Lucid Culture


CD Review – The Rough Guide to the Music of Cuba

Pretty much every attempt to assemble a definitive anthology of music for a particularly country or style opens a can of worms. Credit the Rough Guide folks for at least taking a stab at this. Arguments over who ought to be on The Rough Guide to the Music of Cuba – or who ought not to be on it – could go on for days. “No Machito?!? Sacrilege!” But if you look at this simply as a sort of digital mixtape, it’s a fun dance album. As with the other cds in the series, they compilers start with a vintage sound and move forward, in this case to some of the first-rate (and impressively retro) bands coming out of Cuba in recent years. As has been the case with the Rough Guide cds lately, there’s also a bonus cd, in this case by the long-running, well-loved Sierra Maestra, who’ve been keeping the flame of vintage Cuban son music alive since 1976. As an introduction for the uninitiated, this is as good a place to start as any.

Los Estrellas De Arieto contribute Que Traigan El Quaguanco, a deliciously long oldschool-flavored son number by these 70s stars. Sierra Maestra’s El Son No Puede Fallar works an insistent groove for all it’s worth. For piano-based salsa, there’s the Afro Cuban All Stars’ Reconciliacion. The most innovative of all the cuts here is from the catalog of the late, legendary Buena Vista Social Club bassist Orlando Cachaito Lopez: Mis Dos Pequenas is an eerily slinky quaguanco instrumental, a lushly vivid mix of slide guitar, organ and violin.

The Afro Cuban Jazz Project’s Coge Este Tumbao introduces a bright, happy, more modern feel with call-and-response vocals. Percussion gets representation from the late Pancho Quinto’s hypnotic, shuffling La Gorra. Of the more recent material on the compilation, Mexico-based Azucar Negra probably represent the best of the current crop of veterans still active here. There’s also Sama Y El Expreso De Oriente’s big hit Guarachando from a couple of years ago; Maikel Blanco Y Su Salsa Mayor‘s tersely exuberant Que Tengo along with slick numbers by Los Van Van, Osdalgia and Elio Reve Jr. and a lone accession to reggaeton by Guantanamo natives Madera Limpia.

The Sierra Maestra cd is as richly, rustically evocative as ever, guitar, piano, horns and percussion interwoven into a hypnotic, hip-tugging net that shifts under your feet while it keeps you moving. Try standing still to this: impossible. At better record stores and online.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Quimbombo at Stuyvesant High School Auditorium, NYC 7/29/09

Quimbombo is a Cuban stew and also the title of a famous Cuban son dance number from the 1950s. This particular Quimbombo is similarly sabroso (tasty). With two guitars, fretless bass, trumpet, sax and a literal herd of percussionists on everything from congas to timbales to campana, cajon and bass drum, they play son, the precursor of salsa that took root in 1930s Cuba and was repopularized sixty years later by the Buena Vista Social Club. The way this band plays it, it sounds like salsa but with guitar in place of the piano. As their show Wednesday night – moved indoors because of the rain – proved, they’re ecstatically good at it. Sitting and watching them rumble and rhumba through one hypnotic groove after another was viscerally uncomfortable – the body unconsciously starts to sway, it wants to get up and dance!

Their set mixed classics along with originals from their most recent cd Conga Electrica. Their first number set the tone for the night with a long, crescendoing guitar duel, David Oquendo’s incisive electric nylon-string chords trading off with the acoustic player’s gorgeously steely, ringing tones. They followed that with a swaying ballad, Cuando Tu Vayas A Oriente (When You Go East) and then Con El Trapo Rojo (With the Red Flag – a bullfighting reference), building from an ecstatic percussion intro with booming bass drum to a hypnotic verse with electric guitar and then finally a long, trance-inducing one-chord jam out. This could be the band’s theme song – or one of them anyway, considering how often they manage to namecheck themselves when there’s room.

Que Me Importa A Mi (What Do I Care) scampered along playfully with chorus-box electric guitar; the next tune went on hypnotically for what seemed at least ten minutes, highlighted by a strikingly murky flute solo, not what you would expect from an instrument with such a high register. By the time they got to their gorgeously ringing signature song – a hit for legendary Cuban pianist Luis “Lili” Martinez – there was finally some movement toward the back of the auditorium. There’s no sitting still to stuff like this.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment