Archive for afro-cuban jazz

Album Review: Americuba – Havana Maestros

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on October 8, 2017 by curtjazz

Havana MaestrosSometimes, an idea will sound crazy on paper but the execution will be terrific. Like this one – dig through the vaults of Warner/Atlantic Records. Grab some of the label’s biggest pop hits; from the last five decades and strip away everything but the vocals. Now, bring a group of legendary Cuban musicians into Havana’s Abdala Studios, open the bar and then, have them lay down some new instrumental tracks behind the vocals. The result is Americuba by the Havana Maestros. I confess that when I first read the concept in the press kit, I cringed. When I popped the CD into the player, I expected disaster and in a couple of instances, I got it. But most of the tracks are, at worst, quirky fun and at best, downright terrific.

The album kicks off with Chic’s “Good Times”. Recast as a guitar infused Cha-Cha, this disco warhorse sounded different. I didn’t know quite what to make of it. It wasn’t bad at all, it was just good enough to intrigue me into listening further. Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me”, fell into that same category – pleasantly different but not enough to surpass the original. Then came Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” and the party was ON! Harold Lopez-Nussa lays down a killer piano line, Evaristo Dario drops in a nasty bari sax, the horns (trombone on top, of course) are blaring and we are suddenly in midst of a sweaty night at The Palladium. Before that groove lets us go, we get the incomparable Janelle Monae. “Tightrope” was always a great tune but this arrangement takes it to another level. In this setting, Ms. Monae sounds like the celebrated salsa princess, La India, during her 1990’s heyday. If you’re not up and moving on this track, check your pulse. “Say a Little Prayer” is also surprisingly good, with Dionne’s cool, bouncy vocal stylings wrapping around the Maestros simpatico backing like a soft leather glove.

In addition, there are a couple of strong tracks from the Havana Maestros, sans the American vocals; a few members of the group are part of the Buena Vista Social Club and “Ritmo Cubano” and “Ven” sound like a couple of lost tracks from that venerable group’s classic albums. On the delta side of the ledger, Fun.’s “We Are Young” and B.O.B & Hayley Williams’ “Airplanes”, completely miss the mark, but hey, that’s why they invented the “Skip Track” button.

Havana Maestros Americuba isn’t a classic but if you love Afro-Cuban music and you have an open mind, give it a shot – it’s a surprisingly enjoyable ride.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars – Creative, refreshing Afro-Cuban fun

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #4 – Best Latin Jazz Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by curtjazz

The Latin Jazz category was thankfully added back to the Grammys last year. Unfortunately, it was promptly made a mockery of by the selection of the worst of the nominated albums for the award and by the arrogance of the winner in his long-winded acceptance speech. As in most of the other jazz categories this year, Latin Jazz features a very strong and culturally diverse set of nominees representing a broad spectrum of the Latin Jazz experience. This time, any of them would be a deserving victor.

The nominees are:

Buika: La Noche Más Larga (Warner Music Spain)

I confess to having never heard of Buika before her nomination. She has a new fan in me. The Miami based singer grew up in Spain. Her parents are from Equatorial Guinea. On La Noche Más Larga Buika sings mostly in her native Spanish but also in English on a stunning version of “Don’t Explain”. This album mines the connection between flamenco, Afro-Cuban music and jazz to remarkable effect and Buika’s captivating voice is just the instrument to being it to us. Now will she win a Grammy? Most likely not, as most U.S. listeners are in the same boat as I was before December. But do your homework people and listen to this amazing vocalist!

Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (Sunnyside/Paquito Records)

This is the second nomination this year for Paquito D’Rivera. The title track from this album was also nominated for Best Improvised Jazz Solo. Though he is naturally associated with the music of his native Cuba, Mr. D’Rivera has often dabbled in Brazilian rhythms.  He dives in headfirst on this album with the Brazilian Trio Corrente. He avoids the familiar Brazilian compositions and leaves most of the arranging to his counterparts in the group. His alto sax and clarinet wrap around the music like a glove. It’s a very good and extremely listenable album. D’Rivera’s  is the most recognizable name on this list which makes him a prohibitive favorite to win this award.

Roberto Fonseca: Yo (Concord Jazz)

This  Cuban pianist knocked my socks off with his command of the keyboard that can turn from percussively powerful to lyrically soft at the drop of a hat. It’s Jazz cum Afro-Cuban cum R&B and it just flows from beginning to end. Again, his lack of name recognition in the U.S. will work against him today, as he is a long-shot to win this award.

Omar Sosa: Eggun (Otá Records)

This album was born when Omar Sosa received a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival to compose and produce a tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue.  However, instead of just wrapping a Latin beat around the famous Davis tunes as so many have done before, Mr. Sosa takes the essence of the compositions or even one of the saxophone solos from the original and forms brand new works from them, using Cuban and West African rhythms as a bed. It’s a thrilling album, especially if you’re a lover of the source material. In a just world, Eggun would be the Grammy winner. However Mr. Sosa is probably going home empty-handed.

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Latin Jazz – Jazz Latin (Patois Records)

It’s about time that Grammy got around to recognizing trombonist Wayne Wallace who is one of the best Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban musicians on the West Coast and maybe in the whole country. Mr. Wallace and his cohorts stick to the classic Mambo/Merengue/Plena style of the genre made famous by Puente, Machito, Bauzá and others. He also throws in a few surprises (such as a flute/violin/trombone “horn section”) to keep things lively. I still think that D’Rivera will win this award but if anyone in this category will pull an upset, it will be Wayne Wallace.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Omar Sosa
  • Will Win: Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente

One more preview to go before the awards show!

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011 – Ninety Miles

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , on May 29, 2011 by curtjazz

Talk about finishing strong…The Piedmont Park portion of the 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival concludes tonight with Ninety Miles: a group composed of trumpeter Christian Scott, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and some of Cuba’s finest jazz musicians. Their album, also called Ninety Miles, will be released June 21st, on Concord Picante Records.  Filmmaker Devin DeHaven has produced and directed a documentary film about the project that will be released this summer.

The group and project draw its name, of course, from the geographical distance between the U.S. and Cuba.  Though we are physically very close, politics, as we all know, has kept the countries far apart for over half a century. 

“This record is about the power of music to communicate, and break down some of the barriers that result from language and politics and culture,” says John Burk, Chief Creative Officer of Concord Music Group and producer of the album. He developed the idea for the project after experiencing first-hand the visceral energy exchange between artists and audiences at the Cuban Jazz Festival in 2008. After more than a year of negotiations with representatives of the Cuban music industry – not to mention clearing the various travel-related hurdles with the U.S. State Department and the Cuban government; Harris, Sánchez and Scott were booked  to perform in Havana in May 2010 with many of the same Cuban players he’d seen at the festival a couple of years earlier. Ninety Miles is a snapshot of the rehearsals just prior to the 2010 performance.

That snapshot will be on the Atlanta Jazz Festival stage tonight, at 9:00. If you’re in the area, it is a must-see event.

For further information about the 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website: http://atlantafestivals.com/

For further information about the Ninety Miles Project, visit their website: http://www.ninetymilesproject.com/