Essential Albums Revisited *****
Today, Cortijo & His Time Machine y su Máquina del Tiempo (Coco Records, 1974) is considered a classic and (misleadingly) one of the top-ten salsa recordings of all time. But, when the album was released in 1974 the music was so advanced it threw listeners for a loop.
In May 2019 Jazz on the Tube’s Kevin McCarthy interviewed the record producer and founder of Coco Records, Harvey Averne. Coco specialized in Afro-Cuban and Latin American popular music, with special emphasis on the “New York Sound” and Salsa.
The Back Story
In 1973, after the breakup of the group, Cortijo y su Bonche, Cortijo was between bands. By chance, he encountered (pianist, composer, arranger) Pepe Castillo when they collaborated on a commercial for WKDM radio. According to Castillo, “I told him I have three new arrangements, but the music was not Salsa, it’s international music. Something very Puerto Rican but very radical. I don’t know if you’re going to get into it.” Surprisingly, Cortijo expressed interest.
Cortijo brought the concept to Harvey Averne. “The young guys (Pepe Castillo and Edgardo Miranda) wanted to express themselves out of the box. They wanted to do something in jazz and survive as a jazz orchestra, but it wasn’t going to happen. They needed someone like Cortijo to do it. Cortijo comes to me with an idea outside of the commercial realm. I asked him what it was and he said, ‘I could describe it, but I would be wasting your time. you have to hear it. It’s something different. Before that, it didn’t have the name, ‘Time Machine.’ I gave it the name. I knew Cortijo’s past music and to see it grow into this. He was the Time Machine. This was not typical Cortijo music. This was a one-time project where the old guy liked what the young guys were thinking and he contributed greatly. Most bandleaders could not have pulled this off, it needed someone with the genius of Cortijo.”
Under his leadership, the group rehearsed at a studio in Santurce, Puerto Rico for two months. The sessions attracted Johnny Pacheco, Charlie Palmieri, and Roberto Roena, who, upon hearing the music prophetically commented, “Rafa, you’re screwed! This music is 30 years ahead of its time, no one will understand it.”
The group recorded the album in multiple sessions in Puerto Rico and New York. The repertoire consisted of Bomba, Plena, Guarachas, and Aguinaldos from the island’s Jibaro repertoire, infused with jazz improvisation and an electric piano and guitar, crisp, lively percussion, and Brazilian elements. It was unlike anything Cortijo had done before.
When Coco records released the album in 1974 the reviews ranged from “interesting” and “avant-garde” to the “Most brilliant Latin jazz fusion in the salsa tradition.” Truth be told, the music didn’t fit into a recognizable category, and critics, listeners, and the dancers didn’t know what to make of it.
Also, Coco Records targeted the salsa market, which caused a disconnect between the innovative concept and the audience. According to Pepe Castillo, “If we had marketed the recording in jazz festivals, and in Europe, it would have been more successful.”
When the ensemble made its New York debut at the Teatro Puerto Rico, the event was billed as “Juntos Otra Vez” (Together Again) and the all-star lineup included a bevy of Cortijo alumni: The Cortijo y su Combo All-Stars, El Gran Combo, Ismael Rivera y sus Cachimbos, and Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound. Cortijo’s Maquina del Tiempo was the featured act. A few minutes into the set the dancers realized the tempos were too fast. “That’s not music,” they shouted, “give us Maquinolandera, Perico!” Then the shouts turned into “boos.” The group faired better at the Jefferson Theatre, where they were a big hit with the more progressive, Village and Soho crowds but after that, Cortijo tamped down the repertoire to accommodate the salseros and dancers.
In the mid-90s, Roberto Roena’s prediction came to pass when the Miami label, Musical Productions acquired the rights to Time Machine and targeted an international audience. According to Castillo, “Sales were brisk in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Puerto Rico. The album became a collector’s item and it opened many doors.”
After Time Machine, Pepe Castillo and Edgardo Miranda remained in New York and formed the influential group, Puerto Rican Folklore. Also, Castillo was the driving force behind the album Banana Land (1984) and created the documentary-theatrical-musical concept, Jolope, A Christmas Fiesta.
Edgardo Miranda is considered to be one of the most important cuatro players in Puerto Rico and the U.S. In addition to being an exceptional improviser, arranger, and accompanist, there is speculation he may have been the first cuatro player to utilize the instrument in a big band setting. Also, he was also a member of Los Pleneros de la 21. Regrettably, Miranda battled leukemia for several years and passed away at a young age. Also, Cortijo died of pancreatic cancer in 1982. Neither of them lived to see “Time Machine” achieve the recognition it deserved.
When Pepe Castillo and Edgardo Miranda conceived the music that evolved into what became Cortijo & His Time Machine y su Máquina del Tiempo their goal was to take Puerto Rican music in a new direction and introduce it to an international audience.
Time Machine’s Impact
Today, Time Machine is a bonafide classic and valuable collector’s item but Harvey Averne admits, “This is one of the few times I dropped the ball because I fell in love with what I was hearing. I’ve done this on occasion. This album is one of the most respected and heralded and awarded albums I’ve ever done. It was voted one of the ten best salsa albums of all-time. I don’t think it’s salsa, it’s pure Latin jazz. Either way, I’m glad I didn’t roll it back.”
If you’ve never heard it, or haven’t listened in a while, dust it off and give it a listen. The music is timeless.
Track list – 1. Carnaval; 2. La Verdad; 3. Gumbo; 4. Baila y Goza; 5. La Lluvia; 6. De Coco y Anís; 7. La Tercera Guerra.
Personnel – Rafael Cortijo: Leader, conga, bongo, percussion, lead vocal on “Carnaval”; Fé Cortijo lead vocal on “Coco y Anis”; Jose Nogueras: Lead vocal on “La Verdad”; Edgardo Miranda – Guitar; Gonzalo “Gonchi” Silfre – Drums, Percussion; Chigui Sánchez – Bongo, Bell, Percussion; Last.fm – Pepe Castillo & Cuatromania; Luis “Wisa” Velez – Bass; Fé Cortijo, Nellie Charriez, Gloria Archeval, Pepe, Jose – Coro; Brass on “Coco y Anís”, “La Verdad”, “Gumbo” (Puerto Rico) – Andre Torres (trumpet), Orlando Pabellon (trumpet), Héctor Santos (tenor, alto sax), Richard Keene (tenor sax); Brass on “Carnaval”, “Baila y Goza”, “La Lluvia”, “La Tercera Guerra” (New York): Lew Soloff (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mario Rivera (alto sax, flute), Ronnie Cuber (tenor sax, flute), Mike Lawrence (trumpet, flugelhorn).
Produced by Harvey Averne, Pepe Castillo
Arrangements and Musical Direction – Pepe Castillo, Edgardo Miranda
Sources – Album (Cortijo & His Time Machine y su Máquina del Tiempo): Production Info
Carrasquillo, Rosa Elena – The People’s Poet, The Life, and Myth of Ismael Rivera, an Afro-Caribbean Icon (Caribbean Studies Press, 2014)
Cartagena, Juan – Güiro and Maraca magazine (Vol.9, No.4)
Maldonado, Wilberto Sostre – Boricua Jazz: Desde Rafael Hernández a Miguel Zenón – La Historia del jazz Puertorriqueño (Independent, 2019)
McCarthy, Kevin (Jazz on the Tube) – Interview with Harvey Averne, The Making of Cortijo’s Time Machine (2019).
Roberts, John Storm – The Latin Tinge – The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States (Oxford University Press, 1979)
© 2020 Tomas Peña
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