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January 2008

NEO Magazine and Federation of Hellenic Societies host Latin Jazz night

By Maria Elena Palau

Latin-Jazz Coalition, the critically acclaimed all-star band, presented recently an exquisite and truly eclectic concert of Afro-Cuban Jazz, traditional Greek folk music, and other diverse combinations of world music at the Stathakion Cultural Center in Astoria, Queens. The 25 world class performing artists were led by Greek-American composer, trombonist Demetrios Kastaris. This concert event was hosted by NEO Magazine and the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York with funding from the Queens Council on the Arts. A diverse audience of more than 300 attendees filled the hall, making the event a unique experience for people on and off the stage.

After greetings were made by Panagiotis Pavlou, the Federation of Hellenic Societies Chairman of the Cultural Committee, and Demetrios Rhompotis, Neo Magazine’s Publishing Committee Chairman, the Latin-Jazz Coalition went into a fiery Afro-Cuban Rumba Guaguancó rhythm with a well known standard Latin tune by Puerto Rican composer Pedro Flores entitled Obsesión. Solos were performed in this piece by multi-Grammy award winning pianist Edy Martinez on the piano, jazz virtuoso Christos Rafalides on the vibraphone who had spent the previous week performing at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, the award winning group’s founder Demetrios Kastaris on trombone, and renowned veteran Bebop trumpeter Ray Vega.

There was then a short break in the music as Kastaris presented the Queens Council on the Arts with a beautifully engraved plaque in recognition of the 21 years of concert funding awarded to the Latin-Jazz Coalition. Receiving the award for the Queens Council was Community Arts Fund Director VivianWarfield.

The group then went into an Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm (Bembé) of John Coltrane’s Equinox. More masterful solos were taken including Angel Rodriguez on the Shekere (an Afro-Cuban gourd with beads strung around it). Vivian Warfield remained on the stage for this number at Demetrios’s invitation and showed that she too was a truly masterful professional Shakere player and percussionist. Warfield’s remaining on stage seemed to exhibit the infectious joy of this hybrid soulful music of Afro-Cuban and African American roots.

As if there had not been enough surprises, for the next number Kastaris took off his black jacket where underneath it he had a shirt made of a large Greek Flag. He then unfolded another separate large Greek flag and set it across the music stands. The audience applauded with enthusiasm as the group went into a medley of Kalamatiano numbers. Bassist Panagiotis Andreou began this medley with a very traditional Greek vocal improvisation over the Taxim or Drone foundation that the band played. They went into To Rinaki, Souliotises (O Horos Tou Zalogou), and Annoula (Tria Paidia). Legendary Blue Note Records recording artist Spiros Exaras played a stellar improvised solo on his guitar as did Bebop master Mike Zarifis on his alto saxophone during this jazzed up hybrid Kalamatiano medley.

Cuban born multi-Grammy award nominee Alfredo de la Fé took the next and showed why he is called Latin music’s Principal First Violin of Salsa. Assisted by the orchestra De la Fé performed the Buena Vista Social Club’s: “El Cuarto de Tula” in an original arrangement. Being the true showman that he is, Alfredo took his cordless electric violin and walked down the aisle throughout the Stathakion Cultural Center as the audience all came to their feet in a thrilling environment of musical joy. In the middle of his solo he summoned Demetrios and fellow trombonist Noah Bless to come out into the audience and take turns trading solos as the audience clapped and danced.

Kastaris then passed the musical torch to the next generation as he called gifted flautist Ivan Rojas to the stage. Rojas is a thirteen year old flute student of Kastaris’s at the Steinway Intermediate School 141Q in Astoria. Eighth grade Ivan did a rather splendid and professional rendition of a blues medley. The orchestra then went into a traditional Afro-Cuban Son-Montuno and the youngster of Salvadorian heritage held his own as he traded solos with Alfredo de la Fé and flautist Connie Grossman.

An appearance was then made by Gospel Salsa group “La Orquesta Unidad” led by led by conga drummer Gary Rosario. They performed some very upbeat and inspirational music that provided even more contrast to an evening of very unique and diverse music. The two combined orchestras then went into an even more upbeat level of intensity with the rapid Afro-Cuban carnival rhythm known as Mozambique. All 25 artists played their hearts out and built up to an intense crescendo with fierce and dynamically improvised solos.

The magical, musical evening then ended with the entire standing room only crowd and all of the performing artists having a delicious Geek meal served to them in the reception room downstairs at the Stathakion Center. This generous complimentary reception was made possible by the hosts: the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.

The Latin-Jazz Coalition: Demetrios Kastaris; trombone, Hirám Remón; lead vocals, Angel Rodriguez; congas, Jotan Afanadór, drum set timbales, Noah Bless; trombone, Alí Bello; violin, Connie Grossman; flute, Enrique Haneine; piano, Ray Vega; trumpet, Alfredo de la Fé, violin, Ivan Rojas; flute, Mike Zarifis; alto sax, Spiros Exaras; guitar, Panagiotis Andreou; bass and vocals, Christos Rafalidis; vibraphone, Vivian Warfield; shakere, Orquesta Udidad: Gary Rosario; leader and conga drums, Benjamin Gonzales; bass, Mike Morales; timbales, Sam Navarro; lead vocals, Sam Martinez; electric guitar and quarto, Angelo Soto; trumpet, Edy Martinez; piano.

For more details about this concert and the Latin-Jazz Coalition on the Internet go to their extensive tri-lingual web site at: www.latinjazzcoalition.com

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