Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Septeto Nacional Make the Buena Vista Social Club Seem Like New Jacks

How’s this for oldschool: Septeto Nacional have been around since 1927. The current incarnation of the band made its US live debut last year; this album, Sin Rhumba, No Hay Son, their debut recording outside of Cuba, makes the Buena Vista Social Club seem modern by comparison. Their founder, bassist Ignacio Piniero (1888-1969) is credited with introducing horns to Cuban music: sin Ignacio, no hay Machito? It’s rustic, roughhewn, often joyous but also plaintive oldtime latin music. The African clave beat is there as it is in so many latin styles, but Crispin Diaz Hernandez’s deft percussion lurks behind a thicket of richly jangly acoustic guitar from Dagoberto Sacerio Oliva and tres by Enrique Collazo, spiced with Agustin Someillan Garcia’s trumpet, with Raul Acea Rivera on bass and the aptly nicknamed Eugenio “Raspa” Rodriguez on lead vocals. It’s a mix of originals along with a couple of vintage Piniero numbers in several vintage styles including son montuno, rhumba, guaracha and the sad, pretty bolero that’s the third track here – did Willie Nelson hear that before he wrote Let It Be Me?

Collazo steals the show here, particularly on the album’s best cut, El Plato Roto (The Broken Plate) and its stinging, spiky solo at the end. The catchy, sly minor-key dance number, Mueve Tu Cintura (literal translation: shake your hips) has the tres casually whipping through a long, biting series of chords at the end. And his incisive jangle drives the sassy La Mulata Rumbera (featuring an inspired vocal by guest Bertha Portuondo) and the bouncy Me Dieron la Clave (They Gave Me the Clave), with a solo that literally snarls. The Piniero tracks share a vibe that’s antique yet ahead of its time: Arrollo Cubano foreshadows what will become calypso, while Donde Andabas Lanoche (Where Did You Go Last Night) is an island take on flamenco. La Rhumba No Es Como Ayer is actually so ayer it’s not funny and it’s a fun trip back in time: what mento is to reggae, this is to salsa. There’s also the slow stately swinging bolero En Tus Ojos Yo Veo (I Look in Your Eyes), the wry El Discreto (a cautionary tale – be careful who you confide in) and the boisterous, jazzy La Fiesta de los Animales that closes the album. It’s a lot of fun and it’s out now on World Village Music.

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September 14, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, Uncategorized, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Larry Harlow’s La Raza Latina at Lincoln Center

Saturday night out back of Lincoln Center was a mob scene, as crowded as it’s ever been in recent memory. There was a good reason for that: a major moment in latin music history, the live premiere of Larry Harlow’s visionary 1977 album La Raza Latina. An ambitious, epic suite, the legendary bandleader and Fania All-Stars’ pianist wrote it as a history of latin music and the people who made it, via every rhythm that’s ever come out of Africa via Cuba. With only two rehearsals, Harlow worked like a santero out in front of the band, whether leading them in a hypnotic conga vamp that went on for minutes on end, or shifting in a split second from a salsa bounce to a slinky rhumba, or toward the end, into some of the wildest big band jazz this city’s seen this year.

The reason why the suite hadn’t been played in its entirety live since being recorded is because staging it is considerably more cumbersome than putting a ten-piece salsa combo together. For this performance, the massive latin big band and orchestra, including a string section, were accompanied by several pairs of dancers who spun ecstatically throughout several of the longer segments. The first part, Africa, began with Adonis Puentes on vocals, which from the VIP section (the catwalk across the street on 65th, where those sufficiently agile or ambitious to climb up could actually catch an occasional glimpse of the band from across the way) weren’t easy to hear, but they resonated with the crowd. The band romped through a rousing, vintage 70s Fania era salsa anthem, a long, hypnotically mysterious Afro-Cuban drum vamp, and back into the blaze and swells of the horns. The second section, Caribe chronicles the cross-pollination that happened in the Caribbean (heavily influenced by the then-obscure Cuban big band Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna), where the rhumba rhythms first made their appearance. By now Ruben Blades had joined the festivities, one of the concluding segments featuring several prominent and dramatically crescendoing, Dave Valentin-inflected flute passages.

Nueva York 1950s & 1960s was the most diverse and intense section, especially an ominous noir latin funk groove that cut out much too soon in favor of another blazing dance number. The final part, Futuro envisions salsa growing to further incorporate elements of jazz and even the avant garde, moving through two surprise endings and a long, intense timbale vamp to a whirlwind cauldron of noise, then back again several times, the percussionists somehow managing not to let go of the piece as it spun completely off its hinges: imagine an army of Charlie Parkers at their craziest. The piece wound up with one last salsa number that they finally took all the way up with a big crescendo that was sort of the equivalent of Afro-Cuban heavy metal. Considering how exhilarating this show was – and how visibly out-of-breath Harlow and his band were afterward – one can only imagine how good they’d sound after more than the two rehearsals they’d managed to get in for this one.

And a big shout-out to the Bobby Sanabria Big Band, whose equally epic, tectonically shifting textures and bracing, striking charts gave Harlow and his crew a hard act to follow.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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