The insane revelry of the guaguancó kicks off De La Habana a Nueva York, and produces a blue flame of energy from an all, but forgotten master musician, Bobby Carcassés. The Cuban-born flugelhorn player, pianist, percussionist, raconteur and vocalist of exceptional talent and virtuosity has been making a quiet noise—heard, sadly, only by his musical peers—for over fifty years. With this fine album, it is hoped that the world will listen.
So it is with the wonderful “Blues Guaguancó” the musicians open the proceedings with incredible melodic invention—one firing graceful depth bombs on the tumba, another tapping out a staccato counter melody playing cross-clave and striking up a counter rhythm, setting up the third—a quinto—to run riot as Carcassés mimics both melody and rhythm before the saxophone cuts in. This is not uncommon in a rumba derivative of this nature, but the one tapped out by Bobby Carcassé is stunning. The high level of energy; the inventive twists and turns in Carcassés phrasing and intonation; his soprano overtones simultaneously and magically overlaid upon his husky, breathless voice as it careens madly swerving around the melody as he turns music into the high art of creativity.
Even when he sings in a language patently foreign to him, when he sings Youmans’ fabulous song, “Sometimes I’m Happy” rolling his “R’s”and elongating his “ou’s” he conjures up memories of Jimmy Durante and Victor Borge. Yet Carcassés is being himself, the Cuban anomaly, born of the same genius that created Benny Moré, Arsenio Rodriguez and Chano Pozo, Emiliano Salvador and Chocolate. Just As wonderfully and impossibly, he turns George Gershwin’s “Summertime” into an a capella classic filled with such unheard of magic that for once, it appears someone has outdone every singer and scat artist in town—including, improbably, Bobby McFerrin, in the twisted and breathtaking ending of the song.
The emotion he is able to squeeze out of his voice in the Afro-centric, “Babalú” as he chases Andrea‘s Brachfeld’s flute and Yosvany Terry’s alto saxophone, stirring up a quiet frenzy with his scat singing as the chorus of Magilé Alvarez and Descemer Bueno keep things anchored in the son montuno is a thing of beauty and unforgettable. That must be a peak? But no, now there is more as the ensemble launches into “Blues for Chano” with Osmany Paredes’ expansive piano followed by Carcassés’ mystical call to the conjure up the spirit of his percussionist friend. Then a muted, charged flugelhorn solo marks the walking lines of the blues segment of the song before he comes back to the Afro-Cuban rumbero tribute again. Here Carcassés is majestic—a shaman communing with the spirits, a king chanting a royal pronouncement and a mad rumbero himself, goaded on by superb drumming from the prodigiously talented drummer, Dafnis Prieto.
“Veronica,” a wonderful ballad to his wife, shows the elegiac side to Bobby Carcassés and also recalls his softer side. His flugelhorn break following the first half chorus is also worthy of a virtuoso horn player, which he certainly is. Here too his intonation and phrasing is exceptional in its understatement. And finally there is “De Habana á Nueva York, a track that melds danzon with guaguancó, guaracha, bolero, mambo and the blues, via a muted, yet charged solo by Carcassés as he traces his colourful life from child to manhood, from Cuba to the United States.
This album is definitive Bobby Carcassés. It is the high point of his artistry, an honest, emotional and devastatingly beautiful album by an artist who joins several of his peers as one who defines a culture, a whole way of life that is boundless in its creativity, humility and spirituality.
Tracks: Blues Guaguancó Sometimes I’m Happy; No Seras de Mi; Green Dolphin Street; Babalu; Summertime; Blues Para Chano; Veronica; De La Habana a Nueva York.
Personnel: Bobby Carcassés: vocals, flugelhorn, percussion, piano, arrangements; Dafnis Prieto: drums; Osmany Paredes: piano; Yunior Terry: bass; Yosvany Terry: saxophones, chekere; Marvin Diz: percussion; Andrea Brachfeld: flute (5); Magilé Alvarez: chorus; Descemer Bueno: chorus.
Bobby Carcassés on the web: www.bobbycarcasses.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama