Notes for Sonajero



César López y Habana Ensemble

No matter the artist, not even a superiorly talented artist, a record such as Sonajero cannot be simply penciled in as another “to do” job. It has to be earned. This is not the album to show off your playing or how complex you can write. It’s about life experiences and lessons learned, on and off stage. It’s a recording of deeply felt stories, told with sincerity and grace.

César López has long proved his technical prowess. He was just a teenager when he started working professionally with singer Bobby Carcassés and only 19 when he joined Irakere, the best rolling conservatory in Afro-Cuban jazz in Cuba’s history. Eight years later he moved on, organized his own group, the Habana Ensemble, and went on to pay homage to Pérez Prado, explore post-bop and pop-jazz and arrange jewels of the Great Cuban Songbook for his group and a chamber music ensemble with the elegance of a jeweler.

Sonajero is both a summation and a beginning.

Instead of fireworks, López offers on the saxophone a personal style that owes as much to diverse masters such as Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, David Sanborn, and Jean-Marie Londeix, as it does to his love for singing. The result suggests a vocal, nuanced, melodic approach. Compositionally, these pieces are not strictly jazz, European classical music or Cuban music — but draws from all of those genres.
“I grew up in a country of mixed races, cultures, and customs, and that’s how I write and that’s how I play my instrument,” says López. “I find it difficult to put a label on this record, but if I had to, I would call it World Chamber Music.”

As labels go, it is probably as good as any.

What matters here is the stories. Some have to do with family, others with music, as passion and trade.

There is a salute to his father and a tender, sepia-toned habanera to his grandparents. But the program also includes tributes to the great sax teacher Miguel Ángel Villafruela and a heartfelt homage to saxophonist Carlos Averhoff, Lopez´s partner in crime and roommate in many Irakere tours. And he salutes with a danzón (could it have been anything else?) one of the great dynasties in Cuban music, the López family (no relation). The Lopez family, which at one point counted 40 bass players, included composers, arrangers and multi-instrumentalists who were essential in the development of Cuban music such as the brothers Orestes (“Macho”) and Israel (better known as “Cachao”), sister Coralia and Orestes’ son, Orlando “Cachaíto.”
“It’s my recognition to great Cuban musicians who have made a tremendous contribution to Cuban music,” says López. “When people think of patriots and heroes they usually relate it to politics. Music is one of the great treasures of Cuba and this family has made an enormous contribution for more than 100 years. They are heroes in my book.”

Sonajero is a recording of substance and style. Nobody arrives to that by chance.
It has to be earned, bar by bar, note by note — just as César López has.

Sonajero was released in January, 2015.

Fernando González