picked me up in the morning to go to the Klimax rehearsal. Marcos
lives pretty well by Cuban standards. His father is the famous trumpet
player "El Greco." He drove up in a beautifully restored
Willys Jeep and we headed off to Marianao for the rehearsal. We
got caught up on the way. The conversation was kind of weird, because
he spoke English, and I spoke Spanish. I guess we were both practising
our new languages. His English is a bit better than my Spanish,
though, so it was helpful to be able to switch to English when my
vocabulary failed me (often) rather than resort to a bilingual game
The building where the rehearsal was to be held
looked somewhat like an elementary school or a gymnasium. There
was a giant Olympic-sized swimming pool sitting empty behind it.
Marcos introduced me to the members of Klimax who were waiting for
band leader and founder Piloto who was off paying the rent for the
hall. Like everything else in Cuba, the start time of ten o'clock
was just a point of reference. If you are someone who gets anxiety
attacks if things don't start right on time, or go according to
a pre-planned schedule, Cuba will drive you nuts. Myself, I prefer
the relaxed, no-hurry pace. We had plenty of time to talk and tell
stories waiting for Piloto.
finally arrived around twelve. Marcos introduced me (we had only
spoken by phone at this point), and we headed up to the rehearsal
hall, which was up the stairs and down a long hall. It turned out
to be a huge empty theater, complete with catwalks and an orchestra
pit. The gear was all set up: there were four roadies and tecnicos
working. Man, I wish my rehearsals could be like this: full sound,
monitors, recording from the console to play back the rehearsal,
the full deal, just like a Van Halen rehearsal on a Hollywood sound
stage before a tour. This is these guys' job: they get paid to rehearsethe
tecnicos get paid to work the rehearsal, and this is why
these Cuban bands can pull off such amazing musical magic tricks.
They rehearse four or five times a week when they're not touring,
and gig maybe three or four nights a week. This is one of the major
differences between American and Cuban groups. It's often downright
impossible to do much of any rehearsing here, because every musician
is playing as many gigs with as many groups as he can, just to get
the rent paid. Getting a time when everyone can get together is
group started running through some new tunes, and sounded incredible.
Piloto is an amazing musician. He writes most of the songs, does
most of the arranging, and is one of the best drummers in Cuba.
His group is incredibly tight, and you never would have guessed
that they were breaking in a new bass playerhe was playing
as though he had been with them all along. The percussion section
is made up of Piloto on traps and timbales, Julio López on
congas, and Jean R. San Cristóbal playing a percussion kitchen
sink setup that includes timbales, bongos on a stand, a guiro mounted
on a stand, and three batá drums strapped together. The groove
is deep and funky.
After a few tunes, Piloto's bass drum pedal broke,
so while he was fixing it, Marcos asked me to play some of the tumbaos
I had learned. He wanted to show his buddies the oddity of this
Yanquí playing Cuban style. I played Pupy's tumbao
from Que Tiene Van Van? and the whole band (sans Piloto,
still fixing the pedal) started playing and the three singers were
all over it: "Que tiene Van Van? Que sigue ahí, ahí,
así..." Next I played El Negro Está Cocinando
and the same thing happened: "Qué no le toque la
puerta, el negro está cocinando! no, no, no, no, no, que
no le toque..." Marcos requested Manolito's Marcando
La Distancia, and the band fell right into it and the singers
knew most of the words.
I laughed and told Marcos that now I could brag
to my friends that I played with Klimax! He said he had never heard
Klimax play Van Van before! Too funny.
After this surrealistic interlude, the drum pedal
was fixed and they got back to business. I was proud to see that
Marcos has become Piloto's right-hand man after two years with the
group. Marcos is tremendously talented, and just 23 years old. Between
Piloto, Yusef the keyboard player (another monstrously talented
guy) and Marcos, they hammered out some changes to the horn chart.
The last tune they ran through was from the upcoming
Giraldo Piloto: Klimax & Friends Latin jazz album. They
take Latin Jazz into unexplored 21st century territory on this album.
There is some amazing stuff on it.
After the rehearsal, Marcos and I went tooling
around Havana in his Jeep. He needed to pick up his visa for some
gigs in Curaçao, and then we headed out to Miramar for lunch
at his favorite restaurant, Palenque. Now my favorite restaurant
as well: same sort of great comida criolla as El Aljibe (my
former favorite, and still big on the list), but at one fourth the
price. You're welcome. We had a stupendous meal and finished up
with a few Havana Club Reservas. We talked about everything from
music to politics and after a few hours of a leisurely meal, Marcos
dropped me off at my place, declining my offer to go hear Manolito
at the Habana Libre that night. Being newly married, night life
is a bit different for Marcos now.
| next: Manolito's ultimate home town gig