V-Note Ensemble : Venezuelan Harmony Translated by Ernesto Rangel

Translated by Ernesto Rangel

Jackie Rago, a Caracus multi-instrumentalist, began making music at the age of 4 amongst a community of people who were lacking the traditional sounds of Venezuela. When leaving the country, Jackie packed those rhythms in a suitcase and made a career out of them.

Before becoming a well-known performer, Rago settled into a corner of California, where she began looking for other musicians. However, the mandolin and percussionist sounds she searched for, were not found. So, Jackie took the cards into her own hands and infected her American colleagues with the sounds, and she achieved her goal. Her new comrades fell in love with the music, and together, they formed The Snake Trio.

The objective was simple: the group would share raw materials from Venezuelan folklore through the use of jazz and contemporary music. The Snake Trio created and dropped two albums before transforming into a newer, bolder, and more distinguished group: the V-Note Ensemble. This name allowed them to continue their experiment of bringing Venezuela to contemporary sounds but also gave them a name that helped bring attention to their origins and motivations. 

After blossoming into the V-Note Ensemble, the group released their 3rd body of work, Connection, in 2019. This album reflects an approach to Venezuelan music that is not superficial. While the ensemble’s previous two works could also be noted, Connection turned what was once a taste of Venezuela into a full immersion of the culture with no limits.

Phil Lewis, a representative of the Maginus Project, works to support recordings of the highest quality, that make a significant cultural contribution to the United States. Noticing the subtle balance between academic rigor and native confidence exhibited in the music, Phil offered to record the V-Note Ensemble’s album. This is how Rago, Viscuso, and their collaborators came to the Fantasy Records studios in California. 

For over 16 years, Rago, with the help of Donna Viscuso (a flutist and saxophonist), has worked to find and complete unpublished Venezuelan compositions. Over the years, Jackie Rago has had Daniel Feiszli and Michaelle Goertlitz join the ensemble to create a more elegant and cosmopolitan take of traditional Venezuelan sounds. 

A friend of Jackie defined V-Note Ensemble’s music as ‘pop chamber’ music. Rago loved the term so much she promised to use it in the future.

Donna Viscuso is more than a flutist or saxophonist; Donna is an all-around musician. She authored Pensivity, a slow Caracas meringue sound created in measures of 5 by 8– a strict Venezuelan structure that usually features foreign musicians, and a chacha titled Chasing Spring, which is a more colorful sound, highlighting her Caribbean colors. Jackie Rago is responsible for adding sprinkles of the essence of Venezuela into the instrumentals.

Specializing in music from Venezuela and other Latin American and Caribbean Countries, Jackie Rago composed a suite called jazz-nera for Urban in 2014 that featured songs, such as Red Gladiolas, Foa Aissim, and Venezuela, Venezuela. 

Red Gladiolas is a shining gem on the album. Rago created the piece inspired by the music of Aldemaro Romero. It is said that gladiolas are kept in the home because they bring color, joy, and are vibrant. This same description could be said of the song. 

On a different note, Foa Aissim has a sort of bittersweet story in the background. The original composition was by Erika Luckett; however, the ensemble chose instead to adapt it note by note to the rigors of a Venezuelan meringue. Months before passing, Luckett, without planning, came to visit California on the exact day V-Note recorded their creation.

“I composed Venezuela, Venezuela, as a protest, but I decided to be more positive than anything else,” Jackie explained. “It is a nostalgic song that reminds me of its beaches, its breeze, its people, its natural beauty. It reminds me of music with cumacos and maracas. We play that rhythm of the coast, which is so tasty, but trying to get attention to what is happening now.”

Rago confesses, “I will be a student of Venezuelan music until I die.”

Translated by Ernesto Rangel

Originally published on GuatacaNights.com

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