Monday, December 3, 2012

El Clan Destino Keeps the Beat

                                                                                                 SKepecs © 2012
by Susan Kepecs
El Clan Destino, one of Mad City’s sexiest bands, cooks up Afro-Cuban rock n’ roll jazz like nobody’s business.  And what better way to beat the mid-December, dark nights, grinchy holiday blues than with a super-tasty musical dish?  Clan Destino plays Happy Hour at the Cardinal Bar two Fridays in a row: Dec. 14 (5-7 pm) and 21st, a kickoff for la fiesta del final del mundo, 5:30-8 pm (the fiesta continues with Tony Castañeda and more at 9).  
El Clan Destino turns 10 in 2013.  The current lineup: Nick Moran on bass, Vince Fuh on piano, Frank Martínez on drums and Yorel Lashley (who replaces Jamie Ryan from the original outfit) on percussion.  El Clan’s fledgling days were bright.  One of its first gigs was at the now long-defunct Luther’s Blues, where it opened for Big Apple salsa dura act Son Café.  At the time, the Clan’s signature was Jeff Beck’s “Led Boots,” arranged brilliantly by Fuh as songo, a highly bailable, rumba-driven, rock-influenced Cuban genre from the ‘70s. 
“Clan Destino’s the rock band I always wanted,” Fuh told me in a 2004 interview. 
“We put out hip-hop funk lines, but totally in clave.  We could do a polka-bembé,” Martínez added.
Eight of the tunes the band was working on then are on El Clan’s sole album, Rukus, released in 2006 – it sold so well Moran only has two left, though according to if you’re willing to wait two to three weeks you can get it there.  But a year or so after the CD came out, the band’s fortunes fell – Ryan left town, the economy crashed, venues closed, Martínez almost left town.  I hadn’t heard this band in years when it appeared onstage at the Cardinal this past Memorial Day.  ¡Y qué sorpresa!  Clan Destino emerged from its cocoon bold and bright, sizzling with impeccable improvisational skills and a boasting a repertory ranging the gamut of Havana’s genres – son y rumba, timba, mambo, Afro-Cuban jazz, plus a smattering of sounds from a different lattitude – Chicano rock, hip hop, hard rock, Afro-Cubanized to perfection. 
Sure, it’s fusion, and if you’ve been following CulturalOyster you know I’m no fan of the global fusions that’ve invaded world music these last few years.  Trying to dance to Irish flamenco funk salsa hip-hop isn’t my cup of – well, rum.  But Clan Destino’s fusions are flawless, falling totally within the Afro-Cuban canon. I can swear to this, since I put them to the test during two Happy Hour gigs at the Cardinal in September. 
Here are my notes, most taken while I was actually dancing: El Clan plays the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” – as a son montuno.  Later the band has its way with the Latin Playboys’ sultry vato cha “Manifold de Amour.”  Fuh takes it away, playing dissonant, Monk-like chords while Moran holds tumbao steady on the bass, giving Martinez leeway to slide through clave into bomba, then back. The Muñequitos de Matanzas’ classic yambú, “Congo Yambumba,” stars Lashley on congas; Moran supplies the vocal lines – “congo yambumba me llamo yo, yo soy el terror” – slightly off-key, a classic characteristic of the elder Cuban generation. Martínez takes that same approach to the vocals on Fausto “El Guayabero” Oramas’ famous son montuno, “Marieta.”  Clan Destino rides this timeless tune off the rails, then reels it back in with a long montuno, Fuh leaping his arms along the keys like Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky.  There’s “Led Boots,” por supuesto, and “Smite,” a Fuh tune, both flush with flights of fancy.  And while most of El Clan’s tunes would test any intermediate Latin dancer, there’s also a serious challenge for advanced bailadores – Chucho Valdes’ “Ponle la Clave.” Fuh spins Stravinskyesque progressions and deconstructs his montunos.  Moran plays his bass like a guitar; Martínez’ drum solo sparkles with polyrhythms.
“This is rock n’ roll, Latin jazz style,” Moran says as the band takes a break.
            And what do I conclude from my keep-the-beat test?  These players can attach their hip, sophisticated Afro-Cuban angle to absolutely anything. Even when El Clan flings itself into the loosest corners of musical space, its musica is utterly bailable. Dance through the wormhole, and when the band comes out on the other side you’ll find yourself.  Right. On. Clave.  I just love that. 

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