“Crescencio” – notes by Steve Roitstein
Written by Leslie Cartaya and Steve Roitstein, produced by Steve Roitstein
This song was born from the desire to retell the classic “There’s no place like home” theme with a Cuban twist. I pitched the idea to Leslie and she liked it. Since I’ve always heard Cubans say “Ay, que barbaridad” and that rhymed with “ciudad”, the chorus lyrics began to take shape. But we needed the person’s name. We struggled to think of a typical Cuban guajiro name, and then it occurred to me: Leslie’s mom’s father-in-law is from Pinar del Rio, and his name is Crescencio. Though the song isn’t about him, he’s thrilled.
After finishing the chorus lyrics, we started trying them over various chords and beats, looking for a melody. When I tripped on the bassline, that was it. The pizzicato and bowed violins are my salute to all of my favorite charanga bands, particularly Jose Fajardo and Larry Harlow. And the tres loop, played by Manuel Trujillo, gives the song a nice guajiro vibe.
Leslie Cartaya becomes a storyteller for this song. When PALO! performs “Crescencio” live, people are enthralled with the way she paints pictures with her voice. I suppose it helps that she grew up in a small town in Cuba, because she makes the images come alive.
This song is a perfect example of how Ed Calle fulfills the sax’s role in PALO! Since we don’t rely on brass arrangements, we replace that with a sax. Of course, this requires a great musician, which is why I asked Ed to be in the band. He alters his approach between improviser, brass section, rhythm section member, and vocal harmonizer. Playing with Ed in the band is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
What I love about the rhythms that Philbert and Raymer lay down on conga and timbal is how they propel the song without sounding cliché. These two guys, both astounding musicians in their own right, have developed such an incredible rapport over the years that they seem to think as one person! Their sound is innovative, while maintaining a totally Cuban personality.