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Essential Albums

Patato: Masterpiece

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Patato: Masterpiece

Arguably the greatest Afro-Cuban percussionist that ever lived (bar Tata Güines, perhaps), Carlos “Patato” Valdés is, also one of the greatest showmen of the congas, who often dances atop the tuned congas that he is also credited with inventing. Although he did not give Brigitte Bardot such a dangerous instruction as that in And God Created Woman, he did give the legendary actress a mambo lesson in the film. His virtuoso percussion colouring graced some of the greatest ensembles in Cuba and beyond from the mid-1940’s until his death in 2007. This disc entitled Masterpiece does not seem to have been received with the greatest of respect as some of Patato’s other works, which is unfair as the percussionist dazzles with his virtuosity in every song that is part of this repertoire.

Perhaps the reception may have something to do with the eclectic nature of the selection of songs. However, Patato made such an enormous contribution to Jazz as well – with performances on such iconic discs as Max Roach’s Percussion Bitter Sweet (Impulse! 1961) and Sonny Stitt’s Sonny Goes Latin (Roost, 1963) – playing starring roles in each of the scores of Jazz recordings on which the percussionist appeared. He also appeared with Tito Puente for several years and made at least three important discs with El Rey, including Puente in Percussion (Tico, 1956). Every time Patato hit the studio or stage, he left an indelible mark on the music that flowed from his fertile musical brain through his fingertips.

On Masterpiece his selection of music reflects the breadth of his musical associations until the 1980’s. His playing, though, is neither finicky nor a dryly literal playback of familiar scores. But using his considerable virtuoso skills he makes each tune sound utterly new. Neal Hefti’s “Cute” is a case in point, for Patato’s conception of building texture takes the form of deliciously insouciant lingering in the notes of his solo. Later, without resorting to mannerism, Patato remains steady in the opening of “Tonan Che Cabildo A Ochún” and then brings a breezy lyricism to the rest of the piece. He does likewise on “El Montuno De Patato” where his melodic inflection is curvaceous, natural and discreetly sensuous; the tonal palette discreetly refined.

Of the many surprises is the appearance of Ronnie Cuber, who puts down his heavy baritone saxophone and soars beyond the infinite on soprano saxophone on “Cute” and “Comelon”; and Michel Camilo who also graces both songs. Jerry González (together with his brother Andy) sets the music aflame on three songs including a memorable version of “Reflexionado”. Whatever he touches, Patato’s playing is blessedly free of that metre-driven angularity and stasis that have increasingly beset performances since he blazed a perfect trail across the musical stratosphere. In addition, as with everything on this disc, Patato brings a truly epic sense of drama to music and that will forever be missed in music.

Track list – 1: Adios Pampa Mia; 2: Cute; 3: Reflexionando; 4: Felice Navidad; 5: Comelon; 6: Tonan Che Cabildo A Ochún; 7: Nica’s Dream; 8: El Montuno De Patato; 9: A Los Pianistas

Personnel – Carlos “Patato” Valdés: co-producer, congas, tambores (4), batá (6) and vocals (9); Artie Webb: flute (1), 7, 9); Jorge Dalto: co-producer and piano (1, 3, 7 – 9) and coro (9); Joe Santiago: bass (1, 2, 5, 7 – 9); Nicky Marrero: timbales (1, 7 – 9) and percussion (6) and coro (6, 9); Steve Berrios: drums (1, 4, 7, 9), batá (6) and güiro(8); Nestor Sanchez: coro (1); José “El Canario” Alberto: coro (1, 8); Rodrigo Siens: coro (1, 8); Ronnie Cuber: soprano saxophone (2, 5); Michel Camilo: piano (2, 5); Ignacio Berroa: drums (2); Vicentico Valdés: vocals (3); Rolando Briceño: flute (3, 8); Jerry González: trumpet (3, 7, 8) and tambores (4); Andy González: bass (3); Charlie Santiago: bongos and maracas (3), guiro (5) and percussion (9); Orlando “Watusi” Castillo: lead vocals and La Paranda chorus (4), coro (6, 9); Sabú Martinez: batá , (4)tambores (4) and coro (6); Wilfredo “Moreno” Tejada: batá (6), tambores (4); Anna Matienzo: tambores (4) and coro (6); Frandith: tambores (4) and coro (6); Pablito Rosario: tambores and claves (4); Nestor Torres: coro (8)

Released – 1984 and 1985
Label – Messidor/Timba Records (Timba 59794-2)
Runtime – 56:21

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.

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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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