The evolution of New Yor-Uba, pianist Michele Rosewoman’s painstaking synthesis of modern jazz and ancient Afro-Cuban folkloric traditions, has been a journey of slow-motion magnificence. Three full decades after premiering her semi-big band in 1983, Rosewoman released its first recording, the live double-disc New Yor-Uba, 30 Years: A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America, to critical acclaim. Now, six years later, comes Hallowed, with Rosewoman offering only slight refinements of New Yor-Uba’s unique template.
The crown jewel here is “Oru de Oro” (“Room of Gold”), a 10-song, nearly 48-minute “rhythmic suite” commissioned by Chamber Music America. It’s undergirded by batá drums, described by Rosewoman as “the orchestra of the Yoruba temple,” with patterns recreated from tradition by folklorist Román Diaz. New Yor-Uba hews to the traditional “six hands” of batá, three drummers hitting the double-sided drums to call up the power of ancestral spirits. Occasionally the percussion assumes center stage, but mostly it provides a density that’s both staccato and sinuous, creating a rugged yet pliable springboard for the solos and choruses of Rosewoman and four or five horn players. Rosewoman pounds and scampers in a manner reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, while the brass and reeds generally play a low-toned, high-caliber blend of postbop Latin jazz. To appreciate its ambitious arc and the import of its slight shifts in momentum, “Oru de Oro” is best appreciated straight through.
Two other extended works, lasting approximately 10 minutes apiece, round out Hallowed. “The Wind Is the First to Know” is a collection of traditional songs sung by Diaz and Nina Rodríguez, with the airy ambience of Rosewoman’s Fender Rhodes the dominant instrument. Then there’s the loping groove of “Alabanza” (“Praise”), which won composer Rosewoman a Latin Jazz Grammy in 2016 when it appeared on the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s Cuba, the Conversation Continues.
Rosewoman’s abiding faith in these centuries-old rhythms, covertly passed down by word of mouth to safeguard their potency, provides New Yor-Uba with an idiosyncratic discipline similar to Henry Threadgill’s Zooid or Steve Coleman’s Five Elements. As with those ensembles, listeners are richly rewarded by marinating in the music. Past history suggests that you’ll have plenty of time before another round becomes available.
Are you a musician or jazz enthusiast? Sign up for our weekly newsletter, full of reviews, profiles and more!