Yosvany Terry and Manuel Valera at Drom

Back at Drom for another session of Cuban jazz. The saxophonist Yosvany Terry joined the pianist Manuel Valera and his “New Cuban Express” for the late set on Saturday, June 23rd.

Unlike the June 6th set by Jorge Luis Pacheco (see CNY blog post of June 11), the Drom management did not offer an online deal, which meant that the audience, although a bit sparser, was there strictly for the jazz and not the deal. It also meant that the food was much better. Part of the deal for the Pacheco set was a plate of Cuban food, which, as I noted in the June 11 blog, was best forgotten. For the Terry/Valera gig one had to order a la carte from the menu and that was a good thing.  The Drom Kitchen, after all, does not regularly feature Cuban food. It’s based in the Mediterranean, especially Turkey, and Liza and I were pleasantly surprised. Clubs usually do not have food this good.

The fried calamari were light and crispy and the Mediterranean plate was plentiful, varied, and just the right accompaniment for the drinks. My apologies to the Drum chef for my previous disparaging remarks about the Cuban food. It’s just not what they do. They should stick to what they do best; with the Cuban plate they were, as we say, peleando fuera de peso (fighting outside their weight class). And you don’t have to have Cuban food with Cuban jazz.

The food was much better than the last time, but I can’t say the same about the musical experience. I simply enjoyed the Pacheco session much more: he had vibrant interpretations of many Cuban themes and melodies and his stage presence was engaging and simpático and he gave the audience his all, playing for nearly ninety minutes.  In contrast Terry and the Valera group seemed aloof and mechanical and the management asked them to end the set after only about one hour.

That is not too say it was not worth staying up past my bedtime to hear these guys (and it was way past my bedtime once we got back up to Washington Heights from Alphabet City). Terry is a wonderful and versatile musician and every member of the group was up to his level, virtuosos all (John Benítez on bass, Samuel Torres on congas, Ludwig Afonso on drums, and Tom Guara on guitar, in addition to Valera on piano, of course).

Yosvany Terry on alto sax, Manuel Varela on piano and the rest of the “New Cuban Express” on stage at Drom on June 23rd

The arrangements were flawlessly performed and I especially enjoyed the most distinctive (and yes, “most Cuban”) piece: “Me Faltabas Tú” a bolero by José Antonio Méndez (by the way, is there a bolero that says 1950s Havana more than Méndez’s “La Gloria Eres Tú,” interpreted, of course, by Olga Guillot?).  The last piece (I didn’t get the title) was also very good, perhaps because the congas were finally allowed to come out and punctuate the arrangement.

So it was a worthwhile musical experience, it was just that it was missing a yo no sé qué, an energy, maybe, or a chemistry among the musicians and with the audience. I did not leave that basement exhilarated, as I usually do after a great jazz performance.

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