EDHARLOW the gringo kings

 

This music has been gestating in my brain for fifteen years. Its inception is the result of a full- blown infatuation I developed for the music of the Cuban salsa band, Cubanismo, which my lovely wife introduced to me when we were dating in 2002.

I have always loved the power, sound and earthiness of a great horn section like those in Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire, Blood, Sweat and Tears and even more so, those of the big bands such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie. For me, Cubanismo is in this family of great horn bands. Being able to enjoy seasoned horn writing interpreted by great horn players matched with masterful rhythm sections that listen and groove seem to me to be proof that there is a god and that s/he loves us.

Having listened to Cubanismo CDs on repeat for months, I decided I had to put together a new band to try and replicate this sound. The Gringo Kings name I came up with was my way to pay tribute to the many, many great latin bands while trying to make an unequivocal lighthearted disclaimer of my own non-latin musical roots. I transcribed a few of Cubanismo’s tunes and wrote my own original music where I attempted to capture their sound.

Though infatuated with the style, my basic knowledge of clave and stylistic nuance held back the initial vision I had for the Gringo Kings to become the next Cubanismo. My inexperience was in evidence as the band began rehearsing and had its first gig.

But I kept writing, we kept playing and I gradually moved beyond a desire to replicate Cubanismo. A more personal direction emerged with my jazz roots fusing with the in influences from Cuba that had originally inspired me on this journey. Other in influences also bubbled up.

The Dingo Ate My Tango seemed to spring out of nowhere for me. Nothing fancy from a chordal or melodic perspective. It’s a tune that I cannot attribute to the in influence of any artist or specific song I heard. I did feel that the emphatic melodic statement needed to be counterbalanced by an equally emphatic countermelody. I do like how these two lines play off of each other, and it is a blast to perform this with the band.

I was looking to write a high energy piece for the band and thought The Beatles’ Lady Madonna would be a great vehicle for this. It doesn’t hurt that everyone, including me, loves the Beatles. Of all my arrangements, this most sounds to me like one Cubanismo might have done.

I found Brazil’s great composer, Antonio Carlo Jobim, showing up for me in Summer. I think the descending bass line, long, meandering form came from a desire to write something half as good as the Brazilian bossa nova master. This style always brings my spirit to a warm, sunny day at the beach. I hear the call of sea birds, the swish of palm fronds in the breeze as the sun shines down.

The Humming Rock uses the sentimental Cuban Bolero as its setting and is named for the beach I grew up going to in Scituate, MA. This oceanside community is a place imbued with subtle New England charm in the summer but also endures fierce winter weather that occasionally knocks over dozens of homes in Nor’Easter storms. The Humming Rock speaks to the beauty, charm and danger that exists there.

My fourteen year-old daughter was just a little nipper when I dedicated The Nipper to her. If you’ve heard Tequila by The Champs - made famous by the bar scene in the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure - you’ve heard this groove before. The melody and chord structure was inspired by the Tom Harrell composition, Terrestris.

With The Angle of Her Hair, I was looking to fuse melody and chord progression into a forceful Charles Mingus like piece. It is an eleven bar blues dedicated to my amazing wife who does things in this world that I have never seen.

Farmyard Boogie sprung forth on its own, with an obvious tip of the hat to Pee Wee Ellis’ The Chicken. There are two keys simultaneously at play during the second statement of the melody and a reharmonization of it near the end. At its core, though, it’s just a funky blues.

Even though I had already strayed from the Cuban template that had originally transfixed me, I intentionally stayed away from writing swing compositions. I wanted to give The Gringo Kings’ repertoire some stylistic distance from the sextet music featured on my first CD, which was mostly swing. That was until I was inspired to write an arrangement of From Russia with Love, from the second movie of the James Bond franchise. I’ve always liked the way the composer, Lionel Bart, uses the at 6 - “from Russia, with LOVE” - and the sharp 4 “I FLY to you” in the melody. It imparts an exotic tinge that fits perfectly. The idea I had for this piece, I felt, had to be swung.

My goal was to record ten songs in two days - not much time to record that much music. And fifteen years of writing meant I had an abundance of music to choose from, making the choice of what not to record a difficult one. Colour my World had not made it onto the docket. However, the recording process went smoothly. When it became clear that we would not only make it through all ten pieces, but have time to record an additional

tune, I quickly added this arrangement. It is a testament to the incredible musicians I had the honor to play with on this recording that we could capture such a beautiful version of this Chicago classic with no rehearsal and in one take!

I had originally intended to write a musical suite to shine yet another light on the need to protect the environment. I founded the Soular Jazz Foundation in 2015 for this purpose by using music to bring people together in a jazz festival setting to enjoy music and showcase ways we can adopt renewable energy in our everyday lives. However, the 2016 U.S. presidential election interceded, kidnapped my muse and so I have written instead, a musical impression of the alternate universe we seem to have crossed into. The funky Departure represents this crossing into the unknown where right can be wrong, false can be true and absurd can be normal.

In The Fool, the folly and calamity of having an ill equipped individual at the helm of an entire nation is represented. The off-beat hits are the leader keeping the people off balance, the angular bass line is the improbable tales that are spun. Soloists further represent the implausible narrative put forth by the leader and his subordinates, desperately trying to keep up. The tenor sax melody introduced at 2:07 represents the leader glad handing and mollifying the people, telling them that they are a great people. 5:21 marks mother earth herself rebelling, opening up and swallowing the leader whole. Heady times, these.

There you have it. I hope you have enjoyed listening to this musical journey as much as I have enjoyed writing it, working with these fantastic musicians and recording it.

Ed Harlow December, 2017

ED HARLOW - tenor saxophone, flute
RICK STONE - alto saxophone, flute
GARRET SAVLUK - trumpet, flügelhorn
ALEX LEE-CLARK - trumpet, flügelhorn
JOEL YENNIOR - trombone
KEALA KAUMEHEIWA - bass

MAX LUBARSKY - piano

JUAN ALE SAENZ - drums

Recorded July18 & 19, 2017 at PBS studios, Westwood, MA by Peter Kontrimas Fresh Vinyl Recordings 0003