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


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 America. 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.


Album · 1967 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
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Larry Harlow's third album was recorded in 1967 when Boogaloo was still in vogue as one of the most popular forms of Latin music. The vocalist Ismael Miranda makes his first performance with Orchestra Harlow and Larry had seem him sing with his brother Andy Harlow earlier in the year and being impressed had invited Ismael to sing for "El Exigente" his third album project with Johnny Pacheco one of the co-founders of the Fania Label contributing the musical direction. One thing though Larry still had that Cuban tradition behind him with two Guarachas and a Rumba in the mix between all this great Boogaloo and Shingaling. Ismael Miranda would go onto record another four albums with Orchestra Harlow including "Abran Paso" which is under his own name but this one "El Exigente" ( The Demanding One) was the first of them. NuYorcian, you bet is the vibe with that sound that accompanied it from a time back when this was still all new and here is one album for all you groove collectors with the obvious element great Latin grooves making this another of those records or cd that you will want in your collection. The cover with Larry looking hippy with the psychedelic theme was done by none other than Izzy Sanabria who I would have to say did some of the most interesting album covers in any form of music with the Willie Colon albums being some of his best which is just another great bonus for you to enjoy.

Sound of a train is the album starting point with the first great Boogaloo being the album title "El Exigente" with the band all adding some spoken introduction all at once and we are off with Ismael dropping Larry's surname at one point as the demanding one and a great loopy Boogaloo is the result with the coros singing "El Exigente" in constant repitition. "Las Luces" ( The Lights) is a Guaracha containing plenty of Cuban element but Larry adds that modern contempary touch to his take with this material with the brass section comprising trumpet and trombone bring great support with Ismael's vocals with a dance feel to the tune when the montuno commences mid-way and Larry slays us with his quick piano solo with the horns coming in all over it at the end. A Rumba is calling is next being "Rumba Llaman" but not in the traditional Cuban percussion method but Larry takes a full blown Orchestra approach with this number with the rhythm right under it and to be honest the result is really Son but does it matter when the timbales are being pounded in such a great solo."El Mejor" is another of those Harlow Guarachas that just come right out of the gate with that classic Cuban rhythm being the base for Ismael's vocals and they are sung beautifully as they all are right throughout the album for someone who was such a young singer of 18 at the time of this production .The Boogaloo gets underway from here on in for the rest of the album with "Mess Around" containing all the required great prequistes and the next "Groovin' To The Afro Twist" which is something you could twist too I suppose but myself I just like to groove along from my chair. "That Groovy Shingaling" is precisely that, groovy as only the sixties knew how to make. "Freak Off" is more pounding Boogaloo with Larry and his Orchestra and one often hears this is an album high point and although a great tune I think the name could be just as much an attraction in itself. "Be Free" is the last with it's percussion intro and the coros are singing "Who cares what they say, I'm gonna do it anyway" and hopefully it is with plenty of great music as the chorus sings "Be free come along with me, you can be what you want to be", ahh the sixties!, as I hear that train pull out again for the album close.

Fabulous stuff as all Larry Harlow albums usually are with plenty of bounce and great musicianship. One of his early albums and a great one at that. It is available on vinyl more readily than cd these days and most likely that would suit you if you are interested in this album anyway.

CUBANOSON Recordando A Cuba

Album · 2006 · Afro-Cuban Jazz
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Cuban Son, glorious Cuban Son are the components or backbone for this wonderful debut release from the New York band Cubanoson with three original compositions from the bands leader Leonel "Papo" Ortega who in all modesty will say that they really are from his uncle Sergio Sori and three from Silvio Cebrian. Leonel "Papo" Ortega was born to Cuban parents who themselves played classic roots Cuban music as many other members of his close family including his uncle Sergio Sori in the Cuban style Punto Guajiro which is the accoustic classic country style from Cuba. Papo first started on guitar but changed to piano during his youth and throughout his career since has played with many of the greats with Jose Fajardo the great Cuban flautist one his high points but there are quite a few names to drop with two actually in the band for this release being Ray Rodriguez on trumpet and acting as Musical Director with Junior Rivera playing tres guitar as well. Tradition is what Cubanoson's music is all about and the band was formed to play precisely that but it is the type that we all can all dance too or at least tap our foot with a conjunto being the bands make-up. In the actual album notes we have the quote "Cubanoson honors the great artists who have bestowed upon us the utmost musical education. To them and others we have passed on our music through generations, we will continue honoring them with New York's Cuban dance orchestra, Cubanoson!" and honor them they do with great interruptations from many of the old greats and the lively originals penned for this wonderful Cuban roots release.

The horns are staright in for "Cubanoson" the first song being Papo's composition with Chico Alvarez singing lead on this great lively up-tempo number dedicated to the bands traditional music with Junior on tres, Papo on piano and Ray on trumpet soloing in that order and all are superb but that tres of Junior's is wicked and do not worry there is plenty more to come and the other artists are superb with their solos throughout as well but it is not often we get great tres guitar in many Latin releases these days played in such a beautiful a talented style. The traditional keeps coming with "Monsieur Jose" with guest Ronnie Baro adding French vocals and coros and of course it swings as the following which is another Papo composition "Recordando A Cuba" with the vocals sung in duet with Papo and Chico sharing duties all underpinned by a beautiful rhythm with Papo putting down some great piano with some fabulous licks from Ray on trumpet on this stomper of a tune. Alexis Llerena provides the trombone for "En La Campina" with Papo singing lead for this beautiful Son tune. There are ten compositions contained within and all played superbly with "No Te Preocupes" being a dance floor prequisite and more great addition within from Ray on trumpet. One of the albums great points is although we have all Cuban music the variety is constantly changing with the solo exchanges and the next is no different which is the Arsenio Rodriguez song "Que Mala Suerte" where we have Junior back on tres of course due to the songs author but we also get trombone from Alexis again with Ray and Oscar on trumpet just staying back in the band. "Guajiro Soy" is where Junior lays down more wonderful tres guitar and a great slow dreamy Cuban trumpet from either Ray or Oscar for the solo and another one of the highlights of the album. The quality keeps coming for the last three album songs with more of that glorious son in "Son Bailadores" with Papo's piano riding it all underneath and Junior is back on tres with Ray on trumpet. The second last song it is penned by Fransico Repilado or better known these day as Compay Segundo the great Cuban counrty artist being "Mujeres De Mayari" but this is not in that country manner but delivered with all the required style of a modern conjunto. "Lagrimas Negras" is another Cuban classic but from the great Miguel Matamoros this time and given more of that great driving swing Cubanoson treatment to finish this wonderful album off.

Cubanoson have come a long way since these early days from the bands formation with particapating in many Latin festivals and even getting on to the Latin Grammy Awards not to mention all the gigs and so they should, as quality does always shine through as this is what this album contains, quality Cuban music sung, played and delivered in a lively up tempo manner. If you are lucky enough to live in the States particulary in the New York area, catch them live becuase I know I will if I ever get there.

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