World-renowned and Grammy™-nominated Cuban tres and guitar virtuoso and music scholar Benjamin Lapidus releases his long-awaited 8th Latin jazz recording and 9th as a bandleader. The unique album features heavyweights from the Latin and jazz worlds such as Mauricio Herrera, Willie Martinez, Jorge Bringas, Manuel Alejandro Carro, Ray “Chino” Diaz, Hector Torres, Jadele McPherson, andPaul Carlon.
“This is perhaps my most personal album because there is no place to hide musically speaking. This is that much more apparent when I’m playing bass, chords, and melodies simultaneously in real time on the Warr guitar or singing original songs of love and loss. These duets withWillie Martinez,Mauricio Herrera, and Ray Diaz allowed me to bring the touchstyle/tapping technique and sound to a wide range of Spanish Caribbean music that has been so important to me since my teenage years. ” -Benjamin Lapidus
Latin music’s cutting-edge musician/scholar returns with Blues for Ochún, a grooving and ear-pleasing recording rooted in Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican music traditions as well as jazz. The result is a deep listening experience that offers a truly unique take on Latin jazz featuring touchstyle/tapping guitar, Cuban tres, electric guitar, English, Spanish, and Yoruba vocals, a heavy helping of Afro-Caribbean percussion, and the Hammond organ he explored on his last record, Ochosi Blues. The recording’s focus on the Warr guitar, a touchstyle/tapping instrument created by Mark Warr that allows the player to perform melody, harmony, and bass simultaneously, marks the first time that a Latin jazz album has ever been made featuring this instrument. When asked to label Benjamin Lapidus’ music, critics and fans agree that it is Latin Jazz in the truest sense of the term, as Lapidus continues to explore different ways of mixing Jazz and Spanish-Caribbean music, while making the music accessible, organic, and logical. This is the direct result of Lapidus and the New York musicians involved, who are completely bi-and even tri-cultural, a benefit of being residents of the largest Caribbean city in the United States. Active in the New York Latin scene since 1995, Lapidus has made a name for himself among the elders as the go to player for long-established bands and new live and recording projects such as The Buena Vista Social Club, Jerry and Andy González, Típica 73, Larry Harlow, and many more.
Blues for Ochún, the Album
Critics and fans agree that Benjamin Lapidus’ music is unique in its cutting-edge approach without sacrificing accessibility or the traditions of Spanish-Caribbean music. With Blues for Ochún, Lapidus continues his dynamic vision of bringing Spanish-Caribbean music and jazz together as equals while charting new ground and creatively altering the musical conventions of both worlds. He started on this path in his previous five releases of original compositions (1998- 2005) as the leader of the world-renowned Latin jazz phenomenon Sonido Isleño, and continued with his pan-Latin jazz interpretation of the Brazilian songbook with Kaori Fujii on Garota de Ipanema for RCA-Victor Japan (2007). In 2008, he released Herencia Judía a critically acclaimed Afro-Latin Jewish recording project. And in 2014, he released the Hammond organ-based Ochosi Blues to wide critical acclaim performing the title track and other originals at Havana’s Jazzplaza Festival in 2019.
For his 9th release Blues for Ochún, Lapidus assembled an A-list of performers and friends with whom he has frequently toured and recorded: Mauricio Herrera (Nicholas Payton, Yerba Buena) Cuban master drummer; Willie Martínez (Johnny Colón) veteran Latin jazz drummer and bandleader; Jadele McPherson Afrocuban ritual music vocalist and scholar; Hector Torres (Sonido Isleño, Chico Álvarez) veteran percussionist and long-time collaborator; Ray “Chino” Díaz Dominican percussionist with Milly y Los Vecinos; Manuel Alejandro Carro Cuban percussionist with David Broza; bassist Jorge Bringas former musical director for Albita, and Paul Carlon (Sonido Isleño) the in- demand NYC-based tenor saxophonist and bandleader. Lapidus joins them on Warr guitar, organ, guitar, Cuban tres, and vocals.
The album begins with the title track which is the first part of a two-part suite “Blues for Ochún” and “3 for Ochún.” This is Lapidus’ recorded debut playing organ and the two tracks are meant to be heard one after the other, as one long piece. In 1997, Lapidus first traveled to the shrine of Cuba’s patron saint La Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre which is syncretized with the orisha (Yoruba ancestor/spirit) Ochún. 26 years later, he makes a musical offering in celebration of his long relationship with the island, its people, music, and history. The opening notes set the mood and tone as Jadele McPherson’s beautiful vocals move easily between Lucumí sacred music, jazz, and blues. Willie Martínez plays drum set and Mauricio Herrera plays batá drums and congas. Lapidus always enjoyed jazz organ combos as a young person but after playing his first gig with Mike Torsone in 1995, he fell in love with the Hammond sound and spirit. Ochosi Blues (2014) was Lapidus’ first attempt at recording Latin music with an organ combo. On August 30, 2020 he started a personal musical challenge acquiring a Hammond organ and became an organist as well. He dedicates the performances on these tracks to the memory of his generous friend, the musical genius Joey Defrancesco.
“Cachita” is also associated with Ochún and is a classic composition written by Harlem Hellfighter and legendary Puerto Rican musical pioneer Rafael Hernández from the years he lived in Cuba. For this version, Lapidus plays the Warr guitar, a two-handed touchstyle/tapping instrument that covers bass and guitar range similar to the technique developed by guitarist Stanley Jordan. Lapidus started playing an earlier touchstyle/tapping instrument called the Chapman Stick in 1988 shortly after he met one of its main exponents, Greg Howard. He took lessons with Frank Jolliffe starting in 1989 but it would be many more years before he could really unlock the tuning and concept of the instrument and in his own words, “I’m still working in it!” Lapidus started to play the Warr guitar in 2002. “Cachita” also
features Mauricio Herrera, a longtime musical collaborator and master percussionist from Holguín, Cuba on various percussion instruments. Hector Torres has been performing with Lapidus since 2000 and he is the featured bongó soloist on the track.
“I Finally Realized” is an original composition by Lapidus that combines Cuban rumba, son, changüí, jazz, and English- language lyrics. The arrangement features Lapidus on vocals, guitar, and Cuban tres plus the liquid bass sound of Jorge Bringas (Havana, Cuba), the percussion stylings of Manuel Alejandro Carro (Camagüey, Cuba), and Paul Carlon’s flute, tenor and baritone saxophones. The song expresses the range of emotions at the end of a long relationship.
“Donna Lee” is a beloved and challenging bebop composition associated with Charlie Parker, but when Lapidus was growing up in 1980s New York City the Jaco Pastorius version was all he and his contemporaries wanted to hear. His version on Warr guitar is a way of acknowledging that influence and Jaco’s historic recording with Don Alias. Alias was a frequent collaborator with two of Lapidus’ mentors Andy and Jerry González. In 2016, Lapidus earned a Grammy™- nomination for his liner notes, composition, vocals, Cuban tres, and guitar playing on Andy González’s solo record, Entre Colegas (2015). Mauricio Herrera demonstrates his formidable percussion chops as both accompanist and soloist on this track.
“Ensalada jíbara” (jíbaro salad) is a medley of Puerto Rican seises and aguinaldos, music that Lapidus first came into contact with as a teenager in New York City where he saw jibaro music performed live in his neighborhood. Willie Martínez is a dynamic drummer who Lapidus has worked with for a long time in a variety of bands including Martínez’s New York Salsa All-Stars. Martínez plays many styles of music and brings this depth and conceptual breadth to the arrangement as well as his fantastic drum solo.
“Dulce de coco” is another original composition by Lapidus that rejoices in a couple’s love and the future possibilities of their young family. This quartet arrangement features Lapidus on guitar and vocals, Jorge Bringas on bass, Manuel Alejandro Carro on percussion, and Paul Carlon on tenor saxophone.
Lapidus wrote “La vaina” in 1998 and originally released in 1999 on Sonido Isleño’s second album, El Asunto. This was Lapidus’ second album as the bandleader and musical director of Sonido Isleño and they performed “La vaina” along with other selections live on the CBS Morning Show with Bryant Gumbel in 2000. This duo performance features Lapidus on the Warr guitar and Ray “Chino” Díaz on percussion. Díaz was a percussionist with Milly y Los Vecinos but Lapidus was familiar with his work through their mutual connection to saxophonist Mario Rivera. Rivera was a musical mentor and role model when Lapidus was in high school and his musicianship remains a standard to which Lapidus and many others hold themselves to. There is a ridiculous saying in the Dominican Republic that güira (metal scraper) players are not real musicians, but Ray “Chino” Díaz plays a güira solo that shows this to be a completely false notion.
“I’ll Remember Compadre Pedro Juan in April” is a mashup of two classics, “Compadre Pedro Juan” and “I’ll Remember April” both of which are significant to Lapidus. The first song is widely acknowledged to be the unofficial national anthem of the Dominican Republic, a country and its music that Lapidus has deep connections to and the second is a song he grew up hearing his father play regualarly on piano. On this duo arrangement with Lapidus on Warr guitar and Ray “Chino” Díaz on percussion, Díaz plays a virtuosic solo on the Dominican tambora.
Lapidus first performed the “Changüí Medley” arrangement of “El guararey de Pastora”, “Kiribá,” and “Latamblé tocando el tres” (La rumba está buena)at the 34th Jazz Plaza Festival in Havana, Cuba in 2019. The medley features three of the best-known songs from Guantánamo, a region of Cuba whose music Lapidus studied, published extensively on and immersed himself in for more than 27 years. Lapidus plays the Warr guitar and Mauricio Herrera plays the iconic bongó de monte (mountain bongo) associated with changüí as well as the maracas and guayo (scraper).
The album concludes with “Yo me di cuenta” which is the Spanish-language version of “I Finally Realized” and it also features Lapidus on vocals, guitar, and Cuban tres, Jorge Bringas on bass, Manuel Alejandro Carro on percussion, and Paul Carlon on flute, tenor and baritone saxophones.
In addition to Blues for Ochún, Lapidus has been busy recording and/or performing on tres, guitar, vocals, and Warr guitar with Sonido Isleño, Román Díaz, Darianna Videaux Capitel, Abraham Rodríguez, Bobby Sanabria, Stephanie Trudeau’s film and Bistro award-winning film one-woman show Becoming Chavela, Dawn Drake (Corona King, 2021 and Summer, 2020), Mr. G and José V (Ritmo y Rima, 2020), David Ullman (Sometime, 2018), Paul Carlon (Tresillo, 2017), Wilson “Chembo” Corniel (Música, artistas y poetas, 2023), Bang on a Can at Mass MoCA, Willie Martínez, Yotoco, Los Hacheros, The Arsenio Rodríguez Tribute Conjunto at Terraza 7, Johnny Rodríguez’s Dream Team, Típica 73, Japanese flute player Rie Akagi (La flauta mágica, 2020), La Excelencia (Machete, 2020), Preservation Jazz Hall (A Tuba to Cuba, 2017), and Andy González (Entre Colegas, 2015).