Avotcja & Modupue at Yoshi's in San Francisco: April 27, 2009.

Author:Varela, Jesse "Chuy"


As a poet, musician, educator and activist, Avotcja (pronounced "ahh-va-cha") Jiltonilro is a legend in her own time. During four decades, she has written volumes of poetic verse and performed with a long list of lummaries that includes the likes of Rashaan Roland Kirk and Horace Tapscott, among others. Now leading the octet Modupué (which means "gratitude" in the Yoruba language), she continues the legacy of her mentors with a gifted cast of artists who perform inspired music, fusing jazz with a diverse sphere of influences from the Caribbean and the rest of the world.

The performance at Yoshi's in San Francisco took place on a chilly Monday night. It began with an incantation, sung by steel pan player Val Serrant, that opened a magical evening full of blessings and deep currents of spiritual strength. The octet eased in, as chimes twinkled and a cascade of sounds emanated from the stage, while Avotcja began the declaration of her prose by stating, "I am a bona-fide sound junkie." Her words flowed with insight and affirmed clarity, as she continued reciting lines like "noise ain't nothing but a lonely sound."

The group included Sandy Poindexter (violin), Eugene Warren (bass), Coto Pincheira (piano), Yancie Taylor (vibes), Ian Dogle (multiple-percussion), Val Serrant (steel drums and djembe), and Baba Ken Okulolo (talking drum). Together, they presented "word-songs" that were impressively structured, in terms of their intuitive cohesion. The group was honored by the SF Bay Area's Blues Hall of Fame in 2005 by being selected as "Jazz Group of the Year."

Oceans of Sand was an intimate piece that followed, with Avotcja playing a large circular "ocean drum" for a rain-tree effect that complimented a poem she wrote as a tribute to the inspiring artists that mentored her along the way. Avotcja was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Spanish Harlem in the 1950s. The jazz and Latin music of said decade honed her cultural personality and inspired her to pursue musical poetry.

León Azul--a composition by violinist Sandy Poindexter that floats over a cool Cuban guajira beat--unleashed the menacing montuno of pianist Coto Pincheira. The audience hooped and hollered as vibist Yancy Taylor put the Oakland stroke to his mallets and delivered a melodically inventive solo that I wished would have lasted a couple of more choruses. But it was Sandy who took it home, with a passion comparable to that of Regina Carter, combining...

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