The title of this album – Menjunje – is very interesting and a metaphor wholly appropriate to describe the sound of the music of Roy McGrath. The Puerto Rican tenor saxophonist has rarely strayed far from his heritage, despite being in the city known for the Blues. In fact, being in Chicago may have shaped the big and brilliantly raucous – and piquant – bluesy tenor sound that is characteristic of Mr McGrath, no matter what the musical language and vernacular he employs. Menjunje is, after all, a homemade elixir to make many in Puerto Rico right as rain; those, that is, who are physically [and who knows, even spiritually] down in the dumps. Just a little menjunje is said to produce a cure claimed to be almost magical.
Music – almost any good music – has been known to have a similar effect… but now, via Puerto Rico, when you add menjunje the effect is magical and quite potent. Mr McGrath, you see, has also poured into the admixture, the spirit of Antonio Cabán Vale “El Topo”, celebrated trova-poet and one of the pillars of Puerto Rican nueva canción. In fact, four of the eight songs in this repertoire come from the songbook of El Topo. For the record, the other four songs have been composed in the inimitable nervy and propulsive style that Mr McGrath employs in his playing, to celebrate the enormous impact that the famous trova-poet has had on the island nation – and, of course, on Mr McGrath’s own development as a musician.
The heavy underpinning of the Puerto Rican barriles – and other [side and] hand -percussion – that are pervasive in this bomba and plena music, do nothing to obscure the lyricism of this music. On the contrary, the dark sound of those drums adds essential traditional colour unique to the music of Puerto Rico. This makes for contrast between songs – such as between [Mr McGrath’s] Linda Morena and El Topo’s Bolerito. Both are revelatory of performances of breathtaking beauty and incomparable power. This is the kind of qualitative thread that runs through the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content of all of the music on this album, giving the performances [of the musicians] its striking, unforced naturalness.
Mr McGrath leads from the front but never obscures, or overpowers, the playing of his wonderful musicians, all of whom have bought into this album’s theme [the magical cure of menjunje for malady – the metaphorical one, of course] and content [the homage to the contribution to Puerto Rican music made by El Topo]. Thus, every member of the group is also fully attuned to Mr McGrath’s vision and artistry, giving off themselves with idiomatic brilliance throughout. Thus everything [instrumental] flows with the inevitability of near-vocal elegance. Melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are precisely articulated, direct and unmistakably sincere.
Throughout this album, for my ears, Roy McGrath brings everything home in a way that is intensely personal, vivid, unique. No one who loves Puerto Rican music – or exquisite tenor saxophone-playing will want to miss this.
Music – 1: Guamaní; 2: Loquito Por Tí; 3: Cuembé Na’ Má; 4: Groove # 4; 5: For Zee; 6: Antonia; 7: Linda Morena; 8: Bolerito
Musicians – Roy McGrath: tenor saxophone; Constantine Alexander: trumpet; Eduardo Zayaz: piano; Kitt Lyles: contrabass; Efraín Martínez: drums; Victor Junito González: conga, punteador and barril; Javier Quintana-Ocasio: barril, requinto, bongó, quinto and campana; José A. Carrasquillo: cuatro
Released – 2023
Label – JL Music
Runtime – 1:02:21
YouTube Video – RoyMcGrath: Cuembé Na’ Ma’
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