Words fail one when attempting to describe the amazing phenomenon that is a “Chevere” concert. Like the return of a comet, the gathering together of the incredibly talented musicians that form “Chevere de Chicago” is a rare and highly anticipated event. Saturday night at the Green Mill Lounge saw these old compatriots back together and playing as if they were never apart. The band’s fiery, joyous, energy-filled playing combined the technical precision of the concert hall with the loose, relaxed feel of a neighborhood jam session, and the musicians seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience.
Mixing a Latin feel with jazz, rock, and blues – Chevere utterly deconstructs the Latin genre and molds it into something entirely new and exciting – something that draws on the talents of the individual contributors to create a fascinating whole. Despite the prodigious skills of each player, it is a tribute to the sensitivity and respect for one another by the group members, in that no one musician dominates. All are given equal space to add their own element and there is no egotistical overplaying. Many of the songs played, such as “El Cojo,” “Maria Cristina,” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance” were from their CD “Secret Dream” and many were written by members of the group. Throughout the songs there exists a tangible joy of life and music that the band members must share.
The component members of this great ensemble are true masters of their own craft. Powerhouse drummer Alejo Poveda plays with controlled mayhem. His sense of timing is impeccable and he can unleash the beast when called upon. Conga titan Joe Rendon is strength and joyful exuberance personified, while guest artist Jean Leroy on the timbales and assorted percussion showed his talent and precision. Nor were they alone in creating an addictive rhythmic atmosphere, as everyone was willing to pick up a cowbell or shaker when they weren’t playing their main instrument.
The Chevere horn section is ably handled by the multi-talented and sweet-toned Steve Eisen on saxes and flute, and the energetic and imaginative Mark Ohlsen on trumpet and flugelhorn. One can hardly imagine a duo that work better together, as the two compliment each other so well -combining to give the impression of a much larger horn section between them. Both players are capable of being supportive, or burning it up as a soloist, but it is clear that they take harmony quite seriously and respect the music by never taking their riffing to excess.
Ernie Denov is one of the most respected guitarists in Chicago, and his tasteful solos are a study in how to play Music with a capital “M” on the guitar. He is one of the most “listenable” guitar players I’ve heard in recent memory. Meanwhile, Eric Hochberg’s 5-string bass work was superb as always. The talented Mr. Hochberg also showed his vocal chops – singing the blues with gusto on “Telegram of Love,” and providing admirable low-end support throughout. But it was his solo “duel” with keyboardist Chris “Hambone” Cameron (on Mini-Moog) that left one gasping at the breadth of his abilities. The aforementioned “Hambone” was a whirligig on Hammond B-3 and a multitude of vintage synths and keyboards. The array of sounds this creative musician devised added a surprisingly wicked and contemporary element to the overall sound.
Perhaps the most well known musician in the band is harmonica-master and pianist, Howard Levy; but Levy was quite content to play as an equal team-member. Known as perhaps the finest harmonica player in the world, the artist spent most of his time at the piano – where his smiling countenance could be seen enjoying the efforts of his bandmates. The humble musician did rip it up a couple times on his mouth harp, but he also shone quite brightly on the keyboard – where his romantic and lucid lines astonished with their clarity.
The music of Chevere seems to exist in a world of the combined musicians’ own making – combustive rhythmically, melodically interwoven with shimmering harmonies, and fitted with layers of interesting and integral pieces that interlock and work together to complete the whole. To describe the music simply as Latin Jazz does it a disservice because the description is so incomplete. To best understand is to encounter the music yourself – either by picking up a copy of “Secret Dream,” or taking in a live show at a venue like the Green Mill when the opportunity arises.
Story by: Brad Walseth (www.jazzchicago.net)