Cuban jazz ensemble lends Fisherman’s Village a different rhythm

By Michael Aushenker

Orquesta Charangoa, led by Fay Roberts (center), is headed back to Marina del Rey

Orquesta Charangoa, led by Fay Roberts (center), is headed back to Marina del Rey

By way of Cuba, a Jewish Valley girl of Eastern-European heritage who was raised on radio pop and bluegrass became an ambassador of the island’s musical soul. And now flutist and saxophonist Fay Roberts is on a roll.

The devotee of Cuban-born charanga music and her band Orquesta Charangoa has performed free outdoor concerts at Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey every three months for the past two years.

They return Saturday, this time in-between a new Sunday-night residency at the retro-swank Culver Hotel in Culver City.

Depending on the setting, Orquesta Charangoa counts either six or nine members, including James Zavaleta (lead vocals), Fermin Sifontes (piano, vocals), Alfred “El Nino” Ortiz (timbales, vocals), Rayen Fernandez (congas, vocals), Jonathan Pintoff (bass) and Harry Scorzo, Pablo Isaac Mendez and Tylana Regna (violins).

Classically trained with a B.A. in music from UC Santa Barbara, Roberts moonlights part time as music director at the Braille Institute, where she manages an intensive jazz studies program. She is also a card-carrying member of the National Flute Association and a featured Yamaha artist.

If you are wondering how she found her way to Cuban jazz, the story began in the 1990s when Roberts caught Artie Webb at the King King club. A deepening interest in performing charanga then led her to visit Cuba twice in 1996 to study with one of her heroes, the legendary Richard Egues of Orquesta Aragon. Egues was a master of the Cuban flute style who composed Cuba’s most popular cha cha cha, “El Bodeguero.” On her second trip, Roberts stayed at the bandleader’s house, studying with the 73-year-old virtuoso.

“He gave me several music charts and told me to go back to L.A., start a band and keep his music alive,” Roberts says.

She took her mentor seriously, returning to Los Angeles and forming Orquesta Charangoa in 1997. The band’s first album, 2005’s eponymous “Fay Roberts Y Su Orquesta Charangoa” featured a Latinized version of the Beatles gem “Blackbird” plus several Egues originals: “Por Eso Hay Cosas,” “E Ay Marisela” and “Son Yayabero.” Egues died in 2006 at 83.

A second album, 2011’s “Lo Que Quiero Es Charangoa,” featured originals composed by band members and another interesting cover: Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance.”

Charangoa are now working
on a new album. When they compose, “the whole group is able to improvise together,” Roberts said.

Asked which songs are particularly complicated to perform on flute, “All of it,” she said. “It’s all into the third and into the fourth register. It’s a lot of high notes.”

But the corazon of why she prefers Latin jazz is because it is more “rhythm-centric” than its more “harmonic” American counterpart.

Paint Roberts pleased as punch (make that sangria!) to return to familiar turf at Fisherman’s Village.

“Our fans really like it there because it’s a beautiful place,” Roberts said, gushing about playing the marina. “It’s free to go, it’s outside, and it’s a gorgeous setting. People come specifically to see us and dance.”

Orquesta Charangoa performs at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fisherman’s Village (13755 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey) and at 8 p.m. Sundays through May 31 at the Culver Hotel (9400 Culver Blvd., Culver City). Visit charangoa.com for more information.

michael@argonautnews.com

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