Salsa goes Dutch

The Nueva Menteca band from Holland spices up the Hot Jazz series with its brand of Latino music.

Nueva Manteca 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Nueva Manteca 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are many wonderful salsa bands around the world with most, naturally, originating from Latin America or places with large Latin communities, such as New York. Holland is not generally considered a salsa powerhouse. But the Nueva Manteca band, the first item in the new Hot Jazz series, led by 70- year-old Rotterdam-based pianist Jan Laurens Hartong, may change our mind about that at its six gigs here between November 7 and November 12.
In fact, Hartong has paid his artistic dues in numerous musical genres to date. “I started out, when I was still at school, as a jazz pianist,” he says. “I was more or less something of a prodigy. I was playing bebop at the age of 14 or 15.”
Over the years the pianist has also studied and performed classical, Arabic and African music. “I think I have developed into a kind of a global musician,” he observes. “I use a lot of influences in my music.”
Hartong got into Latin music via a family connection. “I had a brother who was two years older than me. He was a dancer and was really into Cuban music. Cuban music was his life. I was so much into jazz at the time – I even met Miles Davis and [Davis’s pianist in the 1950s] Wynton Kelly – but my brother used to tease me and say stuff like ‘Jazz isn’t real music; Cuban music is the real thing.’”
Eventually the brotherly war of attrition bore fruit, and Hartong began opening up to Latin sounds himself. Much later he was to get some invaluable firsthand knowledge, which sowed the seeds for a new creative departure.
“I went to Cuba in the 1980s to study music. Then I got the idea of combining jazz with the Cuban musical tradition. In fact, all the rhythm section of my band studied in Cuba. So I think we have the talent for this tradition, but we also did our homework. When we play in Puerto Rico and other places with Latin communities, they always recognize the quality of our playing. I tell them we may have some talent but we put in a lot of hard work with the great masters.”
So, Dutch nationality notwithstanding, Hartong believes that he and the rest of the band feed directly off the salsa roots. “If you did a blindfold test with one of our records, you wouldn’t hear that we come from Europe,” he says.
And the pianist has proven Latin street cred. “We were once invited to play at the Puerto Rico Jazz Fest – that’s the most prestigious festival in the Caribbean – as a replacement for Cubanismo, a great band from Cuba that didn’t get a visa to leave the country. We were the first European band to play at that festival.”
Now Hartong is bringing his merry troupe here, to show us what the Puerto Ricans liked so much.
Nueva Manteca will play two programs here. One will feature Hartong’s Requiem Para El Mundo (Requiem for the World) composition, which is based on Gregorian chants, and the second program will be all Latin jazz. The latter is entitled Mambo Diablo and includes Latin jazz numbers by the likes of Miles Davis, with arrangements byH artong.
In addition to the sextet Hartong is bringing here – which includes a trumpeter, saxophonist, bass player, drummer and percussionist – the Requiem Para El Mundo program will also include the Tel Aviv-based Vocal Octet.
“All the things I have learned in music do come into my work,” says Hartong. “I studied musicology and I had to do examinations in singing Gregorian chants from the original sources, which was pretty difficult. Then when I started working on the requiem. I thought I might do something with Gregorian chants, put chords on it and harmonize it. The Gregorian chants don’t have Western harmony. I thought I’d play about with the rhythms. We have done some concerts with it in Holland, and it really worked well,” he says.
Naturally, with Hartong’s global ethos, other stuff found its way into the work. “As a requiem is music for the dead, I included some Cuban chants, which I learned in Cuba, for the souls of the departed, which they sing at funerals in Cuba in a special language which originates in Nigeria called Lucumi. You can tell it comes from a different place.”
Wherever Hartong and Nueva Manteca come from, they are certainly bringing the world here next week.
Nueva Manteca will perform at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem on November 7 at 9 p.m; Zappa Club in Herzliya on November 8 at 10 p.m. (doors open 8:15 p.m.); Einan Hall in Modi’in on November 9 at 9 p.m; Tel Aviv Museum of Art on November 10 and 11 at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. respectively; and Abba Hushi House in Haifa on November 12 at 9 p.m.