We're in for a rare treat tonight when the 15-member Afro-Cuban All Stars take the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater stage. Led by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, known as "the Quincy Jones of Cuba" and a founder of the acclaimed Buena Vista Social Club, the All Stars field some of the best Latin musicians in the world.
"They're great musicians," says Gonzalez. "The conga player tours with Sting, and the timbale player performs with Phil Collins. These are musicians who developed their careers in Cuba, and most of them have their own bands now in different parts of the world."
Combining jazz influences with traditional Cuban music, guajira, timba and much more, they pay homage to their roots while looking forward.
* The Afro-Cuban All Stars perform at 7:30 tonight in the MACC’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $12, $28, and $38 (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. Following the concert, Dr. Nat & Rio Ritmo will play in the Yokouchi Pavilion & Courtyard.
Photo courtesy of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center
* Jennifer Batten, best female guitar player in the world according to the 2009 Guitar Player Poll, performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC Tickets are $25, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"The repertoire will be a journey through Cuban music, from traditional styles all the way up to contemporary music," he explains.
Growing up, Gonzalez was a rock fan before rediscovering his Cuban roots in college. There he helped create the group Sierra Maestra, which reintroduced the classic music of Havana's Septeto lineups to a younger generation.
Then in the early 1990s, Gonzalez thought about putting together a group of musician friends of his father, who had sung with legendary bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez. The new group included veteran musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Pio Leyva and Ruben Gonzalez, who collectively recorded the traditional album "Buena Vista Social Club."
FRONT STREET JAZZ AND BLUES WALK MUSIC LINEUP
* Hard Rock Caf - Friday: 1-3 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. The R.E. Metoyer Blues Rock & Soul Revue featuring Bobby Ingram. Saturday: 1-3 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. David Choy & Slam. Sunday: grand finale show, 2-5 p.m., Lahaina Jazz & Blues All Stars featuring David Paquette.
* Longhi's - Friday: 6-9 p.m. Renata De Moraes & the Brasil Connection. Saturday: 6-9 p.m. Shiro Mori & Friends.
* Kimo's - Saturday, 5-7 p.m. Sam Ahia.
* Captain Jack's - Friday: 2-5 p.m. Keoki Ruiz and 6-9 p.m. Bob Jones & The Drive. Saturday: 2-5 p.m. Benoit Jazz Works and 6-9 p.m. Bob Jones & The Drive.
* Pioneer Inn - Friday: noon-3 p.m. Fulton Tashombe featuring Kelly Covington and 6-9 p.m. David Paquette. Saturday: noon-3 p.m. Sal Godinez & Bob Harrison and 6-9 p.m. David Paquette.
This recording became a massive international hit that made Gonzalez and his band mates international stars and Grammy winners, and sparked a revival of interest in Cuban music.
"I wanted to record an album that was a tribute to my father, using the old guys," he explains. "We recorded one album with the punchy sound of the Cuban bands of the '50s and a second one using a lighter sound of the music of the eastern part of the island. The first one was called the 'Afro-Cuban All Stars,' and the second album was called the 'Buena Vista Social Club.'
"We never though it would get such success. The old guys became kind of pop stars. It was absolutely unbelievable. We sold 12 million copies."
The All Stars today perform new arrangements of songs by some of the composers featured on the CD and in the subsequent Oscar-nominated documentary. "The sound will be slightly more contemporary," he notes. "Basically we'll be standing on the roots performing music of these old guys, but going ahead."
Drawing rave responses wherever they play, a Nashville show review praised: "For nearly two hours, the Afro-Cuban All Stars had the audience on their feet, singing and dancing in the aisles."
Rock guitar legend Jeff Beck was shocked when he saw Jennifer Batten for the first time. "I expected someone who was introverted and did nothing but practice all the time, because you'd have to do nothing but practice all the time to be that good," he reported.
If you ever wanted to hear an amazing female combination of Jeff Beck and Eddie Van Halen, call the MACC and grab tickets for her McCoy Theater solo show on Wednesday. Guaranteed you'll be astonished.
Jeff Beck was - he hired her to record and tour with his band. And Michael Jackson was - he snapped her up for his "Bad," "Dangerous" and "HIStory" world tours.
Competing against about 100 other guitarists, Batten was initially hired to play with Jackson after sending a video that included a note-for-note rendition of Eddie Van Halen's "Beat it" solo.
"It was very surreal at first, and I had trouble sleeping," says Batten, about vaulting into the global spotlight with the megastar. "I never took it for granted that he'd ask me back time and time again. I was very blessed."
In 1993, she was part of history, backing Jackson before an audience of 1billion people in 80 nations on the globally televised Super Bowl XXVII halftime show.
"That show was a highlight of my time with him," she continues. "It was very exciting and so different from our regular shows. It's the only time I ever felt he was nervous. The pressure on him must have been insane. I crack up on seeing part of that performance - available on YouTube of course - because at one point the stage smoke is so thick you can't see either of us."
While on tour with Jackson, she connected with Jeff Beck, who was so impressed, he invited her to join his band.
"I stalked him," she says. "I just wanted an autograph while I was in U.K. during Michael Jackson's 'Dangerous' Tour. I never in a million years expected him to call me to join his band. We joined forces for three years."
Critically acclaimed as one of the world's most creative, imaginative and talented guitarists - she's an innovator of the "two-handed tapping method" - Batten has released a few exceptional solo albums that capture an approach she terms "guitronica."
"When I joined Jeff Beck's band, he turned me onto electronica," she notes. "I've become a big fan, and my 'Whatever' CD/DVD was inspired by it. It's rare to hear electronica with guitar, so combining the two words gives folks some description of what to expect - samples, drum loops, big variety of sounds, plus guitar melodies and solos."
For her Maui show, Batten will present a multimedia solo performance.
"Nobody needs earplugs to combat an overly excited drummer," she says laughing. "I call the show kind of a 3D guitar cinema. I play in synch with films I've made, generally using old black-and-white footage, but I've also gotten into animation as well. The visuals change with the beat, and I have refrained from the hyper-annoying MTV style of not letting you focus on anything. By having the films I noticed that even little kids seem to enjoy it. I think it gets old watching one person for 90 minutes, so you also have a million visuals to help take them to another place and enhance what they're hearing."
Proclaimed the best female guitarist in the world in the 2009 Guitar Player Poll (Eric Clapton won overall), Batten says she does her best to work within a male-dominated domain.
"Overall I've been really lucky and have gotten the best gigs out there," she notes. "I am well aware of the prejudice against female players, I just do my thing and hope people like it. I thought at the time I joined Michael in 1987, there would be a huge revolution of female players emerging, but it didn't happen. I think it may be happening now finally. Orianthi (who also worked with Jackson) is becoming really well- known.
"I keep hearing about amazing young female guitarists that I believe will become mainstream in the next five to 10 years. When you think about it, it's just crazy there would be any prejudice at all. Women musicians are well accepted and extremely successful in other genres of music, but electric guitar and soloing has been a domain of the boys' club for decades."
This weekend ardent jazz fan Bill Burton of Sir Wilfred's will launch the inaugural Front Street Jazz and Blues Walk. This free event features some of our best musicians performing at five different venues in Lahaina from Friday through Sunday, with headliner David Paquette returning to Maui to his old haunt at the Pioneer Inn.
Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, visitors and residents would inevitably gravitate to the historic Pioneer Inn, lured by Paquette's piano playing. Specializing in classic New Orleans-style jazz, this passionate entertainer packed the inn. He became such a fixture at the Lahaina landmark, the nightly scene was captured on canvas by artist Guy Buffet.
Paquette's love affair with New Orleans jazz began as a child listening to his family's antique player piano. In 1969, he moved to New Orleans where he played at Pat O'Briens piano sing-along bar. Before he moved to Maui, he worked as the house piano player at San Francisco's Boarding House, warming up crowds for shows by Bette Midler, Taj Mahal and the Pointer Sisters.
During a short vacation on Maui in 1973, he recalls wandering into the Pioneer Inn, sitting down at the piano and in half an hour the room was jumping. He'd found his new home.
"There wasn't really any music there before me," Paquette explains. "Everybody who came to town came in. I played with so many great musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Loggins and most of Fleetwood Mac. There was such a mix of harbor rats, locals, backpackers and celebs, not to mention stunned tourists. I ended up with probably one of the longest standing jobs in the history of jazz. It was a 10-year party."
A world citizen, these days Paquette divides his time among homes in New Zealand, Switzerland and Malta. "This year I have been to Egypt twice, Norway, Dubai and Tonga, and I will go to New Orleans and Ecuador before I head back to Europe for the summer," he reports.
Following Oahu's major "Kokua For Japan" benefit that included our stellar residents Mick Fleetwood, Michael McDonald, Pat Simmons and bassist "Hutch" Hutchinson backing Willie Nelson, Maui's "Aloha Iapana Benefit Concert" at the MACC on Saturday features Keali'i Reichel, Willie K, Napua Makua, Amy Hanaiali'i Giliom, Mailani Makainai, Na Palapalai, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole, Uluwehi Guerrero and Loma Lim. KPOA's Alaka'i Paleka will emcee. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 plus fees the day of the show, available as above.
Amy Hanaiali'i and Henry Kapono have teamed to create the new composition "Together Hawaii: A Song For Japan," with all proceeds benefiting Hawaii Red Cross, Japanese Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund. Other artists contributing on the "We Are the World"-style single include Raiatea Helm, Robi Kahakalau, Sean Na'auao and slam poet Kealoha.
"Japan continues to be in our thoughts and we hope we can send them positive vibes, prayers and our mana," said Kapono.
The MACC's "Solo Sessions" on Friday features former HAPA musician Nathan Aweau.
An extremely versatile, accomplished musician, Aweau plays a range of musical styles from jazz and classical to pop, reggae and Hawaiian. A classical music graduate from the University of Hawaii, he is as adept at crafting beautiful Hawaiian music as laying down some tasty jazz grooves. A multi-instrumentalist, he played just about all the instruments on his debut, Hoku-winning solo album, "E Apo Mai," earning Male Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year.
A former lead singer with the Ali'is, and bass player, band arranger and vocalist with Don Ho, Aweau joined HAPA in 2002.
He continued to release solo Hawaiian albums again winning Male Vocalist of the Year awards in 2006 and 2007, and his electric bass guitar album won Jazz Album of the Year in 2006.
* Nathan Aweau performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, in the MACC'S McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $25 standard, $45 VIP which includes post-show meet-and-greet (plus applicable fees).