Author Archives: operahawk

UI Latin Jazz Ensemble concert – “Hey Rucy, I’m home!!”

Around fifty people who were not blown away by a stiff wind and threatening skies were treated to a spirited concert by the UI Latin Jazz Ensemble this Sunday in Riverside Recital Hall.  Considering the flavor of music was familiar to many, I did not hear a single person shout out “Babaloo” or make a reference to Don Draper, though he and Ricky Ricardo would have felt quite at home in the former St. Thomas Moore church.  This concert was the culmination of a weekend-long jazz celebration in Iowa City, with the Johnson County Landmark starting off at the Englert on Friday.

Latin Jazz uses a straight rhythm rather than the ‘swung eighths’ that are usually found in straight-ahead jazz.  The rhythm is based on the clave, which stems from the bell patterns in African music.  The two most known forms are the son clave and the rumba clave.  This clave beat can either be in a duple or a triple meter, and allows a lot of variation; one piece, a Rumba-funk piece with Cuban roots named Pere, was in 5/4!


A Latin ensemble thrives on its percussion section, and this ensemble is no different: along with two trumpets (occasionally a flugelhorn), saxophone, flute, guitar, bass and piano, the UI group added  congas, bongos, guiro, chekere (a dried gourd with a mesh of beads), a normal trap set, a stand-up double snare with cymbal, maracas, tambourines (different sizes and possibly a tunable pandeiro)and cowbell.  There were instances in the concert where I thought The Bruce Dickinson would have been in heaven, but the instrument never overpowered the rest of the group (an inside joke for all you SNL fans). 

The concert started with director James Dreier and two other players on different sizes of bata, a double-sided drum shaped like an hourglass (one side is larger) in a Bata Toque for Eleggua, with some wonderful polyrhythmic patterns going on.  It was very similar to a Reich phase shift; with one change in beat from either of the three players, the pattern would change dramatically.  It is interesting to note that bata drums are associated with the Santería religion, and that toques are played during religious ceremonies, so a Latin Jazz concert in a former Catholic church started with a religious prelude!

The ensemble covered many of the forms of Latin Jazz – rumba guaugancó, cha cha chá, jazz samba, bolero, rumba funk, mambo (with a New Orleans lagniappe), as well as a choro (pronounced, ‘shoro’), a popular urban music in Brazil around the time ragtime was starting in the United States.  It was a wonderful composition, and serendipitous to me after some research – the choro was the music that was used to accompany the maxixe, a sensuous dance that we will be using in the UI version of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette in just under two weeks! 

The players were very tight (special props to Brooke Hendricks playing sax, flute, and supplying some hot vocals on the Mardi Gras Mambo), and special guest Rich Medd laid down some wicked solos on the trombone.  If this is an example of Latin Jazz in Iowa City, I think opening up a mojito stand is in order…

–          Steven Jepson

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