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¡CUBANISMO!

Our critics' picks in new releases

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For the past six years, Cuban-born trumpeter Jesus Alemañy has led a recording and touring ensemble of extraordinary musical force and international savvy under the name Cubanismo. A new "best of" release, Mucho Gusto ("much pleasure" or "nice to meet you"), packages an assortment of danceable tunes from their four great albums, plus two unreleased tracks that add a taste of the unexpected. The album is a good introduction for anybody who hasn't yet discovered the delights of Cubanismo's big-band approach to traditional son, yet offers something new to veteran followers in the way of two Bob Marley covers that mix the harmonic lushness of Afro-Cuban montuno with Jamaican reggae.

The Caribbean's many cultural cross-currents is also the subject of their most recent album, the New Orleans-themed Mardi Gras Mambo, from which two of the tracks on Mucho Gusto are taken: "Marie Laveaux," John Boutte's anthem to Voodoo Queen, and "Pasó en Tampa," tres legend Arsenio Rodriguez's humorous tune about the hazards of Spanglish. Three tracks are drawn from the excellent 1998 Reencarnación, as well as three from their 1996 debut album, Cubanismo, and two from the 1997 follow-up, Malembe. For the reggae a lo cubano selections, the choice of the Marley/Tosh collaboration "Get Up, Stand Up" and Marley's "Could You Be Loved" recognizes the Wailers' gift for mixing universal human emotion with social message.

With the recent departure of mega- talented pianist Nachito Herrera from the band (his spot has been filled, in the meantime, by Rudolfo "Peruchin" Argudin), now is as good a time as any to take stock and bragging rights in Cubanismo's recordings to date.

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