Bring three of jazz’s brightest stars to Havana and pair them with two of Cuba’s best young pianists and their quartets. It took a year to make it happen, but that was the drill for Ninety Miles, the multimedia brainchild of Concord Music Group’s John Burk. The result: a sizzling nine-track CD of clave-accented modern jazz packaged with a DVD preview of a documentary of the same name, including video performances of two tunes from the album.
Vibraphonist Stefon Harris, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez and trumpeter Christian Scott are all established bandleaders and composers and some of the foremost talents on their instruments. The pianists, Rember Duharte and Harold López-Nussa, are lesser known in the U.S. but comparably talented. Each has a distinctive style, and each contributed two compositions to the project. “Rember is more rooted in the African sound, and he’s a little more raw in some ways,” explains Sánchez in the project’s press release. “But Harold is completely different. You hear the Cuban influences in his music, and perhaps more of the European classical piano.”
Three Harris compositions—two from earlier albums (“Black Action Figure” and “And This Too Shall Pass”) plus the newly penned, hard-bop-flavored “Brown Belle Blues”—are performed with the Duharte group, whose electric bassist, Osmar Salazar, shows signs of having been influenced by Jaco Pastorius, particularly on Duharte’s “Ñengueleru” and “Congo.” Sánchez’s two pieces—“City Sunrise” and “The Forgotten Ones”—were influenced by the music of Cameroon and the plight of post-Katrina New Orleans, respectively. The former is performed with López-Nussa’s group, which features the leader’s younger brother, Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, on drums; on the latter it’s just Sánchez, Harris and the batá of percussionist Edgar Martinez Ochoa. “City Sunrise” and López-Nussa’s “La Fiesta Va” are on the DVD, along with some Havana street scenes and commentary from the musicians.