Thursday, June 18, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 120: Billy Taylor/Candido

Billy Taylor wrote the liner notes for this album, and he made its purpose clear:
The purpose of this album is to present a great new jazz artist. His name is Candido, and we think that he is the most exciting jazz conga and bongo player in the business.

There are, of course, many Latin American drummers who play well with jazz groups, but I have not heard anyone who even approaches the wonderful balance between the jazz and Cuban rhythmic elements that Candido so vividly demonstrates, and his technical facility is, to say the least, astounding.
Dizzy Gillespie, of course, is one of the most important figures involved in the integration of Latin rhythms into jazz, starting with bringing Chano Pozo into his band. Even before that, Machito had one of the great jazz trumpeters, Mario Bauza, who never gets the credit he deserves--well, Latin jazz has never really gotten the acclaim it deserves. Candido played with both Machito and Gillespie before joining Billy Taylor for these sessions. Taylor, who would become one of the great educators in the jazz field, seems to have already had that mind set, as he sets out to prove that Latin jazz is real jazz, and Candido Camero is a real jazz musician.

Taylor gives Candido a lot of solo space here, and the conguero makes full use of it. He's a powerful presence throughout, soloing and trading with Taylor. And I could say accompanying, but that's not really it. He makes Taylor's solos into duets, and this is in no small part due to Rudy Van Gelder's engineering, keeping the levels of both instruments perfectly complementary.

The tracks are Taylor originals, plus a version of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" which is breathtaking. Over nearly 8 minutes, Porter's melody becomes Latinized, boppified, turned into a vehicle for some adventurous Taylor improvisation and hot percussion by Candido.

Candido, who is still with us, was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2008, and his brief bio on the NEA's website describes some of his innovative drumming techniques:
...playing three congas (at a time when other congueros were playing only one) in addition to a cowbell and guiro (a fluted gourd played with strokes from a stick). He created another unique playing style by tuning his congas to specific pitches so that he could play melodies like a pianist.

I found a fascinating article on Candido at the Drum! website, taken from an article by Bobby
Sanabria (Originally Published in the Autumn 2007 issue of TRAPS) which includes the mention of a group the young Candido played with in Havana, led by Chano Pozo on congas, and including Candido on tres (a Cuban three-stringed instrument designed like either a mandolin or a guitar) and Mongo Santamaria on bongos. He also describes how he came to develop his three-drum technique:
 I had seen the New York Philharmonic perform and paid attention to the timpanist. I thought to myself, ’I can do the same thing with the congas.’ I began to tune the drums to specific pitches, mostly a dominant chord, so I could play melodies in my tumbaos and solos.

"A Live One" and "Mambo Inn" were released on an EP, and, with "Love For Sale," as part of a 10-inch LP. Both of these were just credited to Billy Taylor. The 12-inch LP, with the liner notes I quoted above, had the whole session, and was titled The Billy Taylor Trio with Candido.

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