Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Some Sweet Retro Cuban Sounds for Summer

Sierra Maestra were one of the original son revivalists in Cuba back in the 70s. Had that era’s Cuban music been widely available for export – or widely available island-wide, for that matter – they would have beaten the Buena Vista Social Club to the punch by about twenty years. What differentiates Sierra Maestra is that they mixed classic covers with original compositions done retro style. With all but two of the original members still alive, their new album Sonando Ya continues in that vein. Their sound is a lot more rustic than the Fania-style salsa that everybody knows and loves, more rustic than Machito, for that matter. This is Cuban roots music, bouncing and shuffling along with a clatter of a four-man percussion section, guiro, tres, guitar, bass, trumpet and vocals. But unlike what the title suggests, it’s not really dreamy at all. There’s a joy and swing to everything here – this is dance music, after all, and it’s no less vital than the stuff the band was doing thirty years ago.

Vocals rotate around the band in a sometimes exuberant, sometimes sly call-and-response. The opening son montuno tune is a tribute to mountain roots, with a characteristically catchy trumpet chorus. A trio of voices resound throughout a bouncy, dramatically tinged guaracha son ballad, reminding not to hate on them for their good fortune. A cautionary tale about a gold-digging girlfriend works a contemporary salsa tune quietly and bucolically, fretted instruments taking the place of the piano; a plaintive oldschool son number pleads for forgiveness, lit up with a long tres solo that vividly underscores son’s contemporaneous relationship with jazz. The rest of the album mixes bustling  dance tunes with a handful of ballads. Maybe it’s the time of year, but this cd has a visceral heat to it, evoking a Hemingway-era milieu, rum and sugarcane and heavy Caribbean night air. With summer going full blast, albums like this makes more and more sense. It’s out now on World Village Music.

July 8, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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