban musicians and the city's reputation as a hotbed for talented young players, Paredes has injected a potent dose of musicianship into the Boston music scene himself, becoming one of the city's most sought-after Latin jazz accompanists. He's gradually establishing himself as a band leader in his own right, performing with a circle of musicians that includes Cuban percussionist Jorge Najarro, German-born drummer Bertram Lehmann, and Helsinki-born Bulgarian bassist Peter Slavov, who make up the quartet he brings to a concert at the Charlestown Branch Library on Thursday. Paredes also performs next Friday at the Koch Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts as part of violinist David Eure's Jazz Ensemble.
Paredes came to the United States via Mexico, where he gained citizenship and spent 11 years as a key member of Mexico City's vibrant but little-exposed jazz scene. Performing and recording with players such as bassist Roberto Aymes and drummer Antonio Sanchez (best known for his extensive work with Pat Metheny), Paredes formed his own band, Menduvia, and recorded an impressive eponymous album in 2003 for Fonosound.
For his concert on Thursday he'll be focusing on music from the album, which includes his finely honed original tunes, his arrangements of Cuban traditional music, and jazz standards such as the Victor Feldman/Miles Davis classic ''Seven Steps to Heaven" and Sonny Rollins's ''St. Thomas."
Steeped in the European classical tradition, enamored of jazz, and fully conversant with Cuban popular music dating back to the 1920s, Paredes is a thrilling player who combines percussive attack with a vivid harmonic imagination. It's an open question how much longer he'll stay in Boston, given that he's feeling the gravitational pull of New York.
He gained national attention earlier this year through a high-profile tour with Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, a major force on the New York City scene since his arrival in 1999. Prieto and Paredes grew up blocks from each other in Santa Clara, Cuba, and worked together frequently before the pianist left for Mexico. Since he moved to Boston, they've renewed their musical relationship.
''Osmany is a fantastic musician," Prieto says. ''I'm using him whenever I can. He can go in so many different directions, but he's got such a strong identity he always adds something unexpected into the mix. When he's playing my music, I just turn him loose."
Like Prieto and saxophonist Yosvany Terry, another Cuban musician he toured with nationally this year, Paredes is steeped in Cuban rhythmic traditions and post-bop jazz currents.
Along with Puerto Rican players such as pianist Luis Perdomo, saxophonist David Sanchez, altoist Miguel Zenon, and Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, they're part of a generation of Latin American musicians who are erasing the boundaries between Latin jazz and the advanced jazz of conceptualists such as Steve Coleman and Henry Threadgill.
''I arrived in the US after all these people," Paredes says. ''But Yosvany, Dafnis, and myself had the same education in Cuba, a classical education. The Cuban popular music, the jazz, was something we did on the side. It was something personal. They didn't teach it in school."
Growing up in Santa Clara, Paredes first heard the music of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, and Dizzy Gillespie from his father, the conguero Guillermo Paredes.
When the young pianist went off to study in Havana, he was exposed to the work of contemporary jazz artists such as Chick Corea, Miles Davis, and Keith Jarrett. He made sure his father was exposed to their music, which can be hard to find in Cuba. Eventually his father followed him to Mexico City, where he settled in 2000. Now that Paredes has fulfilled his longtime dream of moving to the United States, he's working to expand on the ideas he was exploring in Mexico with Menduvia.
''Part of my goal in the US is to have my personal project," Paredes says. ''I want to continue what I started with my band in Mexico. I know it is harder to do here, the level is higher. But my main goal is to take my music everywhere I can."
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.
Hub hops to Cuban beats of Paredes
Bob Young, Boston Herald
June 3, 2005
Boston's an unlikely stopping-off point for some of the world's best young Latin jazz players, but that's exactly what the city has been for several years now.
Cuban-born pianist Osmany Paredes, the latest heavyweight to hang his hat here, put on a show Wednesday night at Ryles that had the crowd rushing home with a message to absent friends: Catch this guy while he's still in town.
The 32-year-old native of Havana called his band a traditional Cuban quartet, but there should be a big, fat asterisk attached to the description. Traditional with a very modern edge is more like it.
From the supporting instrumentation - stand-up electric bass, timbales, congas, guiro and vocals - to the interpretations of songs, danzons and guarachas, this was Afro-Cuban jazz for the new millennium.
Paredes is an aggressive stylist with a bright-sounding, percussive approach and penchant for fiery improvisations, yet time and again he revealed a sweet side on the likes of the stately contradanza opener ''La Comparsa'' and the bolero ''En Nosotros.''
It's a mix he's comfortable with, having studied classically in Cuba, then working in Mexico City and other spots with such powerhouses as Israel Cachao Lopez and Patato Valdes.
At Ryles, his band of like-minded compadres hailing from Cuba, Costa Rica and Colombia sounded far tighter than anyone could have expected from a first gig together. They were clearly more than happy to take direction from the quietly charismatic Paredes.
He turned Miles Davis' ''Seven Steps to Heaven'' from jazz standard to seething danzon, playfully slowing and speeding the tempo as his bandmates grinned at the challenge.
He quoted ''The Girl from Ipanema'' and a half dozen other songs on an intensely polyrhythmic ''Tres Lindas Cubanas'' and made the case for a dance floor on the Cuban descarga ''Pa Gozar,'' with timbalero Jorge Najarro and conga player Gregorio Vento leading the charge.
Heed the buzz: Paredes is not to be missed.
06.01.05Latin Beat Magazine
CD Review: Osmany Paredes & Menduvia
Luis Tamargo, Latin Beat Magazine
Al igual que muchos otros musicos cubanos, el pianista/compositor/arreglista Osmany Paredes decidio abandonar permanentemente su isia natal. Y al igual que muchos otros musicos cubanos, el joven villaclareno (oriundo de Santa Clara) se establecio por cierto tiempo en la antigua Tenochtitlan, donde organize en 1998 un estelar grupo jazzistico denominado Menduvia y formado exclusivamente por cubanos con domicilio ultramarine y credenciales impecables, incluyendo al baterista/percusionista Conrado "Coky" Garcia y al saxofonista/percusionista Fernando Acosta (uno de los fundadores del grupo Afrocuba). Tales elementos menduvianos apoyan magistralmente al hijo prodigo del percusionista Guillermo Paredes a traves de un repertorio mayormente original que tambien contiene una magnifica version danzonera de Sei/en Steps to Heaven y una adaptacion admirable de En Nosotros, cancion filinesca que se transforma virtualmente en balada jazzistica y se engalana con el inigualable enfoque vocal de un anejo invitado llamado Francisco Fellove, legendario autor de Mango, mangue y Sea como sea. Radicado actualmente en Boston, Paredes es uno de los mejores pianistas que han salido de Cuba en los ultimos quince anos. Esto puede ser confirmado, sin duda alguna, en su proyecto memorable—con Menduvia y sin penuria.
A second helping of Cuban jazz at the Black Rep
Rick Massimo, Providence Journal
May 5, 2005
When Donald King heard Osmany Paredes play at the Providence Black Rep, he knew that one night a week of jazz wouldn't be enough.
The Friday-night series is booked for the next few months, and King didn't want to wait that long to bring the Cuban pianist and his quartet back. So now there will be jazz on Saturday nights at the busy downtown cultural center as well.
"I wanted to bring him in for a month, and I couldn't," King remembers. So Paredes will be at the Black Rep for the next three Saturdays, kicking off a three-week rotation that goes along with the two-week rotation on Fridays.
Paredes, 32, started playing the piano at age 7 in his hometown of Santa Clara, Cuba, and began studying formally at age 8. At age 20, he went to Mexico, where he played for several years. He now lives in Boston.
On his CD, Osmany Paredes con Menduvia (Menduvia is the band he recorded the album with), Paredes' piano playing is by turns precise, percussive and volcanic in its dynamism, with blindingly fast runs a trademark (such as on "Amigos" and "Cuadras Cha-Cha"), all over conga-dominated rhythms alternately sinuous (as on "Seven Steps") and propulsive ("Atomic").
Paredes lists as influences Cuban and Latin jazz giants such as Israel "Cachao" Lopez (with whom Paredes played in Mexico), Chucho Valdez and pianist Emiliano Salvador -- the driving last track of the CD is called "Sonido Emiliano (Emiliano Sound)." But he also cites jazz pianists such as Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans.
Paredes adds, through an interpreter, that he's been influenced by the "filin" movement in Cuban music. Filin (a derivation of the word "feeling").
"That particular style is very important and has been very influential in my performance," Paredes says. "My father is also a musician, and he liked that style. He always advised me to listen to that style, because it's a mixture of the ballads from the United States, fused with the rhythm and harmony of Cuba."
One of the pioneers of the style, singer Francisco "Fellove" Valdes, sings on Paredes' album. "When you listen to that style, it's like if you were listening to Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by Joe Pass," Paredes says. ". . . It is mostly for the singers, but there is a lot of instrumental music, like with Chucho Valdez."
The filin style, Paredes says, is more an evolution than an offshoot. "I think that when that style began, it was always influenced by jazz. But the filin is slow. The jazz that was played in the '40s was more what is known as Latin jazz. That's the difference that I see. But it comes, really, in sequence. One comes from the other, and it evolves."
Perhaps Paredes is influenced by the expressive quality of filin, but most of his playing is anything but slow.
"I try to bring something new," Paredes says. "It's hard to tell you specifically what my contribution is to this music, but every time I play I pour myself into this music and I give everything that I have."
Superb Cuban pianist finds happiness in Hub jazz scene
Larry Katz, Boston Herald
January 12, 2005
The surprise isn't that so many talented Latino musicians are coming to Boston to play.
It's that so many are coming to stay.
Consider as a prime example Cuban pianist Osmany Paredes, who now lives in Roxbury and is rapidly emerging as a highly visible and exciting presence on the local scene.
''When I first came to the United States, I moved to Los Angeles,'' says Paredes (pronounced pah-RAY-dess) over lunch in Harvard Square. ''The idea was to extend and develop my career. I could have stayed there, but I had already spent 11 years living in Mexico City, another very big city. I had some friends in Boston, and they encouraged me to come.''
One of those friends was Pedro Aizcorbe, a tireless promoter of the Boston Latin jazz scene. He convinced Paredes - as two years earlier he had convinced another top-flight Cuban jazz pianist, Tony Perez - that Boston is now a hub for Latino musicians looking to hone skills and forge reputations.
''I could have stayed in L.A. or gone to New York,'' says Paredes, whose size makes him look more like a Patriots linebacker than a fleet keyboardist with a delicate touch. ''But I liked that Boston was smaller, but is still a place filled with musical activity. People had told me about Berklee and all the people from around the world who come there. I didn't come here to go there, but I appreciate the musical ambience Berklee creates.
''So I was very curious to experience Boston,'' Paredes continues, speaking in a mix of halting English and Spanish translated by Bertram Lehmann, a Berklee teacher and the drummer in his new quintet. ''I moved here in August, 2003. And I found that I like what's going on in this city.''
Even the winter weather?
Paredes laughs. ''That's the only thing I don't like.''
When Paredes, 32, arrived in Boston, he had already released a debut CD, ''Osmany Paredes & Menduvia,'' that he had recorded in Mexico with a group of young Cuban players. Produced, arranged and mostly composed by Paredes, it earned enthusiastic reviews from the international press for its enticing mix of lyrical introspection and rocking Cuban jazz.
While Paredes can be as introspective as Keith Jarrett or as complex as Chick Corea, he just as frequently accompanies his playing by bursting into actual song. It's the sort of openly accessible music that inspires the belief the road to the future of jazz will be paved with Latin rhythms.
''The rhythm Osmany plays with,'' says drummer Lehmann, ''is so strong, so organic, he just pulls you along when you are playing with him. The Cuban pianists are basically percussionists. They play with a drummer's sense of time, but they express it playing harmony and melody. Their timing is incredibly crisp.''
The flavor and fire Paredes brings to a jazz party has made him an increasingly busy piano man about town. Tonight he performs at Ryles in Cambridge, leading his own new band, which in addition to Lehmann includes reknowned bassist Oscar Stagnaro, saxophonist Tim Mayer and percussionist Ernesto Diaz. Tomorrow he plays with the Cuban Jazz Project, featuring saxophonist Bob Gullotti, at the Fireside in Brookline.
Paredes has also been working with singer Patricia Vlieg, a native of Panama, who comes to Ryles on Feb. 11, as well as with Rhode Island-based Grupo Chekere. You might also find him playing for dancers at Johnny D's weekly Sunday night salsa parties in Somerville. And he's also performed recently in New York with fast-rising Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry.
Which means music-loving Bostonians would be wise to enjoy Paredes while they can.
''In the future, I might want to go to New York,'' he admits. ''But who knows? Right now, I am very happy here.''
11.06.03Diario de la Juventud Cubana
Piano Con Moña - Osmany Paredes
Joaquín Borges-Triana, Diario de la Juventud Cubana
November 6, 2003
Words cannot express our admiration for the Cuban arts education system’s achievements in the last few years. And we are not only talking about today or just about the feats of Havana’s schools, where of course most of the resources, both human and material are concentrated. Generations of creative people have graduated and continue to graduate from academies throughout the nation. Those artists, through their work, testify to the virtues of our arts education system, and thanks are due to that system for producing young, talented pianist Osmany Paredes.
He was born in 1972 in Santa Clara, a place that has had the distinction in recent decades of producing a healthy legion of magnificent contributors to the panorama of Cuban sound in the areas of composition and interpretation in both jazz and rock. Osmany spent his formative years at the Art Vocational School. From there he transferred to the National Music School in the capital, graduating in 1991. Now officially a pianist, Paredes joined several bands which were decisive in helping him complement the classical technique he had learned with the characteristic flavor of our popular music and particularly of Latin jazz, a style he has felt drawn to since the start of his career. The outstanding collaborations in this stage of his career include the period he spent with the Bobby Carcassés band, which is a real workshop for mastering the language of jazz in all its styles, and the time he spent with conductor Enrique Jorrín’s orchestra, which allowed him to gain an exhaustive knowledge of the wide range of rhythms arising from the biggest island in the Antilles.
As is often the case with Cuban musicians who are interested in jazz but do not have access to written scores or methods to learn them, Osmany turned to listening to as many jazz recordings as he could find around him in order to, as they say in the field, “fuse" them. Thus he was able to assimilate influences that ranged from Herbie Hancock, Chucho Valdés, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie, to Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, and Emiliano Salvador. The latter is a figure for whom Paredes feels a special bond and to whom he has dedicated a composition called “Emiliano’s Sound," in which he attempts to capture the essence of the eminent keyboard artist’s style, which has become a touchstone for everyone on the planet with an interest in gaining a deeper understanding of Latin jazz.
Currently living in Mexico City, Osmany is building up an intense career which has led to concerts in countries such as Austria, Germany, and Venezuela, in which he promotes both his solo work and his work in collaboration with other well-known artists, such as double-bass player Israel “Cachao" Lopez, percussionist Carlos “Patato" Valdés, flautist Ricardo Benitez, singer-songwriter Amaury Gutiérrez, and trumpet player Alfredo “Chocolate" Armenteros. Similarly, he is highlighting his link to Francisco “Fellove" Valdés, one of the great Cuban vocalists, who became a pioneer in this country by singing scat, and who is a longtime resident of Mexico.
But Paredes’s universe isn’t limited to jazz; he is linked to artists in other areas, such as the formidable Mexican soloist Eugenia Léon, whose repertory is closer to the New Song aesthetic and who possesses a beautiful voice, although she is barely known in this country despite having performed here. Similarly, on the second recording by Havana, which was cut in the land of the Aztecs, Osmany put his piano to work for an album of Latin rock.
January 1998 was a pivotal moment in the history of this young, but already reknown pianist from Villa Clara province. On that date he started his band, Menduvia, a small group that would endeavor to create not only typical Latin jazz, but also jazz that includes riffs from styles that range from classic North American swing to Brazilian bossa nova.
It was with that band, in 1999, that he cut his first independent record. The recording, in addition to its musical merits, boasts excellent technical work by Alejandro Rodríguez, in my opinion one of the best recording engineers Cuba has ever produced.
The Menduvia record also enjoys the talents of three other major Cuban musicians living on Aztec soil, bassist Bárbaro Pérez, Hilario Bell on drums, and flautist Reynaldo Pérez. It’s natural to wish that in the near future Osmany Paredes will come here to share his artistic vision with the place that gave him his razon d’etre as a musician, one whose name is already inscribed in the long rolls of local interpreters of what is known as piano con moña.
Editor’s Pick: Osmany Paredes & Menduvia
Peter Watrous, Descarga.com
May 7, 2003
Swing is a good thing, and Paredes' debut has it. There's nothing too conceptual about the date, just a fine album that has a bunch of younger Cuban musicians, living in Mexico working out in a modern Latin jazz style. The music has its nods to Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, often through Cuban era Gonzalo, Emiliano Salvador and Chucho Valdes. But Paredes, a pianist, likes introspection, so there's tranquility in here also, danzon-like. He rises out of the tranquility with repeated figures that pull the percussion together, and finally the whole project rocks. They take on Miles Davis' "Seven Steps," a jazz standard, and it works with Paredes' piano cruising through variations on a montuno, keeping the proceedings fresh. The original writing veers sometimes into fusion, but almost as an afterthought. A really strong debut, one that leaves you wondering where all these musicians will be in ten years. Recommended.