All distance is relative, especially where geopolitical borders and ideologies are involved. We speak one language, they speak another. We follow our system, they follow theirs. When we focus on the differences, a relatively short stretch of land or water starts to look like a yawning chasm. But when we look at each other as individuals and focus on the similarities, that “chasm” is actually a very short distance. Less than a hundred miles. Musicians – especially jazz musicians, whose craft is in many ways an improvised form of communication – understand this principle inherently, perhaps better than any politician or diplomat could ever hope to. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris, saxophonist David Sánchez and trumpeter Christian Scott cross that divide in their new recording, Ninety Miles.
Recorded entirely in Havana, Cuba, with the help of some highly talented Cuban players – pianists Rember Duharte and Harold López-Nussa, each leading their own quartets – the nine-song set is an experiment that examines the fascinating chemical reaction that takes place when musicians from different cultures come together and converse in a common language that transcends mere words. The set also includes a DVD that is a sneak peek of the forthcoming documentary of the same name that chronicles the recording process of the album in Cuba. It will also include two bonus live performances of “City Sunrise” and “La Fiesta Va.”
“This record is about the power of music to communicate, and break down some of the barriers that result from language and politics and culture,” says John Burk, Chief Creative Officer of Concord Music Group and producer of the album. He developed the idea for the project after experiencing first-hand the visceral energy exchange between artists and audiences at the Cuban Jazz Festival in 2008. After more than a year of negotiations with representatives of the Cuban music industry – not to mention clearing the various travel-related hurdles with the U.S. State Department and the Cuban government – Burk, along with co-producer Chris Dunn, booked Harris, Sánchez and Scott to perform in Havana in May 2010 with many of the same Cuban players he’d seen at the festival a couple years earlier. Ninety Miles is a snapshot of the rehearsals just prior to the 2010 performance.
The brilliance and innovation of Ninety Miles is only part of the story. The recording is also a clear statement about the power of music to unite in ways that politics and diplomacy can’t. “The arts can lead the way, because they are the universal language,” says Burk. “And music is certainly one of the most powerful forces within the arts. You can change someone’s life in five minutes with the right piece of music. I don’t know of any other art form that can do that. This record does illustrate a way – or at least the ability – for people to work together despite differences.”