2018 was a very prolific year in terms of music being released. It was a year of excellency, in terms of great new music being created. After a hiatus we are back with our very own list of best recordings of the year. As we have previously said, this is not a definitive list (we include only those albums submitted for review), but it is a good representation of the good music that’s always authentic and remains faithful to its roots, and that never goes out of style. It also gives us a glimpse at the new trends and evolution in the music we cover. We have to recognize that today, more than ever before, we are experiencing a melting pot of global music, where different elements, different genres, rhythms and cultures are mixing together to create a global sound.
We point out a come back to the big band sound, with albums like Back to the Sunset (Dafnis Prieto Big Band); Mi Luz Mayor (Eddie Palmieri); es:sensual (Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband). Brenda Navarrete (Mi Mundo) and Magos Herrera (Dreamers, with the Brooklyn Rider) represent all those women who tirelessly work opening doors in a still male dominated world. Cuba, Brasil and Puerto Rico always contribute the most recordings in the Latin/jazz field, but we also have representation from Spain and the Flamenco Jazz fusion: Origins (Alex Conde); from Trinidad & Tobago with its rich Afro-Caribbean sound: Carnival – The Sound of a People Vol 1 (Etienne Charles); from Venezuela, with Fran Vielma and his Venezuelan Jazz Collective: Tendencias.
20 recordings make our list, and today we present you our second installment. The order in which they are presented doesn’t mean anything. We consider them equally outstanding projects. Read on and listen, and consider buying the music of these wonderful artists. Your life will be enriched with their music, and will surely help you cope with the pain and sorrow we experience day after day in this convoluted world. – Danilo Navas
Sergio Pereira: Nu Brasil (Zoho Music)
“For the carioca, Sergio Pereira, playing on the Portuguese word “Nu” as the title of his album Nu Brasil and then following it up with a wonderful play on strings to make it all come alive must be the easiest thing in the world. After all he is a strings player himself, playing what Brasilians call violão in the grand tradition of the long line of Brasilian guitarists which he not only follows but embellishes enormously. Mr Pereira has also taken a leap into the great unknown, so to speak, with music that has complex orchestrations, thereby mixing the traditions of men like Laurindo Almeida and Baden Powell with those of Heitor Villa-Lobos. A bold move indeed as Mr Pereira has not attempted before. His debut album, Swingando – although it featured a constellation of Brasilian superstars was a small ensemble effort. But this recording is another matter altogether…” – Raul da Gama
Alfonso Fuentes: PLENA – improvisaciones para piano (Hyperunison)
“In this writer’s view, PLENA is one of the most impressive (solo) debuts of 2018. Oddly, the composer, pianist, educator, poet and activist Alfonso Fuentes is better known in China – with who he shares a special relationship – than he is in the States. As the title implies, the album consists of improvisations for solo piano with “musical expressions that represent Puerto Rico, and its the Caribbean and Latin American surroundings” performed at the moment. Fair warning to listener’s who have preconceived notions about what Puerto Rican music is, and is not. PLENA is classical, jazz and “third-stream.” Also, folkloric rhythms and “Latin” music, in all its forms, expressed freely and openly. On a broader scale, the music offers listener’s a glimpse into the mind of a virtuoso and visionary deserving of more broader recognition. In effect, Alfonso Fuentes has created a singular masterpiece. Also, arguably one of the most significant recordings to come out of Puerto Rico in recent years. I highly recommend it.” – Tomas Peña
Gastón Joya: Mama Ina (Unicornio)
“A fierce energy leaps out of the opening notes of Mama Ina, the exquisitely-crafted debut album by the prodigiously-gifted bassist Gastón Joya. It is the song after which the album gets its title and Mr Joya hasn’t even begun to express his extraordinary genius. For that one has to wait for “No Te Empeñes Más” and soon after, “El Día Que Me Quieras” on both of which the young bassist picks up his magnificent sounding contrabass. Primary colours abound in the beautiful woody textures with rhythms and phrasing that are pristine, precise and alert that strips the gravitas of the music down to an almost nude depth and transparency of texture. Through it all Mr Joya keeps the music moving with balletic grace and a vividness that spotlights the musical canvas of each of the songs in a mighty, painterly fashion taking us to another world.” – Raul da Gama
Alex Conde: Origins (Ropeadope)
“When Alex Conde turns up the power at any given time, he’s like an orchestra all by himself. Now magnify that several times on Origins, a disc on which his power is augmented by brass: Brian Lynch on trumpet and Conrad Herwig on trombone, and woodwinds with Dayna Stephens on tenor and soprano saxophones together with a rhythm section with enormous clout, featuring Luques Curtis or John Benitez on bass, Marcus Gilmore, a young Turk whose pedigree goes back to his grandfather, Roy Haynes; Guillermo Barrón on cajón augmented by Camilo Molina on timbales, Andrés Abenante on guitar, together with Frank Abenante and Isabel Abenante providing uniquely Flamenco colouring with their rhythmic hand-clapping. And as if that were not enough there are the voices of Mr Conde’s father Alejandro Sr. and Ismael Fernández.” – Raul da Gama
Orquesta Akokán: Orquesta Akokán (Daptone Records)
“It takes more than academic proficiency in music to arrive at the source of its splendour and few American musicians know that better than Michael Eckroth. The pianist, whose breathtaking arrangements on the music of Orquesta Akokán – Canta José “Pepito” Gómez, has not simply proved that he has authentic Afro-Cuban musical roots, but that the sap courses through his blood, to the extent that it even informs the very nerve endings in his fingers. As a result he not only plays like a master, but also writes Afro-Cuban charts like one. Probably better still – and this is despite his university musical education – he seems to be blessed with the soul of a rumbero, which is to say that what he writes comes as naturally to him as clave and tumbao did to the great rumberos in Cuban traditional continuum throughout this a one-of-a-kind recording.” – Raul da Gama
Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera
Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.
Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.
Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.
Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.
We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”
Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.
Content source: James Nadal
Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”
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