Guitarist Pablo Menéndez takes fusion to the next level. His band Mezcla (meaning "mixture") blends jazz, blues, rock and several styles of Cuban and African music into one raucous, joyous expression of life.
Menéndez is a U.S. Citizen who has lived in Cuba since he was 14. Offered an opportunity to attend the renowned National School of the Arts in Havana, he jumped at the chance. He was supposed to stay in Cuba for one year. It's been nearly 48. We talked by phone last week. He's charming and eloquent, and speaks his native English with a Cuban accent.
Pablo has never regretted his decision to stay in Cuba. Musicians and artists are revered there, and they are able to make a living, raise their families and have a successful artistic career. He's been able to play the music he likes, to tour the world and to experiment, without commercial pressures. Pablo wishes for more and freer artistic exchanges between Cuba and the U.S.
"We're neighbors and friends, and we have so much common culture and great music to share," he says.
The recipe for Mezcla is based in Cuban roots music. Menendez knew that the early rock of the "British Invasion" was primarily electrified blues roots music, and he decided to try electrifying Cuban roots music. It was an exciting sound. Then he realized that most of the musicians he worked with were also outstanding jazz players, so some jazz vernacular was added. The final essential ingredient comes from Africa, the rumba and Yoruba rhythms that define Afro Cuban music. It's a heady mixture, indeed.
Current Mezcla band members include bassist Jose Hermida, multi-instrumentalist Julio Valdés, and two exceptional percussionists: Roberto "El Capitán" Smith and Octavio Rodríguez. The band had a very successful tour in the Pacific Northwest last year, and they're delighted to be back. Do catch one or more of their shows this week:
Listen for Pablo Menendez and Mezcla on Jazz Caliente, Thursdays at 2 p.m. on KPLU's Midday Jazz!