So, there are all these stories that keep surfacing about Alfredo’s work and role in Cuba, before he jumped to the US during the 1980 Mariel boat lift. Some of them are colorful, some of them actually intoxicating, but it’s all from third parties, so you really don’t know what’s true. All Alfredo ever contributes are either anecdotal (yeah, we had a band together in the mid-seventies in Havana, but we were never that controversial...) or straight denials (No, I was never the best violin player in Cuba, there was this fiddler, ‘Chocolate’,- have you ever heard him? - and there was this guy in Matanzas...). But whether he was the best violin player in Cuba at the time, or not, or understood as the best, or not, we know that the Party thought enough of him and his playing to send him for, and pay for, the best classical training possible for comrades at the time - Moscow, Leningrad, Warsaw.
And the image of his life in Havana upon returning remains clear and unchallenged: each day the Party (as his employer) would tell him where and what he was to play - with a aging Charanga band one night, Tchaikovsky for a visiting head of an African state the next, at a guaguanco street festival the next, with Leo Brower on a film soundtrack the next, with a tourist son band the next... Knowing how restless and deep an artist and, well, soul, Alfredo is, it was open and obvious why, when reaching the States, Alfredo declared his independence from the past by announcing he wasn’t going to be shackled to making a living by having to play music anymore, that he’d play only when he wanted to, and what he wanted to. So, he taught himself math and philosophy, and made it a point to be able to pay the rent by teaching anything other than music. And he plays only when he wants to, and only on projects which interest him. So, he shows up as part of Cachao’s resurgence, with the more interesting Paquito projects, with John Cage, and (thank G-d) with many of my own projects and with those of our mutual deep friends, Jack Bruce and Don Pullen, and a few others who share our angle on making our hearts audible.
Alright, here’s where we get to why that’s so precious to us, past the images and stories and to the real Alfredo. There’s a trace of it in his rejecting the musician role and perqs when he arrived in the US, but it’s really not about rejecting anything. Yeah, it’s about having the restlessness and courage to need to, and be able to strip music, all the arts, really, of the affectations they’d acquired (or been assigned) and reveal a deep and intense music and art under that protection. Yeah, do you know what I’m getting at? For an example: 14 years ago, when we did the violin parts for a piece that Astor and I did for one of my records, Alfredo’s tone was achingly dry, stripped of that vibrato which violinists develop and polish in order to sound even more official, and, well, violinistly. And Alfredo’s intonation was still locked, and clean, even without the vibrato. He was still in fucking tune! Hey, there are fiddlers who use vibrato, well...you know. Astor, Pablo and I were taken by it. Although he was flattered when he heard that Astor and Pablo were really impressed, he swore he was still unsatisfied, that his playing was still too eclipsed by violin and violinist affectations. So, in the years since, he’s switched to the electric violin, where the polished violinist, affected, tone is pretty much lost, and where the volume makes every move of his fingers along the strings, and the human skin along the electric body itself, every small imperfection, every imperfection, audible, clear and present. And there’s music there!: human scale, beautiful, unaffected, art / music! ...and a bravery to step out from behind the protection of what classical training and practice makes automatically sound legitimate and above questioning. Wow.
And so, here’s this record, Alfredo’s first, of melodies and nostalgias and human scale poetry and, direct raw art and beautiful possibilities and sadness and stars and rhythms and music that makes me happy to be alive to hear it.
Virginia, July 2000