Afro-Cuban Legend Cándido Honored with Vibrant Concert in NYC


Cándido Camero performs at a tribute concert in his honor in New York on Nov. 18.

(Photo: Andres Martinez)

NEA Jazz Master Cándido Camero is among the last contemporaries of Cuban conguero Chano Pozo, who, in the late 1940s, emigrated to New York and invigorated the local jazz scene with the music of his native island.

A true innovator, Candido is hailed as the first to use three conga drums tuned to different pitches in order to play the percussive melodies for which he was known.

On the occasion of his announced retirement, following a career spanning eight decades during which he has played with virtually every major figure in jazz and Latin music, as well as many luminaries from the worlds of pop and r&b, the renowned percussionist was feted at City College of New York’s Aaron Davis Hall on Nov. 18 in a multifaceted affair billed as Cándido: The Last Legendary Music Journey.

Sirius XM radio personality Nelson Radhames Rodríguez welcomed the crowd to the event, which began with the unveiling of a lifelike portrait of the honoree by New York artist Luis Alvarez Roure. The painting was part of a weeklong exhibition by Hispanic American painters called An Artist’s Tribute to Cándido, which displayed in the hall’s lobby gallery.

After recounting Cándido’s storied history, Rodíguez introduced the show’s opening act, drummer Amaury Acosta with his (U)nity ensemble. The young Latin jazz-rock fusion quintet, with which Cándido has performed in the past, kicked things off with three energized numbers that featured potent solos from guitarist Nir Felder, alto saxophonist Max Cudworth, keyboardist Zaccai Curtis and electric bassist Joshua Crumbly, propelled by Acosta’s powerhouse drumming.

The concert’s next segment brought saxophonist/flutist Mitch Frohman and guitarist/tres player Benjamin Lapidus to the stage to receive the Latin Jazz USA 2016 “Chico O’Farrill” Lifetime Achievement Award. The two musicians, accompanied by tresero/sonero David Oquendo, began playing the opening strains of the Cuban classic “Son De La Loma”, as Cándido was escorted onto the bandstand to a roaring standing ovation.

With a broad smile on his face, the nonagenarian took his place behind his signature white conga drums and, before playing a beat on his instrument, started singing the well-known Spanish lyric.

The energy level rose steadily, with Lapidus soloing on double-necked guitar, Frohman on flute and Kali Rodriguez on trumpet. Buoyed by Mauricio Herrera on bongo and cowbell, Cándido began playing son rhythms, then soloed melodically with energy the belied his years.

The ensemble swelled to include (U)nity members Acosta, Curtis and Cudworth for “Tributo A Cándido”, a dynamic homage featuring Oquendo’s lead voice and a vocal coro.

As the song’s infectious rhythms propelled the horn soloists, three mambo-dancing couples from the Herencia de Cuba dance troupe joined the musicians on stage to add an exciting visual component to the piece, which ended with saxophones riffing behind a soaring trumpet cadenza.

The mood mellowed with the introduction of Cuban songstress Xiomara Laugart, who sang a medley of boleros with Oquendo, beginning with the beautiful “De Mis Recuerdos.”

As the pair vocalized over the latter’s tres accompaniment, Cándido lightly tapped out cadenced rhythms that followed the duo’s escalating energy, closing out the piece with an invigorating tag that was both contemporary and classic.

Thespian and vocalist Rome Neal paid tribute to Cándido’s role in the bebop and Cubop revolutions of the ’40s and ’50s by reciting a soliloquy culled from his role in the play Monk and by singing “’Round Midnight” with Richard Clements on piano.

The first half of the concert closed with the “Tributo A Cándido” ensemble and the Herencia de Cuba dancers returning for a rousing rendition of fellow Afro-Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaría’s “Mayeya” that began with Oquendo singing a folkloric chant and concluded with him stretching out on tres.

The second segment of the concert featured drummer Bobby Sanabria’s Multiverse Big Band playing an ambitious program that melded jazz and Afro-Cuban music in a sound that was both traditional and modern. The group opened with Michael Philip Mossman’s “57th Street Mambo,” a tour de force outing that moved through swing, rumba, cha-cha, son montuno, bembe and mambo rhythms, with solos by Kevin Bryan on trumpet and the leader’s commanding drums.

Sanabria dedicated Arsenio Rodriguez’s “La Vida Es Sueño” to Donald Trump, the president-elect of the United States. The song featured guest flutist Gabrielle Garo with Oquendo and Laugart, and featured lyrics about a man who lives a life full of deception.

Andrew Neesley’s “Que Viva Cándido” was a soulful tribute that spotlighted his own trumpet, along with David DeJesus’ soprano saxophone, Jeff Lederer’s tenor saxophone and Mathew Gonzalez’s quinto. An episodic arrangement of Eddie Palmieri’s “Puerto Rico” featuring conguero Oreste Abrantes’ vocal, brought Oquendo and Lapidus back to the stage to add to the band’s roaring sound, as the Herencia de Cuba couples danced with inspired abandon.

An orchestration of Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” utilized Puerto Rican plena and bomba rhythms, pounded out by Gonzalez on pandeiro, to give a fresh sound to the Ellingtonian warhorse that featured Shareef Clayton on plunger-muted trumpet and DeJesus on soprano saxophone.

That song led into Mossman’s “Afro Cuban Jazz Suite For Duke Ellington,” which merged various Ellington melodies with a variety of Latin rhythms. Tenor saxophonist Peter Brainin soloed with alternately classic and strident tones.

Silvano Monasterios’ piano shined on the Duke’s “Sophisticated Lady,” as did DeJesus’ alto saxophone on “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” and Neesley’s trumpet on “Satin Doll.” The ensemble ended melodiously with “Body And Soul”.

The concert concluded with Cándido returning to the stage, along with Frohman, Garo, Lapidus and others, joining the orchestra for a jam on “Manteca” with dancers combining mambo and lindy hopping steps.

Fittingly, the music closed out with an extended multiclimactic Cándido conga solo that in no way signaled any desire on the part of the legendary artist to ever stop playing.

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