Spanish bagpipes come to Weehawken
Positive reception to free concert from unfamiliar crowd
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Feb 24, 2013 | 2294 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Some of the audience members at Wednesday’s UBS Atrium Series concert, which featured the dynamic Cristina Pato and the Migrations Band, said that Pato’s sound wasn’t exactly what they were used to. But her intricate music, which mixes jazzy melodies and latin beats as a backdrop to her wailing gaita, a set of Spanish bagpipes, surprised them in a good way.

“It’s not really something I would listen to in the car,” said Joe Miller of Guttenberg. “But what an incredible live show. Cristina was fantastic, and the coordination with the band was really something to appreciate.”

Pato herself admitted after the show that the sound of her gaita can border on the intense for some audience members, which is why she sometimes splits her live shows between songs which focus on the gaita and others which feature her on flute or vocals.

“I want my shows to have a sense of balance to them,” said Pato, who is as beautiful offstage as she is passionate onstage. “The bagpipe has so much power; it can be a little intense sometimes, so I try to mix in the flute.”

But it seemed like no matter what Pato did onstage Wednesday, the audience responded positively.

Audience members praised Pato and the Migrations Band, with whom she recently released an album, for their cohesion and energy.

“You really can’t appreciate the chemistry they have if you’re just listening to this at home,” said Jim DiFeo, of Union. “I like that world beat sound, but it’s really quite interesting how she combines it with music from around the world to make this unusual sound that’s a mix of gypsy, Celtic, Jewish, Latin American and obviously Spanish music.”
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“The bagpipe has so much power; it can be a little intense sometimes, so I try to mix in the flute.” - Cristina Pato
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Bruce Sherman, who runs the Hudson River Performing Arts Center and curates the free Atrium Series, said he gets great joy out bringing against-the-grain music to Weehawken. The Atrium Series is sponsored in part by The Hudson Reporter.

“Part of our mission is to introduce people to new music,” he said. “I love producing shows with these types of artists almost because they’re so unusual.”

Right now, the Hudson River Performing Arts Center is a non-profit group that holds concerts – not a venue in itself. However, the group has a long-term goal of building a local arts center someday.

When asked about performing in Weehawken, Pato replied that she loved the crowd’s diversity, and the acoustics of UBS’ atrium.

“I really love this place because I love playing for a wide combination of people,” she said. “My music doesn’t have a specific focus, so why should my audience?”

A sound all her own

No one else on earth is making music that sounds quite like Pato’s. Hailing from Galicia, a region in the northwest of Spain where the gaita is as popular as the Highland Bagpipe is in Scotland, Pato grew up focusing on traditional music. As she described it, it’s difficult to grow up in Galicia and avoid the gaita. Of the 100,000 or so people who live in the regional capital of Ourense, 10,000 of them are enrolled in the gaita academy there.

But despite Pato’s love for her home’s traditional sound, popular music has its influences as well, and Cristina began to wonder how she could infuse the wailing, guttural sound of her gaita into the type of pop and rock music that she would hear on the radio.

“Around when I was 16 or 17, I really began to play the type of popular music that I liked at the time,” she said. “Obviously, no matter what musicians are taught to play, they always end up playing what they want to play.”

After moving to New York City in 1994, she began to wonder about the possibility of combining jazz and Galician folk music.

Jazz had entered her life early on, when she was learning to play the piano, but she had never thought of combining bagpipes and jazz, mainly due to the scale and octave limitations of the gaita. But Victor Prieto, the Galician accordionist and jazz enthusiast who now is a member of the Migrations Band, convinced Pato that it could be done.

“Having an accordion in jazz is similar to having a bagpipe, it’s sort of unusual,” she said. “But I saw how Victor was able to create his own sound, and that sort of convinced me that it was possible.”

So Pato set out to free herself from the limitations of her instruments and find a way to make them “interesting” enough for jazz.

“Victor’s accordion was sort of the pillar that supported my sound as I was figuring out what place the bagpipes had,” she said. She also listened extensively to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, a jazz album inspired by the Spanish folk music tradition.

The result was the new album, Migrations, a masterful combination of sounds from around the world. Partly inspired by Pato’s work with Yo-Yo-Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble as well as the experience of moving to New York and the people she met there; it’s a multicultural and multi-instrumental magnum opus.

“The album comes from a very a clear idea, that it’s possible to move to another place without losing the identity of where you’re from,” she said. “Our band is made up of all New Yorkers, and none of us are from New York!”

The band is made up of Prieto, bassist Edward Perez, percussionist John Hadfield and drummer Eric Doob.

“They’re an amazing group of musicians and my sound wouldn’t really be possible without the experience that they bring to the band,” said Pato.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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