By Norm Dixon
Cuba's annual Jazz Plaza Festival, taking place March 27-29 in Havana, is to feature an array of the some the world's finest contemporary jazz artists. Some of the most notable hail from the United States, and their attendance is in defiance of the US government's blockade of Cuba.
The festival is being directed by Cuba's newest international jazz star, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whose most recent album, The Blessing, is the talk of the jazz world. Ironically, while his recordings are readily available in the US on the Blue Note label, the blockade prevents Rubalcaba performing in the US. "The time will come", he assured Jazziz magazine recently.
Leading the list of US artists who have accepted invitations to perform is bassist Charlie Haden, who also appears on Rubalcaba's latest album. Haden is renowned for using jazz to express support for liberation struggles throughout the world. Fronting the 14-piece Liberation Music Orchestra, his recent Dream Keeper album contains works inspired by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, revolutionary songs from El Salvador and the Spanish civil war and an awe-inspiring rendition of Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika, the anthem of the South African freedom movement.
Another likely participant will be jazz trumpet legend Dizzy Gilliespie, one of the most important leaders of '40s bebop revolution in jazz, who has been deeply influenced by Cuban jazz over many years. Trumpet player Wynton Marsalis, perhaps the most popular jazz musician in the world today, has also expressed his willingness to attend. Other US performers confirmed to appear are singer Rachelle Farrell and guitarists Pat Metheny and John Scofield.
A jubilant Rubalcaba told the Cuban newspaper Granma: "They aren't just anybody, they are the world's leading performers spanning the generations".
Rubalcaba added that the range of Cuban groups participating is equally impressive. As well as Rubalcaba's own quartet, Perspectiva, they include Irakere, Emiliano Salvador, Fervet Opus, Bobby Carcassés, Afrojazz and Afrocuba.
The festival is to be recorded by Japanese and US record companies.