Afro-Cuban Jazz

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Afro-Cuban Jazz combines traditional African based rhythms from Cuba with the pyrotechnical solos of jazz or fusion. This genre got its start when Mario Bauza introduced bop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie to Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. The two made exciting new music together starting in 1947 and ending abruptly in 1948 when Pozo passed away. About this same time Cuban bandleader Machito began to feature jazzy solos in his band arrangements. With the rise of artists such as Tito Puente, Afro-Cuban jazz became one of the most popular styles of jazz in the 1950s.

Afro-Cuban is still one of the more popular styles of jazz today and continues to grow and evolve as it takes on influences from fusion and even the avant-garde. You can also check our genres; Latin Jazz, Bosasa Nove and World Fusion for other styles of Latin Jazz.

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afro-cuban jazz Music Reviews

ROBERTO ROENA Roberto Roena Y Su Apollo Sound

Album · 1970 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
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Percussionist Roberto Roena’s second release and the first with his new band at the time in 1970 Apollo Sound (“Roberto Roena Y Su Apollo sound”) with each album afterwards being mainly titled by number reaching to ten but if you want to disagree there is an eleventh from the band but by then in 1982 they were named Super Apollo with the album “47:50”. As it was 1970 with this release we still have boogaloo included but the genre was on its last legs by this time with Salsa becoming the main. Not only that we have a couple of popular English songs included within as well and the addition “Sing A Simple Song” bringing it to three. This record is sorted after by the groove collectors these days and as time passes many Fania and other early Latin albums are long out of print with just the big ones primarily be re- released occasionally on record or cd. Due to the popularity in the return of records they are becoming scarcer with hen’s teeth easier to acquire in good condition and a lot cheaper.

“Tu Loco Loco, Y Yo Tranquilo” kicks things off with some quite crazy and not to calm Salsa with great piercing trumpet input from Mario Alvares Cora with quite a nice montuno from the coros not to long before the numbers ending. The following “Sing A Simple Song” was also included in the compilation that was released in 2000 “Broasted Or Fried” that concentrated on Boogaloo and Back Beats with this one on the Boogaloo side. More Salsa with “Consolacion” with the following “Sonando Con Puerto Rico” being a Bobby Capo penned number and of course if it is one of Bobby’s numbers it is a Bolero and quite a nice one at that. “El Escapularo” is percussion with congas opening and they remain the main driver throughout this Afro style song. The straight up Salsa is back for “El Sordo” and the following although titled “El Pato De La Bahia” is sung in English being Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” slightly Boogalooed up. Its Salsa for “El Barrio Sin Guapo” with another Bolero to follow for “Han Pasado Algunos Dias” with a quick tenor solo from Al Abreu inserted and the album finishes up with a cover of Blood Sweat and Tears “Spinning Wheel”.

Nice album but I feel the band were still finding their feet with better things still to come throughout their next nine releases. Still not at to an exorbitant price unlike Roberto’s first album “Se Pone Bueno”.

DEXTER JOHNSON Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar : Live À l’Étoile

Live album · 2014 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
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Dexter Johnson was born in Nigeria in 1932 and at the age of 25 in 1957 after a brief stint in Bamako, Mali, arrived in Dakar, Senegal. He was a percussionist at the beginning but changed to saxophone after studying music for two years in Nigeria. Afro Cuban or Son was his repertoire primarily and his music resonated with these rhythms throughout his musical career as this album, “Live a` l’Etoile” beautifully demonstrates. The band, Le Super Star of Dakar were called prior to this throughout most of the sixties just, Star Band of Dakar with Laba Sosseh on vocals who had not long left prior to this recording. The band had also dropped the trumpet in it’s make up and there is no piano which is replaced with two guitars with the addition of electric bass, timbales, percussion and four vocalists with coro duties shared amongst them when not singing lead bringing a distinct African sound and influence within the Afro Cuban rhythms incorporated in the album’s songs. Yes, it has that beautiful sleaze included or more of a slight slow drag within, which only the West Africans during this time period perfected within their sound due to the bands different line up to a typical Cuban Conjunto.

The record which has been released comes as a double album with 13 songs included with the Mexican film classic “Angelitos Negros” opening with Dexter on saxophone over a slow rhythm during the song using two vocalists that share lead duties with a beautifully slow picked electric lead following. The tempo picks up for “Para Que Bueno” with a great solo and input from Dexter’s alto included with a wonderful catchy montuno for the songs ending with Dexter also darting in and out on his horn between the coros. “Mayeya” that follows is a lovely rural Cuban style number with some stunning electric guitar input. The rest of the album keeps up this high standard right throughout with even an English number thrown in “Something You Got” but it is the sleaze with the slower tempo songs that stand out for that unique sound that came from these West African Bands during this period with “Caminho de Sao Tome” and the beautiful “El Corazon” containing Dexter’s dreamy stunning saxophone being prime examples. There are wonderful up tempo numbers included such as “Borinquen Tropical” and “Malonga” with many others that you may consider personally better as there is not a poor track contained within the album’s entire thirteen songs.

One feels like you have just opened an old time capsule when the needle hits the groove as the sound is not pristine but one that represents the sounds from this period with some of its limitations and I myself would have it no other way as that is how I have grown and love to hear old African music. Sublime is only word that I can find to describe this release as we have not had some fresh old African music come out in quite a while. Great job from Teranga Beat label who have also released quite a few others from this great period in African Music. Very Highly recommended for old music lovers like myself.

The Star band went on to produce in the seventies through its members, Orchestra Baobab, Papa Seck (Africando), Nicholas Menheim ( Africando) and the most famous of them all Youssou N’Dour but these old Afro Cuban rhythms they played would be gradually replaced by Mbalax. Still Dexter Johnson stayed Afro Cuban right till the end in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) , 1981.


Album · 1978 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
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When it was released back in 1978, "Siembra" became the best selling salsa album in history and would stay that way for over twenty years (only to be topped by "Cuenta Conmigo" by Jerry Rivera in 1992). According to Wikipedia, almost all of its songs would eventually become hits in different Latin American countries.

I'm not sure exactly why the album cover has pictures of babies suspended over brightly drawn flowers, but I should say it makes for a pretty unique design.

Overall I think this is a fantastic album. Not only does it contain a variety of songs that are unique in themselves, but they each work together to give the album a sense of completion. The songs themselves are not only catchy, but have well-written arrangements for an accompanying piano, brass, and percussion that extend the lengths of the songs to a point that none of them become too repetitive.

First-time listeners will be thrown off by the introduction to the first song, "Plastico", where a string arrangement with a strong electric bass riff clearly indicate a disco feel. The song quickly transitions to salsa and fortunately stays for the rest of the album. The strong disco electric bass sound returns, however, later in the track "Plastico" as well as in "Maria Lionza", the sound bringing an excellent addition to the brass arrangements. The strings return as well in tracks such as the title track "Siembra". The powerhouse track of the album is "Pedro Navaja" which, inspired by the famous tune "Mack the Knife", is about a murderer. It became such a hit that a movie was made in Mexico in 1984 based on it.

Overall I greatly recommend this album for any fans of Latin. However, I wouldn't approach this album with expectations of many jazz influences. The amount of improvisation here is minimal, if any.


Album · 1968 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
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In the late 60s many Cuban musicians residing in New York City began to combine Afro-Cuban jazz with North American soul music and RnB creating some of the most appealing groove music ever invented. Often called boogaloo, this music is near perfect in the way that it combines rhythm, tonality and syncopated melody to make an irresistible natural force that is hard to sit still to. Having just switched from the United Artist label to Fania in 1967, Ray Barretto decided to embrace this new style and mix it up with some salsa for his hot 1968 release, “Acid”. The first five tracks on this album are about the best you will find in this Cuban/soul crossover style, Barretto’s rhythm section is relentless and the double trumpet melodies of Rene Lopez and Roberto Rodriguez Jr ride perfectly on top. Although there are a few solos, most of the instrumental breaks on here consist of arranged syncopated trumpet melodies that drive the rhythm even harder.

The remaining three tracks are all good, but they don’t have quite the same focus as the openers. The closing cut, "Espirtu Libre", gets fairly avant-garde, which might help explain the album’s title and cover, which might otherwise seem misleading to some because by late 60s standards, this album is not particularly ‘psychedelic’. As already mentioned, “Acid” is a shining example for a genre that has so much going for it in the first place. When I listen to these cuts I’m reminded of other musical concepts that feature a similar perfect balance; James Brown’s early 70s funk, King Tubby’s first dub recordings, The Meters possibly.

CHANO POZO "El Tambor De Cuba"

Boxset / Compilation · 2002 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
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Chano Pozo was one of the most fascinating musicians to ever live with the story to go with it. He came from Cuba played a conga was a fantastic dancer with no proper musical training and lived in absolute poverty, had a temper on him that would lead to his own demise but Chano Pozo would rise from the slums of Havana to go and play at Carnegie Hall in New York City next to Dizzy Gillespie when CuBop was born. Before he got to accompany Diz though Chano Pozo would play with nearly every Cuban great including Orchestra Casino De la Playa with Miguelito Valdes his old friend singing lead vocals and record his first version of his most famous tune "Blen, Blen, Blen" and go on to accompany Arsenio Rodriguez in the early days when Cuban Son was played henceforth in a Conjunto format and the old sextet and trios were put to the side. This set explains it all with notes to let you know everything possible about Chano Pozo but the music is actually even better with a wide variety of tracks within the three discs comprising the set. Tumbao is the company who have released this beautiful set as well as releasing over the years nearly every other Cuban great on cd from the 1920's to the late fifties and perhaps this could be their one of their main jewels with their two other sets released after on Beny More and Arsenio Rodriguez. The music has been remastered and also included with the set are comments from Mario Bauza, Machito, Billy Taylor, Cecil Payne and Dizzy Gillespie concerning Chano. The three discs within are compiled superbly with disc one giving us all the original takes on Chano Pozo's own compositions including two with Dizzy Gillespie, disc two has his best recordings as leader and sideman and disc three has the CuBop material with Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and Milt Jackson as well as finishing off with three compositions which were a tribute to him after his death by Prez Prado, Miguelito Valdes and Beny More.

The set starts of in 1939 with Miguelito Valdes fronting Casino De La Playa but the music that Chano composed was pure Cuban with Rumba being the major component and this Rumba that Chano played which was pure roots for the Santeria ( Cuban God) and not only that perhaps it is the African influence that permeates his conga which gives authenticity like no other with these early tracks that are contained within the first disc of this set. Four of the tunes within "Blen, Blen, Blen", "Guaguina Yerabo", "Parampampin" and "El Pin PIn" have (studio recordings) two seperate takes of each. The conga solo from Chano in "Blen, Blen, Blen" is worth the set alone. The list of Orchestras that Chano played his early compositions with is amazing with Orchestra Casino De La Playa as mentioned above and the rest include, Xavier Cugat, Orchestra Havana Riverside, Tito Rodriguez, Machito, Cascarita with Julio Cueva's orchestra and there are still a few I did not mention with disc 1 including two with Dizzy Gillespie from 1948 and 51 being "Guarachi Guaro" and "Tin Tin Deo" at one could say was the birth of CuBop. Miguelito Valdes is the vocalist for about 50% of the material being a bonus but the two Tito Rodriguez songs that he sings are beautiful as well with the tres solo from "Bang, Que Choque" and the same could be said for the following number "Rompete" with flute, trumpet, tres and of course all underpinned by Chano Pozo's pure Cuban roots conga. The best version by the way of "El PIn Pin" is the first with Julio Cueva the trumpet players orchestra with Cascarita singing lead for my money over Machito's as it has a wonderful old time Cuban piano solo within.

Disc 2 contains more of Chano Pozo's best work with a myriad of artists included with "Blen, Blen, Blen" and El PIn Pin" having another shot but most of these are when Chano was leading his own orchestra starting from 1946 with some of the Arsenio Rodriguez material included. There are so many songs that could be mentioned but lets say that the three son montuno performed with Arsenio Rodriguez are outstanding but also this disc includes four of Chano's compositions being pure afro influenced starting with "Ya No Se Puede Rumbear" and finishing with "Placetas" or known as Ritmo Afro-Cubano No1 to number 4 and they all follow one after the other. The disc closes with a quick comment from Mario Bauza the long time trumpet player and main associate of Machito saying how Chano changed the music with a lovely little quick trumpet solo of Mario's own wafting over the end of it.

Disc 3 is the one for all you Jazz Heads with Dizzy Gillespie's Orchestra and Chano together at various settings comprising studio and live material with also Mario Bauza and Dizzy Gllespie commenting on how they first heard about and met Chano when they played in Cab Callaway's orchestra together. Do not be turned off by the comment insertions as there are six all up ( including Dizzy speaking about his co-composition with Chano, "Manteca") but they are primarily short and it is one of the best lessons in Jazz you could hope to hear and where better than "straight from the horses mouth" so to say with Mario and Dizzy themselves on Billy Taylor's radio program from this period in time. Wonderful stuff hearing Dizzy speak especially as we all know what an absolute character he was with his comments. The music is the birth of CuBop with Dizzy at the helm with the Charlie Parker composition "Relaxin' At Camarillo's being first on the disc but still for me the high point perhaps in amongst all this wonderful Jazz is Chano taking us right back to those roots with the introduction for "Cubana Bop" with Dizzy and orchestra following and the same can be said for the other great composition they wrote together "Manteca" which is a Latin Jazz standard today. Milt Jackson's Quintet and James Moody and his Bopmen have their material included with Chano Pozo but the most poignant part of the disc are the last three numbers as tributes to Chano Pozo after his untimely death with the last being sung by none other than the greatest Cuban sonero ever, Beny More being "Rumberos De Ayer".

What happened to Chano, well he got himself shot and not for the first time either as he was shot three times in Trinidad in one incident and survived but not so this time when in a restaurant in New York, December 1948 he was shot seven times over a fight that had occured the previous day with the assailant over the dubious quality of marijuana that Chano had bought from him. He sure was a wild man and the list of people who came to his funeral and viewing was the who who's of Jazz and Latin music from that era and as all things in life seem to circle it was Miguelito Valdes his old friend who paid for Chano's coffin and did the arrangements for his funeral. His compositions will always live on and his conga will always be heard, even so long after his death as his rythms originate from the Santeria being the authentic stuff and all the conga players that have followed have not be able to place this raw roots in their playing that could only have been obtained by living the life that Chano did being brought up in the toughest part of Cuba in the early 1920's with the culture and the music.

Best disc for me is the first but the others are only just behind but it is when Chano still was playing those early rythms of his that are mesmerising with the energy, timing and most of all that authentic conga sound. Absolutely essential music no matter what you like to listen too and not only that this set has great in depth notes and the discography, photos etc to go with it.

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