Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba

Obviously a labor of love for Waxing Deep label head Dan Zacks, this is another album (see our review of the Komeda Project from a couple of days ago) that’s as good as it is important, in the best sense possible. None of these songs, mostly dating from Cuba in the 70s through the 90s, have ever been available in digital form, or for that matter, outside of Cuba. What Zacks and Waxing Deep have done for obscure Cuban funk classics from the 70s here is the equivalent of what The Harder They Come soundtrack was for reggae, or what Olivier Conan and Barbes Records have done for Peruvian chicha music: introducing a western audience to an extraordinary blend of indigenous and rock-influenced sounds never available before outside where they originated. Not only are the Si Para Usted volumes (this one especially) great dance music, they’re also great stoner music. Historical documents have seldom been more fun.

As with Barbes’ The Roots of Chicha, the songs here have been remastered from the original analog tapes, and to the engineers’ infinite credit, the tinniness of the originals (Cubans weren’t exactly working with the latest state-of-the-art gear) has been significantly reduced. If anything, the rudimentary sonics adds to the music’s often quaint, sometimes utterly bizarre charm. What’s saddest is that because of chronic shortages of just about everything, Communist Cuban pressing plants had to compete with just about everyone else who used vinyl, making albums something of a rarity and second pressings virtually nonexistent – as this cd’s extensive and fascinating liner notes make clear, some of the greatest Cuban groups of the era simply didn’t record. Fortunately we have this genre-busting, sometimes woozy document to immortalize some of those who were fortunate to leave something behind.

Because every type of latin music has a groove, the songs here, mostly instrumentals, swing and sway – the herky-jerky beat of American funk doesn’t translate, the result being a strange, sometimes slightly uptight hybrid rhythm similar to Peruvian chicha (a blend of American surf music, Colombian cumbias and indigenous styles). There’s Safari Salvaje by Los Rapidos, a wickedly grooving variant on Barrabas’ Wild Safari featuring some wild prog-rock organ work. There’s the best-ever cover of the Ides of March’s Vehicle, complete with another organ solo that builds from a quote from Bach’s Toccata in D. Cuando Llego a Mi Casa by Los Brito (a native sensation) works a slinky, lushly orchestrated Isaac Hayes vamp for all it’s worth with tasty, jazzy flute.

Another cover, the classic son song Siboney is recast by Los Llamas as Os Mutantes-style psychedelia. Interestingly, the group’s musical director was born in 1929, the same year the original was released, meaning that if he was involved with this particular arrangement (history isn’t clear on this), it would be something equivalent to Benny Goodman making a successful transition to psychedelic rock in the 70s. Other standouts among the fifteen tracks here include the wild, trippy, Electric Prunes-esque El Sueno de Andria by Mirtha y Raul (a popular tv news show couple!), the Sergeant Pepper-style Beatlesque pop of Los Barba’s El Cristal, Grupo los Caribe’s cinematic surf instrumental Andalucia and the album’s concluding track, the utterly hypnotic guanguaco number Para Que Niegas by the still extant Los Papines. Kudos to Waxing Deep for the obviously herculean effort it took to track down these songs. The world is a better place – and a lot more fun – for their efforts.

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October 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Joshua Redman Trio at the Jazz Standard, NYC 10/21/09

Believe it or not, as of this writing (morning of Thursday, October 22), there is still limited seating available for Joshua Redman‘s series of trio shows at the Jazz Standard, which runs through the 25th. You’ll probably have more luck with a weekday or one of the Sunday night sets (7:30 and 9:30 only) – or if you’re a jazz fan and you’re in the neighborhood, you can try your luck  in the event that somebody reserved and then didn’t show up. Because this is a series of shows you should see, in a room particularly suited to such intimate, soulful performances.

It’s hard to believe that last night’s first set was Joshua Redman’s Jazz Standard debut, and he made it a memorable one. Backed by the solid, tasteful groove of Matt Penman on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Redman reminded how perfectly his sound works in this format (an all too rare setup for the sax player, even with the resounding success of his 2007 trio album Back East). They opened with a cleverly idiosyncratic, tongue-in-cheek, latinized version of “the one song you wish you’ll never hear again,” as Redman called it, Mack the Knife. Moving from an expansive, bluesy intro, the melody only took shape after a long, casually swinging buildup – was it merely a playful quote, like the others Redman had thrown in, or was it the actual song?

From there, they didn’t waste time getting to what would turn out to be the best song of the set, Ghost, from Redman’s latest cd Compass. It’s a pensively unwinding modal masterpiece, Penman unwaveringly maintaining the suspense as Redman methodically paralleled him, taking the melody deeper and deeper into darkness. Hutchinson finally took it out on an equally tense, gripping note, playing the snare with his hands for a murky, booming ambience. Their covers were also typically purist. Freddie Hubbard’s Crisis took on a defiant, early 70s feel as Redman swung out and around its catchy, chromatic four-note descending hook; Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady was a lush, romantic clinic in how to use the blues scale without ever lapsing into cliche. A breezy, slightly post-bop inflected original bore some impressive resemblance to JD Allen with Redman running scattershot within its tight, catchy architecture, Hutchinson joyously straight-ahead, feeling the room and not overdoing it when it came time for his solo. Finally, at the end of the last number, a 4/4 funk tune with a James Brown catchiness and simplicity, Redman cut loose with some oboeish chromatics – as usual, throughout the show he’d stayed within himself, never overplaying, always making his notes count, purist that he is. He’s never let the hype go to his head, still playing like one of the greats of the fifties. Take a trip back to a great place in time and see one of these shows – it may be awhile before you get a chance to see another like it.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment