Essential Albums Revisited
Who knew that Dámaso Pérez Prado, the “Mambo King”, director of Sonora Matancera between 1936 and 1939, long before he formed his iconic mambo groups could have so much poetry in him that he would compose two tone poems in his career? It was not until the 1954 recording of this masterpiece, Voodoo Suite that his unique artistry in this regard came to be known. In fact, the term suite is perhaps a misnomer given, no doubt, to the music by some less than worldly wise executive at the record label. The piece of music is more like a tone poem. Listening to this startling work, I am struck by the drama of the piece. The instrumentation employed speaks to the monumental nature of it. Pérez Prado delves into the heart of Afro-Caribbean music here as two drummers and eight percussionists cut loose in the opening bars as if heralding the entry of Voodoo priests who then prepare the faithful for the volcanic intensity of the prayer service.
With a stroke of genius, Pérez Prado has imagined the call of the Orishas with voice and chorus whose ascendant supplications are sent up with fourteen brass (nine trumpets, four trombones and a French horn), eight woodwinds and two basses. The heat from the visceral energy is palpable; it sets the stage for the dance movement that turns the Afro-Caribbean into an explosive dance. This marvelous sequence seems to replace the sonorous echo of drums with a vivacious improvised movement, as if in response to prayers being heard. The “thanksgiving” recessional comes after a dramatic cadenza created by serpentine lines played by the saxophones. Voices weave in and out of the horns as the music comes to a close in the brilliant retreat of the Orishas seemingly in chariots of fire, urged on by the voices (of the faithful). This is not merely Afro-Caribbean idioms on a collision course with jazz ones. This is music written in extraordinary compound metres that suggest voodoo ceremonies and New Orleans struts and the African origin of musical divination colliding with the music of the Americas. Pérez Prado reinvents himself in the persona of the great tone poet of Late European classicism: Jean Sibelius.
This seminal album also features six extraordinary arrangements of familiar big band charts: “St. James Infirmary”, “In The Mood”, the magnificent Vernon Duke standard, “I Can’t Get Started”, Count Basie’s masterpiece, “Jumping At The Woodside”, Benny Goodman’s “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and Harry James’ “Music Makers”. Each of the charts is re-written in the Afro-Caribbean metaphor. The mesmerising arrangements will leave the listener breathless; such is the beauty of the pieces. This is a masterly collaboration between Pérez Prado and the trumpeter Shorty Rogers. Pérez Prado went on to write a bookend to Voodoo Suite which was entitled The Exotic Suite of the Americas, recorded in 1962 and this later tone poem was also released on RCA/Victor. Pérez Prado continued to write popular music and was active until the late 70’s and early 80’s. But he never scored something as complex as these two extraordinary works.
Track list – Voodoo Suite; St. James Infirmary; In The Mood; I Can’t Get Started; Jumping At The Woodside; Stompin’ At The Savoy; Music Makers.
Personnel – Shorty Rogers: trumpet; Bill Regis: Maynard Ferguson: trumpet; Walter Stuart: trumpet; Pete Candoli: trumpet; Don Dennis: trumpet; Rolf Erikson: trumpet; Luis Valisan: trumpet; Bill Castagnino: trumpet; Joe Colvin: trombone; Harry Betts: trombone; Milt Bernhart: trombone; Jay Hill: trombone; Tibor Shik: French horn; Bud Shank: alto saxophone and flute; Stan Seckler: alto saxophone; René Bloch: alto saxophone; Bob Cooper: tenor saxophone; Willie Maiden: tenor saxophone; Nash Maez: tenor saxophone; Don Robinson: baritone saxophone; Ray Vázquez: baritone saxophone; Don Tosti: bass; Ed Guerrero: bass; Shelly Manne: drums; Leo Acosta: drums; Eddie Gómez: conga; Steve Valera: conga; Carlos Vidal: conga; Modesto Durán: conga; Roberto Casanova: conga; Mike Pacheco: bongos; Ray Vázquez: bongos; Alladin Pallante: violin; Robert Freda: violin; Charles Bilek: violin.
Released – 1954
Label – RCA Victor
Runtime – 48:59
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.
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.
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.
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 
Jazz Dispensary – 
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43
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