Aguabella – Nuestra Era (Self Published 2011)

Review written by: Raul da Gama

There has not been much activity in the form of homages or tributes to Francisco Aguabella, so perhaps the arrival of Nuestra Era is a blessing. The late percussionist has come to be revered as one of the greatest masters of Afro-Cuban music. He spent the mature years of his life enriching the music of the American West Coast bringing the sanctity and aural worship of the Santeria with his batá drums to the idiom of Latin Jazz. The musicians who form this ensemble were charter members of his band and decided that they had to keep his music alive with music worthy of paying the Great One a tribute he so richly deserves. The result is Aguabella, an ensemble that mirrors the creativity, elasticity and the energy of the bands led by the maestro.

While the energy and cutting edge of the rhythms are palpable and there is little doubt that the efforts to bring the spirit of the percussionist Aguabella to life, it is the magnificent melodic invention and harmonic richness that is the hallmark of this album. The arrangements by saxophonist Benn Clatworthy show him to be a musician of immense skill. Not only does he create diaphanous layers of polyphony using the brass and woodwinds, but these are skillfully arranged not to lie one atop the other but to pirouette around each other like proverbial musical DNA molecules. This extraordinary device enriches the music exponentially and is used by the musicians to great effect because of their unbridled virtuosity.

This is showcased throughout with credits being shared across the board. But it is the stand out soli by trombonist Joey Sellers (“Mysterioso”) and the majestic percussion work by both conguero, Christian Moraga (“Nuestra Era”) that mark this album as one of the finest tributes to an artist so beloved by musicians and fans alike, in the realm of Afro-Cuban music and its mythology as well. Clatworthy’s elegiac solo introduction to “Mambo for Puente” may actually be the highlight of the entire album for its searing, urgent quality, as is his segue into “My Favourite Things”. The charm of another tribute is emotionally overwhelming, especially in the context that this album, itself is a tribute to Aguabella: This takes the form of Coltrane’s “Like Sonny,” the moving tribute to that other titan of the tenor horn, Sonny Rollins.

This is a masterfully constructed album, not only from the point of view of the arrangements, but even before all that, it is the wonderfully chosen material that characterises this adventure as a masterpiece.

Track Listing: 1. Kandahar; 2. Mysterioso; 3. Mambo For Puente/My Favourite Things Medley; 4. Like Sonny; 5. Blues For Nengueh; 6. Nuestra Era.

Personnel: Nolan Shaheed: trumpet; Benn Clatworthy: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Joey Sellers: trombone; Bryan Velasco: piano; Brian J Wright: acoustic bass; Christian Moraga: congas and shekere; Jorge Carbonell: drums and shekere.

Related links: Benn Clatworthy on the web: www.bennclatworthy.com