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.