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Stocking stuffers for Latin lovers



Ahora Si Bonus DVD
(Cineson, 2004)
If Cachao's Ahora Si is what aging gracefully sounds like, this geriatric genius of Afro-Cuban music may be redefining assisted living. The elder statesmen of the upright bass has made another must-have recording--so what else is new? His late '90s Master Sessions were truth in advertising. His participation in the Buena Vista Social Club made him a household name internationally.

Known for his eternal evolution of the musica cubana, it was Cachao who first inserted an Africanized section into the danzon, a stiff, staid dance popular in the '40s. He called this little rhythm break a "mambo." Perhaps you've have heard of it? (Courtesy of Perez Prado, Beny More and a host of others who arranged it for American-style big bands.) In the '50s Cachao recorded some live jam sessions that exploded like musical kerosene--the raw spontaneity of the musicians' backstage descarga had never been caught on tape before. To sum up the span of his influence, Cachao didn't make Afro-Cuban music appropriate for the salon; he made the salon appropriate for Afro-Cuban music.

Ahora Si is a bargain for the bonus DVD, a Buena Vista-style documentary of the recording process by producer Andy Garcia. See Cachao at the piano, dictating charts out of his head, and banging on the bass--a percussion instrument--from every possible angle. There's also an old-school mambo sequence--and nobody, not even Michael Jackson, can outsmooth a pair of older Cuban dancers. Cachao is surrounded by a small platoon of photographers, and his distinguished fellow cast of the best and brightest in Latin music. Puerto Ricans Jimmy Bosch and Nelson Gonzalez are there (watch Nelson change strings on his tres between takes), and Uruguayan Federico Britos, who plays violin in the Latin style as well as anybody ever has. And you will, of course, see Andy Garcia, flopping his earnest locks and hitting his cowbell on the downbeat.

If Garcia can't seem to put himself completely in the background in his homages to the greatest Cuban artist living in Miami, who can blame him? Do we really need to see him mugging handsomely over Cachao's shoulder, or hear his gee-whiz track one introduction on the CD? Probably not. But, if lending his fame and image to these priceless musical documents helps to promote Cachao's legacy, then Garcia's efforts should be enough to one day get him into heaven, or Cuba, whichever comes first.

Jimmy Bosch
El Avion de la Salsa
(JRGR, 2004)
El Avion de la Salsa marks Jimmy's long-awaited reemergence since his first two critically hailed and dancefloor approved albums on RykoLatino. Musically it's the biggest, most aggressive sound from Jimmy yet, still brash as hell and reveling in his old-school roots. The SIMS-style graphics of an in-flight dance party in progress are a bit cheesy, yes, but the metaphor is no pretty lie.

Jimmy's trombone powers this jet to mile-high altitudes, with guests in first class like cuatro guitarist Yomo Toro, bassist Andy Gonzalez and electric violinist Alfredo de la Fe. The youthful energy of lead vocalist Rey Bayona, who improvises live with the fire and panache one imagines in a young Hector Lavoe, transfers well to disc. Mimicking the microphone battles in the Palladiums and Cheetahs of old, Bayona goes head to head with fellow soneros Rey de la Paz, Willie Torres, Marco Bermudez and Herman Olivera, all well-known in the New York scene and on recording projects like Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Soneros del Barrio and Eddie Palmieri's La Perfecta II.

Jimmy's sometimes quirky, always confessional lyrics show the grit of a true New Yorker--who else would demand compassion instead of anti-depressants to cope with post-millennial disasters? He's recorded public health messages before, in the form of a safe sex plena ("Impacto Tendremos," calling on personal responsibility to defeat the spread of AIDS), and this time he urges "mi gente" not to avoid the doctor's office, and to know and watch for the early signs of cancer. There are also songs about love, straight up: the whole rocky road from devotion to divorce, the domestic joy of sexual thrall, and love between parents and children amidst the ups and downs of family life. It hasn't exactly been a dry year for salsa (with new music from Bio Ritmo, Ruben Blades with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, and the Sonora Poncena), but this is vintage Jimmy Bosch and quite simply the slammin'-est salsa album of 2004.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba & New Cuban Quartet
(Blue Note, 2004)
Pianist Rubalcaba's rare improvisational intellect, which debuted on the 1992 album Blessing, has been honed and matured on Paseo. Traditional Cuban tunes open and close this musical "stroll" or "passage," but Rubalcaba insists the album is not about nostalgia--a sentiment probably aimed at jazz purists as well as fans of Afro-Cuban traditionalism. Rubalcaba uses piano, samplers, sequencers and nine types of keyboards, and his new lineup of fellow countryman features Luis Felipe Lamoglia on saxophones, Jose Armando Gola on electric bass and Ignacio Berroa on drums. Still, the album is more evolution than fusion, with plenty of stylistic continuity with the genius he displayed early.

Rubalcaba still dazzles with the same lightning speed and arresting classical technique, but he creates an intimacy on Paseo in the ample space between the notes. Spare, but not spartan, he can delineate with very few strokes the bare bones of a traditional melody, like a shipwrecked danzon with ghostly fish darting in and out of her hull. He and his New Cuban Quartet are all on the same page, displaying a calmly confrontational attitude, with the expected virtuosity but also a surprising warmth. Paseo combines some obvious charms and rather challenging depths, like a love affair when the mystery doesn't wear off.

Live Music and Dance Deck the halls with Yerba Buena...
Bio Ritmo is coming to town. Richmond's nine-piece salsa machine packs up the sleigh and heads to Bogart's in Raleigh this Friday, Dec. 17. Advance tickets at

The Cobo Brothers are sponsoring Mambo Socials from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the Triangle Dance Studio at 2603 S. Miami in Durham on Wednesday evenings. The next dates are Dec. 22, then Jan. 12 and successive Wednesdays through Feb. 2. Admission is $3.

New Year's Eve parties: First Night at the Raleigh Convention Center will add a Latin party to the festivities this year ( Montas Lounge is planning a New Year's Eve party (, and Triangle Fiesta rings in the New Year at George's Garage. On Jan. 1, they bring the swank to the Red Room for the first party of '05 (see for details).

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