Review written by: Raul da Gama
One of the most endearing aspects of the great Afro-Cuban bands of the past—bands like those led by Mario Bauzá and Machito—was the fact that their music was not only sparkling with grandeur of idiomatic rhythms, but that the music also expressed a great longing for the joy of Cuba. For a long time this emotion seemed lost because of the flashy virtuosity that was preferred over the voices of the heart. However, that may be about to end, with this album, El Montunero—Country Roots/Urban Masters by the magnificent Chico Alvarez with the Palomónte Afro-Cuban Big Band. With extravagant musical arrangements directed by Edy Martinez, and vocals and lyric poetry recitations by Alvarez, the album has all the makings of an epic one, which not only harks back to some of the finest Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz albums ever made, but is also one of the most memorable in this idiom; its crowning musical and extra-musical moments lie in the extraordinary chart “The Rhythms of My Life” a beautiful odyssey into the heart and soul of Alvarez voyage of discovery.
The album is exquisitely arranged, with lush voicing used to match the immaculate tenor of Alvarez. Musical arrangements are ensconced in the molten brass and rich woodwinds as well as in the heart-stopping chorus arrangements featuring some of the finest voices in the world of Afro-Cuban music. There are also several stand-out performances on the album; these are led by the heroic performance by Alvarez himself. His diction is lyrical and superb so much so that there is an inner melodicism in the manner in which he annunciates his words. His expression is beautiful and he has a singular, truly sensuous manner in both spoken and sung words. His phrasing is also unique and this is reflected in the swagger with which he delivers both short and longer lines. Alvarez is the chief inspiration for pianist and musical director, Edy Martinez, who does not solo much, but when he does, his short breaks are filled with intricate turns of phrase.
There are several exciting instrumental breaks and with the presence of such luminaries as trumpeters, Roberto Rodriguez and Ray Vega; saxophonists, Peter Branin and Enrique Fernandez; trombonists Rafi Malkiel and Noah Bless; and of course, the bassists, Carlos Del Pino and Ruben Rodriguez as well as the celebrated tumbadoras, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel. Urging them on is Alvarez and Martinez and a host of fine singers in the chorus. Then there is the matter of the repertoire—an all-classic program if ever there was one—which also includes a stellar version of “Autumn Leaves” and an absolutely exquisite version of Lester Young’s chart, “Jumpin With Symphony Sid” with special lyrics by Alvarez. These two charts mark an aside from the otherwise Spanish-dominated disc and provide an extraordinary break from the main line of the proceedings.
All told, this is an exquisite album; one that will no doubt have sown the seeds of other projects, which—if not more big band repertoire—will certainly be much appreciated just as this memorable album is.
Track Listing: 1. Esta Noche; 2. Macho’s Latin Satin; 3. Yo Soy el Son Cubano; 4. Arsenio y Linda; 5. Sabroso Mambo; 6. Autumn Leaves; 7. Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid; 8. El Indio Caonabo; 9. Del Tirano y Del Error; 10. Los Niños de la Noche; 11. Tonight; 12. The Rhythms of My Life; 13. Let’s Make Love.
Personnel: Chico Alvarez: vocals, poetry and spoken word (7, 9, 10 12); David Oquendo: background vocals (5, 8); Ray Viera: background vocals (3, 4, 10); Leonel “Papo” Ortega: background vocals (3, 10); Luis Mangual Jr.: background vocals (12); Viviam Ara: background vocals (6); Ronnie Baro: background vocals (5, 8); Luis Mario Ochoa: background vocals (1); Chico Alvarez: background vocals (1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13); Edy Martinez: musical direction and piano (2 – 8); Carlos del Pino: bass (2, 5, 8, 10); Ruben Rodriguez: bass (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11); Wilson “Chembo” Corniel: tumbadoras: (2, 5, 8); Nelson Diaz: timbales (2, 5, 9); Luis Mangual Jr.: bongo & cencerro (1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11); Diego Lopez: drums (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11); Chico Alvarez: claves, guiro, tumbadoras (6); Roberto Rodriguez: trumpet; Steve Gluzband: trumpet; Ray Vega: trumpet; Guido Gonzalez: trumpet; Peter Branin: saxophone; Enrique Fernandez: saxophone; Al Acosta: saxophone; Octavio Ponce: saxophone; Rafi Malkiel: trombone; Noah Bless: trombone; Jose Leonardo Freyre: trombone; Omar Castanos: copyist, extra parts (1); Johnny Rodriguez: tumbadoras, bongo (4, 7); Gene Golden: tumbadoras (1, 3, 10, 11); tumbadoras and quinto guataca (8, 12); Mauricio Smith Jr.: flute(12); Chiemi Nakai: piano (1, 11); Raphael Cruz: shekere (8, 12); Sergio Rivera: piano (10); Hector Torres: timbales (12); Hiram Diaz: tumbadoras (12); Tony Cruz: cencerro (12); Oscar Hernandez: piano (12); Eddie “Guagua” Rivera: bass (12); Mike Perez: violin (1, 11); Tiffany Rodriguez: violin and viola (1, 11); Lino Fernandez: timbales (10); Eloi Oliveros: drums, bongo (13).
Label: Mafimba Records
Release date: January 2012
You can buy this CD at: www.elwatusi.com