Arte Y Vida Chicago, Concert Review >>
There was once a small club on the corner of Belmont & Sheffield called the Quiet Knight, and it was there that both Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen played their first Chicago shows. Needless to say, I wasn’t there.
I’m not about to suggest that Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole will reach the stratospheric heights of those music legends. Nonetheless, I feel fortunate to be one of maybe 150 people who witnessed the Chicago debut of Cole and his Afrobeat Collective, a 10 piece polyrhythmic juggernaut, Thursday night at Rogers Park’s Mayne Stage as part of the Afro Caribbean Improvisational Music Festival.
Cole, who hails from Mayagüez but has spent the last decade living in New York, is an in-demand jazz drummer. If fact, he was just in Chicago two weeks earlier as a member of the Ninety Miles band that played Symphony Center, and he has toured and recorded with Miguel Zenón and David Sánchez. He released his Afrobeat Collective CD Roots Before Branches earlier this year, an ambitious project that straddles jazz, rock, Puerto Rican bomba and hip-hop (and even, on one track, a Philip Glass-like string quartet) all laced together with Fela Kuti’s pioneering Afrobeat drive. Improbable as that might sound, it is one of the year’s more interesting records, and one of the few that uses Afrobeat as a fully integrated element rather than as a mere template to be followed.
Thursday’s concert took Roots Before Branches’ relatively short and concise songs and used them as a launching pad for some truly amazing ensemble work. Cole has said that had he been a Puerto Rican musician playing a few centuries ago, the influences would have been the same mix of African, indigenous and European. I accept that at face value, but would add the island of Manhattan to the mix. Live, the band feels firmly connected to bomba y plena, but the funky vamping and outside solos speak of a downtown scene. I’ve no doubt the San Juan equivalent of lower Manhattan shares that same creative vibe.
Cole seems to have absorbed and mastered all of these influences seamlessly, to the point that he’s creating something new out of them. He’s in firm command of his drum kit, all the while directing the swirl of activity around him. Here is where it becomes jazz, as he gives his players (and himself) lots of room to stretch out and develop ideas in true improvisational fashion. The whole thing, though, is so undeniably funky that it’s easy to imagine Henry Cole and the Afrobeat Collective playing before the throngs at Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza. 12/12/12 >> go there