Jazz Album of the Week: Elio Villafranca's Cinque—Weaves a Story Born of Slavery

Jun 4, 2018

June 4, 2018. It’s been quite a few years since a noteworthy jazz release included narration and movements to tell a historical story. The last one I can remember was Irvin Mayfield’s 2004 album Strange Fruit. Now, pianist and composer, and Temple University professor, Elio Villafranca has stepped up to the plate and released Cinque—the culmination of years of composing and traveling. 

Cinque chronicles the life of Joseph Cinqué, a Sierra Leone farmer who was illegally forced onto a slave ship headed for Havana, Cuba. He later led the revolt that became known as La Amistad rebellion.

This two-disc album holds five movements and includes Elio’s compositions performed by an all-star cast,* as well as some hand-picked pieces from his archive.

Many of these archival pieces were recorded on five different Caribbean islands, and explore regional traditions. In a nod to his upbringing in San Luis, Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Villafranca was sure to highlight Congolese chanting and tradition.

Musical customs from Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica run through this recording—a tribute to all who were forcibly relocated to that corner of the world.

The titles of the tracks comprising Cinque could tell a great deal of the story on their own, but the narration by Terrance McKnight completes the picture of this overlooked piece of history.

*Album Personnel

  • Elio Villafranca — piano
  • Vincent Herring — sax and flute
  • Gregory Tardy — sax and clarinet 
  • Todd Marcus — bass clarinet and vocals   
  • Freddie Hendrix — trumpet
  • Steve Turre — trombone and conch shells 
  • Ricky Rodriguez — acoustic bass
  • Lewis Nash — drums
  • Arturo Stable — percussion
  • Miguel Valdes — percussion
  • Jonathan Troncoso — percussion
  • Nelson Mateo Gonzalez — percussion 

*Guests 

  • Wynton Marsalis — trumpet
  • Leyla McCalla — voice 
  • Don Vappie — banjo
  • Alexander LaSalle — rezo congo
  • Alex Waterman — cello 
  • Roberta Brenza — coros