Cuba-born and New York-based saxophonist and clarinet player Paquito D'Rivera has balanced a career in Latin jazz with commissions as a classical composer and appearances with symphony orchestras. At the age of six, young Paquito played the soprano sax already on a professional level. At age 10 he performed with the National Theater Orchestra of Havana, then began studying at the Havana Conservatory of Music and became a featured soloist with the Cuban National Symphony at age 17.
He was a co-founder of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. In 1973 he joined eight members of the Orquesta to form Irakere, a top-rated Cuban-Jazz ensemble that toured throughout the world. While on tour in Spain in 1981, D'Rivera defected and moved to the U.S. starting a unique career in U.S. jazz and classical circuits. He played with Dizzy Gillespie and others and wrote compositions for chamber ensembles and Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 1988 he was a founding member of Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra, a 15-piece ensemble organized to showcase the fusion of Latin and Caribbean influences into the jazz genre. With his own groups D'Rivera tours throughout the world. He has recorded about 30 albums as a leader and received several Grammy Awards. In 1991 he was a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Latin music.
Despite the prominence of jazz in this extensive and impressive biography, D'Rivera's Aires tropicales may be among the most conservative music to be heard this evening. Commissioned by the Aspen Wind Quintet and premiered in New York City in 1994, it has been performed by many other prominent quintets.
The Alborada introduction, hesitant and tentative as befits its title (a "morning song") is over almost before it begins. The Son, with its relentless ostinato Latin bass line in the bassoon and horn, is the most extended movement of the seven. It takes its inspiration (and its title) from the most popular Cuban dance form of the late 1800s, with its roots in African rhythms. The insinuating and seductive Habanera features the flute, clarinet, and bassoon in an homage to the dance widely believed to be the ancestor of the tango. The bittersweet tone continues in the Vals Venezolano, a waltz dedicated to Venezuela's Antonio Lauro. Dizzyness, an homage to jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, employs the most complex harmonic language, for an effect that is indeed a bit dizzy. The Contradanza, another traditional Cuban dance dedicated to Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, evokes the most vivid images of actual dancing in the suite. The concluding Afro begins with a slow flute solo, followed soon by an ever more energetic dance over yet another African ostinato.
-- Dennis Bade is the L.A. Philharmonic's Associate Director of Publications.