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Essential Albums

Estrellas de Areito: Los Héroes

Although much of the world was welcoming of Cuba after the Revolution and although many artists did flee the country for a new world of freedom and…

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Although much of the world was welcoming of Cuba after the Revolution and although many artists did flee the country for a new world of freedom and expression, it is only now, with the gradual thawing of relations between the US and Cuba that many artists who left much of their work behind might finally have access to it. This could have a huge impact on correcting much of what was written out of history because of various bans on Cuba, or more likely that the work of artists who fled that country was “lost” to them. This is certainly true of music. Most musicians did not enjoy such privileges as Chucho Valdés did. Almost their entire Cuban repertoire was lost to them. Now much of that will hopefully change. If things continue on the path of détente, EGREM, the national record label of Cuba and for all intents and purposes the only place many Cuban artists would release their work, might soon make available the “lost” repertoire and if the institution does not do so, then perhaps things might change so that artists like pianist Hilario Durán, saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval might be able to return and retrieve their Cuban repertoire. Musicologists would have a field day catching up as there will surely be some welcome surprises.

Estrellas de Areito - Los HeroesTill that happens we would have to be content with such historical work as the releases of Jane Bunnett, the Canadian musician, and saxophonist and flutist who has fostered a whole generation of musicians from the great musical well of Cuba, Ry Cooder, who brought us Buena Vista Social Club and Anne Hunt and Mary Farquharson who created World Circuit and were responsible for seminal releases such as those by Buena Vista Social Club (among other important African music) and, of course this amazing double CD, Los Heroes (World Circuit/Nonesuch, 1979) by a pantheon of Cuban musicians calling themselves Estrellas de Areito. These recordings were made in Cuba in 1979 and feature such stars as Rubén González, a principal figure in the Buena Vista Social Club, and Pío Leyva, a member of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Rubén González’s band. The recording also includes such giants as Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, who both solo with great mastery here, and the great timbalero Federico Aristides Soto Alejo, better known as Tata Güines on congas. The riches of this album might be associated with what Pliny once referred to “choking them (in this case us, the listeners) with gold.” These albums are indeed bejewelled from end to end and CD to CD. Many double packages are often incredibly stacked with music, but only partially so. Often performances include some sketchy tracks. But not Los Heroes, which contains such wonders as “Mi amanecer campesino” and “Guajira Guantanamera”. And this is only fare that is reasonably well-known.

Remarkably this production was undertaken by someone who, like Ms. Bunnett, Mr. Cooder, Ms. Hunt and Ms. Farquharson was passionate about Cuban music. So it did not happen by mistake. The album was intended to be a giant descarga which ultimately featured the all-star cast that appear on Los Heroes. And what a deliriously wonderful performance it is. Aficionados of classic Cuban music, played largely by forgotten Cuban musicians would give an arm and a leg to own this double album. It is a lavishly produced package. The only thing missing, I suppose, is a DVD to go with it. Now, that would make this album absolutely priceless…

Track List: CD1 – Pónganse para las cosas; Hasta Pantojo baila mi son; Que Traigan el guaguancó; Mi amanecer campesino; Llora timbero; Yo sí como candela; Fefita; CD2 – Guaguancó a todos los barrios; El pregón de la montaña; U-la-la; Guajira Guantanamera; Para mi Cuba yo traigo un son; Prepera los cueros; Maracaibo Oriental.

Personnel: Juan Pablo Torres: director and arranger; Rafael Bacalao: vocals; Teresa Garcia Caturla: vocals; Miguelito Cuna: vocals; Carlos Embalm: vocals; Manuel Fauré: vocals; Tito Gómez: vocals; Filbert Hernández: vocals; Pio Leyva: vocals; Pepe Olmos: vocals; Macaulay Tars: vocals; Félix Chappotín: trumpet; Adalberto Lara: trumpet; Manuel “El Guajiro” Mirabal; Arturo Sandoval: trumpet; Jorge Varona: trumpet; Angel Cabazon: violin; Miguel Baron: violin; Pedro Despite: violin; Pedro Hernández: violin; Enrique Jordin: violin; Rafael Lay: violin; Félix Reina: violin; Elio Valdes: violin; Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos: trombone; Juan Pablo Torres: trombone; Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone; Richard Egües: flute; Melquiades Fundora: flute; Rubén González: piano; Jesús Rubalcaba: piano; Niño Rivera: tres; Israel Pérez: cuatro; Fabián García: bass; Tata Güines: congas; Guillermo García: congas; Ricardo “El Niño” Leon: bongos; Gustavo Tamayo: güiro; Amadito Valdés: timbales; Filiberto Sánchez: timbales; Alberto Bermúdez (Orchesta Jorrin): chorus; Armando Bermúdez (Los Hermanos Bermúdez): chorus; Ruben Bermúdez (Los Hermanos Bermúdez): chorus; Eugenio Rodríguez “Raspa” (Chappotin y sus Estrellas): chorus; Ignacio Carrillo “Masacote” (Chappotín y sus Estrellas): chorus; Rolo Martínez: chorus.

Label: World Circuit/Nonesuch
Release date: July 1999
Buy music on: amazon

About Estrellas de Areito: As a response to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan bands achieving success playing what was essentially Cuban music, African record producer Raoul Diomandé approached the Cuban state-owned recording body EGREM with the idea of assembling an all-star band to show that Cuban musicians play Cuban music best. Trombonist and EGREM staff producer Juan Pablo Torres was selected to recruit the musicians and direct the recordings. After collecting the musicians who spanned three generations, coming from more than 10 different bands, the group gathered in EGREM’s Havana studios for five days. The recordings captured the true essence of the descarga (jam session) style, made in a warm, relaxed atmosphere that allowed for extended improvisation and soloing, in the spirit of all great jazz music. Many of the musicians involved point to these brief sessions as among the most important in Cuban music history, despite the fact that they have been very difficult to find, even in Cuba. The release of Los Heroes features digitally re-mastered sound and a package that includes lyrics, photos, and extensive liner notes that further document these priceless recordings.

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

Essential Albums

Azymuth: Telecommunications

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This album, Telecommunications, is one of the most iconic recordings by Azymuth, the ineffably funky Brasilian trio. When it was released – on the Milestone label in 1982 – it became a monumental hit, propelling the group, it went Gold and exploded into the Top 10 in the British Charts, soaring heavenward in popularity all over Europe too.

It’s not hard to understand the extraordinary popularity of Azymuth. First and foremost has to be the unmatched funkiness of all the musicians who made up the original trio: keyboards superstar, vocalist and percussionist José Roberto Bertrami, who sadly passed away on July 8th 1012, Ivan Mamão Conti, who just has to be considered one of the most funky drummers since Zigaboo Modeliste, [who practically invented funk drumming as one of the illustrious members of the iconic New Orleans group The Meters], and bassist Alex Malherios whose rumble and roar made for the glue [together with Mamão] that solidified the rhythmic edifice of the trio, while the soloist [particularly, Bertrami] launched himself on his mighty solo flights.

Azymuth: Telecommunications
Azymuth: Telecommunications

It may have been the syncopation of choro that carried over into Brasili’s most iconic urban music and dance forms – samba, a versatile rhythm that can assume many forms. Heated up, with a shouted call-and-response verse backed by literally thousands of samba-school drums on parade, it becomes samba de enredo [the mass Carnival music that is famous the world over]. But what happens when you take the vocals out of the musical equation, funk up the rhythm, add a rumbling electric bass guitar and jazz up the rippling Brasilian percussion?

That’s when you get the funkiest music that became the clarion call of Brasilian funk music ensembles, of which Azymuth was probably the most famous, plying its stock-in-trade at all the major jazz festivals – from the Americas to Europe – Monterey to Montreux and way beyond.  The music on this seminal album, Telecommunications is characteristic of Azymuth at its very best. The repertoire came at a time when this heavyweight trio had reached the apogee of the musical style that continues to be a niche. A style that it had carved out for itself, with an eclectic, jazzy mix of Brasilian rhythms upon which were overlaid dallying soli by Mr Bertrami and Mamão, together with the rumbling bass of Mr Malherios.

Azymuth Trio
Azymuth Trio

Telecommunications’ opener “Estreito de Taruma” features a filing solo by the great Brasilian guitarist Helio Delmirio. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for spare ornamentation in his playing made him a guitarist like none other to come out of the raging flood of guitarists that cascaded out of the ocean of Brasilian music. The music that Mr Delmirio sculpted, from the steel strings at his fingertips, made the musical notes fly off the paper. His lines floated askance, oblique to the not so predictable keyboard playing by Mr Bertrami.

Throughout the two sides of this vinyl –superbly remastered by George Horn, by the way– we find music that is a testament to the musicians’ [and composers’] boundless invention. This music is replete with a wide expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the fact that once all of the musicians have had their say, a musical structure is constructed that defies logic, convention and other well-worn stylistic hooks. So monumental is the music’s cachet. Mr Bertrami’s “Last Summer in Rio” and the wistful finale – “The House I Lived In” [together with its “Prelude” – as a finale, no less] is typical of the brooding, tumbling groove that Azymuth created for itself – a sound so unique among [any] other musicians from the 1970’s onward, is yet to be imitated, copied or otherwise reproduced by Brasilian artists other than Azymuth.

YouTube Playlist

Tracks – Side A – 1: Estreito de Taruma; 2: What Price Samba [Quanta Vale um Samba]; 3: Country Road [Chão de Terra]; 4: May I Have This Dance? [Concede me Esto Dança?]. Side B – 1: Nothing Will Be As It Was [Nada Sera Como Antes]; 2: Last Summer in Rio; 3: The House I Lived In [A Casa em Que Vivi]; Prelude

Musicians – José Roberto Bertrami: organ [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1-3], keyboards [Side A 2, 4; Side B 1, 2], vocoder [Side A 3, 4], vocal [Side A 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1]; Alex Malherios: electric bass [Side A 1, 4; Side B 2], fretless bass [Side A 2, 3; Side B 2]; bass guitar [Side A 4], and acoustic guitar [Side A 3]; Ivan Mamão Conti: drums [Side A 1, 2, 4; Side B 1, 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 3]; Special Guests – Helio Delmirio:  electric guitar [Aide A 1; Side B 2]; Aleuda: percussion [Side A 3, 4; Side B 1]; Dotô: repique [Side A 2]; Cidinho: percussion [Side B 2]

Released – 1982
Remastered and Released (vinyl) – 2022
Label – Milestone [1982]
Jazz Dispensary – [2022]
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43  

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