Archive for Janelle Monae

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