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The Other Face of Paquito D'Rivera


The first thing that comes to mind when you mention Cuban saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera is a fiery big band unleashing a polyrhythmic cascade of Latin jazz bravado. After all, D'Rivera became famous in the 1970s through his work in the seminal Cuban group Irakere.

When he defected to the United States in 1980, he played with mentor Dizzy Gillespie in the United Nation Orchestra, which he has directed since Gillespie's death.

But there's another side to D'Rivera, one that can be seen at Cal State Northridge tonight, when he performs an eclectic program of Latin American chamber music with a trio called Triangulo.

The ensemble is composed of D'Rivera on clarinet, accompanied by Uruguayan pianist Pablo Zinger and Brazilian cellist Gustavo Tavares. Zinger, by the way, should not be confused with another South American pianist, Pablo Ziegler, who happens to share with Zinger a healthy appetite for Argentine tango.

"Zinger was the person who got me enthused again with the idea of playing chamber music," D'Rivera said recently. "I formed Triangulo in order to play a variety of compositions that could be categorized under the umbrella term of Latin American classical music."

Variety is the word that best defines tonight's program at Northridge. The concert will include some compositions by D'Rivera, Cuban dances by Ignacio Cervantes and four tangos by the genre's master, Astor Piazzolla.

D'Rivera's decision to devote energy to such an unusual enterprise shows his disregard for the business side of music. "I'm not a very ambitious guy," he said. "I have a weakness for old cars and recently acquired a '57 Chevrolet that almost caused me a divorce. But other than that, I prefer to live a simple life and do only the projects that I want to do."

The saxophonist credits legendary trumpet player Chocolate Armenteros for giving him an important life lesson.

"We met in the street once, and he told me that he had a recording session, a rehearsal and a gig all in the same day," D'Rivera said. "I told him he was working a lot, and he replied, 'I don't work. I just play the trumpet.' "

Like Armenteros, D'Rivera knows how to keep himself busy. He has just finished writing his second string quartet, a work he composed for the renowned Turtle Island String Quartet. He also has completed his first novel, a manuscript titled "En Tus Brazos Morenos" ("In Your Brown Arms").

"When I was in kid in Cuba, my father played all sorts of music at home," he said. "To me, Mozart and [mambo master] Perez Prado are one and the same."


Triangulo performs tonight at 8 at the Cal State Northridge Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge. $10-$19.50. Call (818) 677 2488.

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