Orquesta Akokán – Canta José “Pepito” Gómez

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It takes more than academic proficiency in music to arrive at the source of its splendour and few American musicians know that better than Michael Eckroth. The pianist, whose breathtaking arrangements on the music of Orquesta Akokán – Canta José “Pepito” Gómez, has not simply proved that he has authentic Afro-Cuban musical roots, but that the sap courses through his blood, to the extent that it even informs the very nerve endings in his fingers. As a result he not only plays like a master, but also writes Afro-Cuban charts like one. Probably better still – and this is despite his university musical education – he seems to be blessed with the soul of a rumbero, which is to say that what he writes comes as naturally to him as clave and tumbao did to the great rumberos in Cuban traditional continuum throughout this a one-of-a-kind recording.

Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Orquesta Akokán

Fresh from his highly successful collaboration with drummer Chris Smith on the Calle Mambo Project, where he wrote (and/or arranged) the material for the recording, creating its authentic rippling Afro-Cuban atmosphere Michael Eckroth now takes us on a journey back in time when soneros and trovas held sway in Cuba. As the magical music of Orquesta Akokán – Canta José “Pepito” Gómez unfolds we catch a glimpse of… well, think Beny Moré, Arsenio Rodríguez, Pérez Prado and the Cuba of Orquesta Casino de la Playa; think that revolutionary sound of 1930s and Afro folkloric elements in their music with just the perfect melding of jazz.

The extraordinarily deep and soulful arrangements by Mr Eckroth, his pianism, is marked by invigorating clave and magnificent tumbao as he shows the expressive power of (his) virtuosity, but that’s not all that’s in evidence here. Vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez wears his heart on his sleeve throughout his vocal performance, which is altogether vibrant and impressive. And then the members of Orquesta Akokán, most of them veteran wind and rhythm players from legendary bands, including Irakere and Los Van Van, and some young lions from New York  provide rousing accompaniment through the ensemble and solo passages. If they have not caught you with the proverbial lump in the throat by their bewitching rendition of “Un Tabaco para Elegua”, then you will certainly be overcome by the time we reach “Cuidado Con el Tumbador” which showcases piano master César “Pupy” Pedroso. And yet nothing will prepare you for “A Gozar la Vida”, the climactic dénouement to this dramatic performance.

Kudos to Jacob Plasse for producing this magnificent project in the historic Areito Studio in Havana, for assembling this terrific band, and for adding his tres playing to the mix. Prospective purchasers of this recording might feel shortchanged by the length of the recording, which clocks in at just 40 minutes. But they should not worry. This performance is so devastatingly powerful that it would be difficult to imagine hearing anything else alongside it this remarkable disc.

Track list – 1: Mambo Rapidito; 2: La Corbata Barata; 3: Un Tabaco para Elegua; 4: Otro Nivel; 5: La Cosa; 6: Cuidado Con el Tumbador; 7: Yo Soy para Tí; 8: No Te Hagas; 9: A Gozar la Vida

Personnel – César Lopez: alto saxophone; Jamil Schery: tenor saxophone; José Luis “Shewy” Hernandez: tenor saxophone; Evaristo Denis: baritone saxophone; Carlos “Afrokán” Alvarez Guerra: trombone; Heikel Fabian Trimino: trombone; Yoandy Argudin: trombone; Santiago Ceballos Seijido: trumpet (solo 2); Harold Madrigal Frías: trumpet (solo 9); Otto Santana Selis: congas and timbales; Eduardo Lavoy Zaragoza Jr.: bongo; Jorge Reyas: bass; Michael Eckroth: piano and arrangements; Jacob Plasse: tres; Eddie Venegas: coro; Luis Soto: coro; César “Pupy” Pedroso: piano (6); Carlitos Padron: timbales (5, 6); Itai Kriss: flute (solos 1, 9). Featuring José “Pepito” Gómez: lead vocals

Released – 2018
Label – Daptone Records
Runtime – 39:42

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