San Melao/Paul Carlon & Max Pollak
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San Melao/Paul Carlon & Max Pollak

New York City, New York, United States

New York City, New York, United States
Band Latin World


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"Dream Teams"

It was 1993, late on a Sunday night in NYC’s East Village, and rhythm-tap icon Max Pollak was hosting a weekly tap jam for a colleague. In an unfortunate turn of events that would prove to be serendipitous, his saxophonist cancelled at the last minute. As legend has it, the well-known jazz musician Paul Carlon happened to be walking down the street, with his sax, at that precise moment. Someone spotted Carlon and invited him to jam for the night: Hence the fortuitous meeting of Pollak and Carlon—and the beginning of their rich, creative relationship.

Since that night, Pollak has gone on to create the unique Rumba Tap Company and appoint Carlon as its musical director. Carlon, in turn, enlisted Pollack to join his Latin Jazz band, Grupo Los Santos. They’ve worked on recordings, productions and festivals, and they’ve performed all over the world together. “When I met Paul, I had no idea it would go this far and be this intense,” says Pollak, who won a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Choreography last year. “But I had this déjà vu, like we’re going to do great things and be close friends.”

Collaborations like these are often an essential part of creating a good final product. After all, a choreographer who tries to do everything alone will limit the scope of his or her work. Lighting and set designers, composers, digital artists, costumers and other non-dance artists have the expertise to make a dance come alive. Without them, many pieces would fall flat. Imagine Balanchine's [ital: La Valse] without those sweeping tulle skirts and their rainbows of layers or David Parson’s Caught without the dramatic strobe lighting. Stay open to creative relationships with others, and you might just develop the most rewarding professional relationship of your career. - Dance Spirit Magazine

"Sizzlin' at SummerStage"

Max Pollak and Rumba Tap--with his RumbaTap musicians and the guesting, powerful Paul Carlon Octet--opened last night's SummerStage show on a charming note. Pollak, the Austrian-born tap dance/body percussion wiz, assembled a suite of numbers representing his cross-cultural blending--like Gankino Afrokan, Pollak's new tap, Bulgarian, Mozambican stew. That piece might sound complicated but it's a simple joy, a happy folk dance for a whole United Nations of folks.

The production featured longtime collaborators and new additions, like the wonderful Carson Murphy and Warren Craft. All of the dancers were in good form, but it was especially fun to see longtime Pollak partner Chikako Iwahori let loose and rock out to Tito Puente in Pa' Los Rumberos in a way that I've never seen her do, and to see her smile from the soul. Kudos to Iwahori, too, for this production's splendid and flattering designs for the women's elegant costumes.

Pollak is a jazzy Damballah with a scorching intensity, especially in his Afro-Cuban solos. (Have a little taste, but for a better experience, see him live.) But it would have been wonderful to hear more of what his feet had to say, which is, after all, the point of tap dancing. But at SummerStage, the music, although righteous in its own right, covered over a lot of the foot sound. Nevertheless, Pollak's show put us all in a chipper mood for the long (and rewarding) evening ahead with DanceBrazil. Let's look forward to where he'll take us next. - Eva YaaAsantewaa

"Roots Propaganda CD Review"

Roots Propaganda, the latest release from saxophonist and bandleader Paul Carlon, is an infectious blend of jazz, Afro-Cuban, and world music played by Carlon’s working octet. A freewheeling approach is utilized to bring diverse music traditions together in a seamless way, retaining the parts of each that groove the most. Roots Propaganda is all about the groove, whether it’s swinging jazz, greasy funk, or any number of authentic Latin American rhythms that will have your toes tapping and your hips shaking. Carlon’s ability to pull what he needs from all these various sources and recombine the parts into something new is what gives this album its fresh flavor. The musical styles may be familiar, but the content and style of Roots Propaganda is nothing if not adventurous.
The album begins with “Backstory”, an introductory tune that yields brief glimpses of what is yet to come. The truly outstanding drumming of William “Beaver” Bausch is displayed here, as it is almost everywhere else on Roots Propaganda. Bausch is the engine that makes Paul Carlon’s octet go. His mastery of Afro-Cuban rhythms is obvious, as is his ability to adapt parts designed for specific percussion instruments to the drum set without losing the sensation of multiple instruments being simultaneously played. A good portion of the album lays the percussion bare, with several moments of unaccompanied grooves and many more drum and horn conversations, and so it is a welcome relief to have someone as capable as Bausch behind the wheel. “Backstory” also features vocalist Christelle Durandy, who gradually make her presence felt throughout the album. The timbre and temperament of Durandy’s voice has that rare quality of being able to transport the listener to an ethereal place. Her hauntingly beautiful voice is mostly heard singing traditional melodies, chants, or wordless accompaniment in a vein similar to Chick Corea’s seminal album, Return to Forever.
“Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” borrows a page from the funky blues tradition of great R&B musicians of the 60s and 70s, as well as a heaping of New Orleans-style horn sermonizing by trombonist Ryan Keberle. “Mambo pa’ Kanoa” features rumbatap master Max Pollak in duet with Carlon for most of the song. As Pollak creates percussive sounds using tap dancing, body percussion, and vocalizations, Carlon plays a hypnotic overdubbed horn groove that fits like a glove into Pollak’s rhythms. Pianist John Stenger is featured prominently on “The Limiter”, and for good reason – the man can really burn. Starting as a light funk groove with the horns and rhythm section, Stenger emerges into the foreground for a captivating solo impressive for its ingenuity as well as its undeniably solid groove. Stenger periodically hints at an underlying montuno, but is smart enough to keep it as temptation, slightly obscured but seemingly within reach. Bausch is again featured on the provocatively titled “The Most Beautiful Thing”, this time in a fairly lengthy open drum solo after a searching solo from Carlon. The last track, “Yorubonics”, is a clever play on the Yoruba people of West Africa. It begins with dissonant intervals of a second between the horns before opening up into a melodic chant by Durandy and a bluesy guitar solo by Pete Smith.
The album’s name, Roots Propaganda, refers to Carlon’s interest in capturing the various musical traditions of the Americas in a new, dynamic, and interdependent way. His blend of the familiar and the exotic on nearly every track is both mesmerizing and refreshing in its own way. Perhaps this kind of music did need a little bit of helpful propaganda to bring it, along with Carlon’s octet, to a wider audience. The spirit of innovation and reinvention is alive and well in the Paul Carlon Octet and Roots Propaganda. - Jazz Improv Magazine/Dimitri Eshkut

"Roots Propaganda CD Review"

“Roots music through a jazz lens” is how New York scenester Paul Carlon sums up this record. Unlike say, Luis Morais or Tommy McCook, though, you couldn’t really call Carlon a saxophonist working in a roots idiom, and much of Roots Propaganda might more easily be filed under dancefloor jazz. Nevertheless, when Carlon talks roots, he’s talking the entirety of the American continent, from the Delta to Columbia, a kind of jazz Ry Cooder whose press release claim, “roots music can be so hard to find” comes across as slightly disingenuous, not least given the massive success of Cooder’s Cuban revival. Then again, it all depends on what you define as roots music.

Save for some organic beatboxing (more on which below), there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about Carlon’s Duke Ellington-inspired Afro-Cuban/Brazilian aesthetic, or even the way his octet blow the blues, but they do it with virtuosity and not a little flair, fired by the lived experience of Latin America. It’s an experience digested early on with an exquisite cover of the Baden Powell/Vinícius de Moraes bossa oratorio, “Canto de Xangô”, Carlon leading his lock-tight ensemble from the lyrical to the ecstatic, and that’s without putting much stock by percussion, the de facto oxygen of most Brazilian music. Drummer William Bausch is subtle enough to carry it off, and Carlon is imaginative enough to pitch a rhythmic curveball as the record gathers momentum, replacing upper limbs with lower on the self-penned “Mambo pa’Kanoa”: one Max Pollak comes credited with “rumbatap” and “body percussion”, a syncopated boom-bap which – in tandem with Carlon’s puckish, upswinging accents – makes for an irrepressible blueprint, not so dissimilar to the kind of compulsive, instrumental eccentricity thrummed out by Ken Field’s Revolutionary Snake Ensemble.

Carlon works similar territory with “Ochun”, a brilliant, awkward-sloping funk of Afro chant, whirring reeds and Pollak contortion, with Carlon soloing over the top like a world weary magus. The Afro-religious angle is afforded a more conventional latin-jazz treatment on both the haunting “Morô Omim Má” and “Yorubonics”, as Christelle Durandy – a French singer with roots in Guadeloupe – offers up call as praise in a sultry, sober echo of India.Arie, with Carlon’s soloing once again pinwheeling in extended response.

When Carlon’s flirting with the devil’s music, by contrast, the octet’s dynamic couldn’t be more different: mooching with Ellingtonian intent, a cover of Skip James standard, “Killin’ Floor Blues”, is dominated by the twin trombones of Ryan Keberle and Mike Fahie, as Carlon steps back into the role of reticent usher, making way for the tonal roaming of Fahie’s solo. The trombones likewise lead a benevolent saunter through “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, demarcating the territory between Carlon’s domestic heritage and his wider horizons. The two find some kind of mutual recognition in self-composed pieces like “New Life” and “The Limiter”, where the dynamic shifts yet again as Carlon’s jazz democracy offers free passage to Dave Smith’s trumpet and John Stenger’s piano respectively, with Stenger revealing an appetite for Fania-vintage salsa.

If the whole doesn’t always add up to the sum of its parts it’s not for lack of trying; Carlon and Co. clearly love their raw material, and – not least in the collaborations with Pollak – their efforts go at least some way to reclaiming jazz as “roots music” in its own right. - PopMatters/Brendon Griffin

"Max Pollak's Rumba Tap w/ The Paul Carlon Octet"

A pleasant summer evening greeted audiences that flocked to Rumsey Playfield for a dance program that began as Max Pollak's Rumba Tapdance group took the stage backed by Paul Carlon's octet, which was augmented by two singers and a vibist, who helped take the experience to greater heights by bringing forth jazz-inflected grooves to the mix.

Carlon and Pollak are longtime collaborators - they have traveled extensively together doing music and dance research. On a recently released disc, Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea (Deep Tone Records) credited to Grupo Los Santos successfully looks at Latin and Brazilian jazz from an American point of view, resulting in a mixed sonic bag that allows influences from funk and East Coast jazz into the music without compromising the general sound and feel.

That was evidenced at this shot set. One of the highlights was a traditional Bulgarian tune that had a few elements of Cuba and Mozambique included into it - Pollak created impressive tap moves to accompany it, and all the members of his company seemed to enjoy what they were doing as much as those in the audience were.

They closed the presentation with their take on Tito Puente's "Mambo," tune included on the soundtrack of 2001's Mambo Kings. For that tune, the dancers seemed to go for their last reserves of energy, frantically moving to the song's uptempo groove.

After a very short, break, New York-based Dance Brazil took the stage, showcasing their interesting blend of capoeira moves, modern and classical dance into one package. Backed by a live trio, the company attracted an unexpectedly large crowd formed by many expat Brazilians, who cheered to their breathtaking moves.

Founded in 1977 by Bahia-born choreographer Jelon Vieira, the group is credited with introducing capoeira to American audiences and also taking Afro-Brazilian music and dance into a highly artistic, professional level. - Global Rhythm/Ernest Barteldes

"Intensive Sprint Towards The Finish Line And Chill-Out"

Snow Jazz 2009 in numbers: 10 days, 16 concerts, 6000 - 7000 visitors - and 23 hours of sleep for Festival director Sepp Grabmeier.

First impression: The guy is wearing high heels. In white! But then Max Pollak cuts loose: he taps, he sings he claps, he in constant motion. Along with all that his face is being flooded with hundreds of intense emotional expressions, almost mask-like. The over all impression is full of intense energy; those sitting in the first row are staring at the feet of Max Pollak and singer/dancers Chikako Iwahori and Lynn Schwab. Those sitting further back are twisting and straining in their seats to catch as much as possible. The three dancers form the percussion layer usually composed of many instruments. The body as an instrument - a concept which is tailored onto these tap dancer's bodies.

Perfectly thought out and arranged the interplay with the three part saxophone section (musical director Paul Carlon, Gottfried Stöger and Dimitri Moderbacher).

The rest is about Sepp chilling out at the end of the festival... - Salzburger Nachrichten


1. RumbaTap/Max Pollak & RumbaTap/2010 (to be released)
1. Roots Propaganda/The Paul Carlon Octet featuring Max Pollak/2008
2. Other Tongues/The Paul Carlon Octet featuring Max Pollak/2006
3. Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea/Grupo Los Santos featuring Max Pollak/2007



Since their fortuitous 1993 meeting in an NYC jazz dive, Max Pollak and Paul Carlon have explored the primal connection between music and dance. Equally fascinated with the sonic possibilities of intersecting wind instruments, tap, and body percussion, the two have traveled the world in lineups ranging from explosive big bands to elemental duos.

Their collaborations include Max's groundbreaking dance/percussion/music ensemble RumbaTap, Paul's Octet and Grupo los Santos, and the quintet of the late great Cuban star Juan Pablo Torres.
Leaning alternately more toward music or more toward dance, their partnership always embodies the raw spiritual ecstasy of live performance.