Goddard Riverside Community Center
Performance Review: Event date, November 10, 2010; review published November 20.
They come, leaning on canes, carefully, gently stepping down the steep stairs. One-by-one, two-by-two, holding each other’s arms for support. They hobble in using walkers, slowly maneuvering the long ramp down. They cluster in the hallway – it’s difficult to move quickly – I’m going at a much faster pace.
I survey the audience: at 59, I am one of the youngest people in the room; a large, stark, basement – acoustic tiles, big rectangular florescent lights – no “atmosphere” here, but packed nevertheless with intelligent, expectant listeners – mostly Black and Latino older couples. Tonight, the first night of the renowned Goddard Riverside Community Center’s free jazz concerts, they’re all “dolled up” for an evening on the town. Nice clothes: suites and ties, pressed pants, fine knits, ladies in hats and scarves, bright colors, decorated with their best jewelry.
No matter how old, they come. No matter how painstaking the trip – they show up on time –all in their seats well before the 7pm “curtain.”
Are they drawn by memories of their youth?
Do they recall the deep, polyrhythmic beat of the drum?
Bodies remember hidden, primal, places within. Polyrhythmic patterns traveled via slaves, dancing to beat of two sticks: claves – two wooden pegs that literally held the wooden boats they traveled in together. Memories from the inside of the belly of the beast – where slaves danced, lest they die. African beats, brought via the drum, and when the drum was forcibly taken away, passed along via body memory, to Cuba, the Caribbean, the Americas, up through New Orleans to this city where I live, to El Barrio – where percussion in the streets lasted all night long, driving hips to move and sway.
Bodies remember clave.
Another river of migration, from the ghettos and shtetls of Eastern Europe, where itinerant Jewish troubadours, known as ‘klezmorim‘, performed at joyful events since the early middle ages until the Nazi and Stalinian prosecutions forced those who survived and could escape to Ellis Island, to Williamsburg, the Lower East Side. Carrying the sounds of chanting Rabbi’s and Cantors. These circular swaying black-hat congregants, moved to instruments blown with human breath into a frenzied dance/trance.
We, here tonight at Goddard Riverside Community Center, sit patiently, quietly, in polite anticipation.
How will these two traditions intertwine?
We sit before the Maestro, Roberto Rodriguez: Traveling to the US with his family at age nine, fleeing Castro’s Cuba. A bona fide innovator, that rare musician whose creative vision synthesizes Cuban music and Jewish music into an entirely new music that breathes joy and melancholy with tremendous emotional clarity.
What magic will ensue?
The music explodes …
Tenderness, mastery, virtuosity – band members playing like legs and arms of one syncopating body. In moments, I can’t help it, I rise out of my seat – I dance.
Ivan Barenboim, clarinet. Beautiful, mystical, dark – a serpent that takes me back to a long forgotten land. I return to my Jewish roots, circles of men and women separately dancing, in candlelight – sweaty, smiling, joyous. Chairs on the shoulders of strong men, hoisting newlyweds’ high – shouts, laughter. Connecting my DNA, via my Ashkenazi mother, entwined with my Sephardic brothers and sisters – my prayers, synagogue chants, my birth. Down, down, down from the tail of the serpent to its head and back again, in undulating waves – a virtuoso!
Roberto Rodriguez, drums. I close my eyes: I return to Cuba via the beat, back to the square in Havana, pressed against bodies, dancing without care (but wary of pickpockets), vibrant colored skirts swirling. His clave made me call out in silent prayer: Oh my G-d, I want to again dance these dances: mambo, rumba, cha-cha-cha in the lands of their origin.
But, hey, wait a minute I tell myself – why am I longing to be elsewhere, when I am here, in New York Funkin’ City – the home, the boiling, overflowing pot of diversity-rhythm- fusion?
And I dance: Hallelujah!
Bernie Minoso, bass. His rhythm keeps me grounded, steady, deep, something to hold on to, yet subtle, caressing.
Uri Sharlin, piano/accordion: lightly supporting, then taking the lead, with flying fingers. Accordion breathing with me, inhaling and exhaling, my chest heaving, pumping its way into the music, into me.
I dance …
Their musical roots reached down and down and down from a grove of old growth trees, still standing … through the serpentine waves of the clarinet and the polyrhythmic beat of the drum – down, down, through time – where these roots, longing for refreshment, become delicate fibers, almost invisible tubes, drawing up clear water from unknown depths; interlacing African, Cuban and Jewish roots – ancient history, mystery.
Could I dance to it? Hell yeah! But not like I’m not in some bar or uptight cocktail party with “background” music, with simple rhythms, where I have to push my body to move my feet. NO friends, this is expertly executed polyrhythm, mixed and woven eloquently with the winding and flowing Middle East. There is inspiration for every limb, every organ of my body. I dance like a woman possessed by the demons and angles of history. Freed from the barriers of today’s politeness of cocktail party movement and chatter. I allow myself to go back in time, when all the people of the earth danced in circles with abandon, calling up the spirits with their bodies.
I salute them: to our ancestor’s roots and shared visions.
By the final tune, there weren’t just a few of us up out of our seats… no; I was not alone. These same “old” people, who could barely get IN the place, these 70, 80, and 90-year-old’s, ROCKED the house. By the end of the concert, they were up, dancing, screaming, and, yes – hollering.
How is it possible that these people, some of whom could seemingly barely walk, were now up dancing? Chairs pushed aside, isles filled with bodies moving to the beat, hands clapping – a swarming mass of buzzing bees? How is it possible that these people – these OLD people – we’re gettin’ down, smiling, gleeful?
Did the Messiah return to Goddard Riverside Community Center?
If the Messiah is a vibration that moves and heals the old and sick, and brings back memories of youth …
if the Messiah is raucous and sweet and sexy …
if the Messiah is African, Cuban and Jewish, peaceful and joyous …
then my friends, the answer is a resounding YES – and the name of that HEALING force tonight is …
“The CUBAN JEWISH ALL STARS.”
ALL STARS – YES, they are!
For more information on the Cuban Jewish All Stars go to:
During the year Goddard Riverside presents free jazz concerts for its neighbors. All the concerts are held at 593 Columbus Avenue, corner of 88th Street, at 7:00pm. All events are FREE and open to the pubic. For more information go to http://www.goddard.org or contact Soo Baek, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2010 series includes:
2/24 Jazzberry Jam!
4/14 Mickey Bass and the NY Powerhouse Ensemble
6/9 Susan Pereira and Sabor Brasil
July concert: TBA