Ola Fresca: Elixir

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Ola-Fresca-LJNJose Conde is a musician whom I have grown to admire recently. However, such repertoire, so close to traditional forms of Afro-Cuban music is not something I have always associated. Earlier recordings have tended towards more so-called dance music, catering no doubt, to the popular salsa markets. But here we have a record Elixir that adheres in a stricter manner to son, danzón, cha cha chá and guaguancó. But here is the difference: Jose Conde and Ola Fresca have spun these forms in a delightfully singular form. So there is much exquisite music to consider.

Ola-Fresca-Elixir-LJNOla Fresca’s very popular status is confirmed not only because of compositions – the credits on this album are shared with some fairly well-known names (Benjamin Lapidus) – but also because their performances are as commanding and entertaining, and war-hearted as you could wish. Despite what might seem as a tendency towards pandering to populist taste, this is also a band that has a sure sense of structure and pacing and their playing is gratifyingly free of mannerism. In “La Mano del Rumbero” for example, the group’s playing is more deliberate, superbly insouciant and sharply dramatic.

In the more virtuoso writing, in pieces such as “Convivencia” and “Amor Ciclónico” the group shows a sheer technical élan of, say Pedrito Martinez’s group, with Ola Fresca imbuing the pieces with an almost operatic sense of drama. And in the latter piece, Jorge Bringas opts for more pedal than the bassist of Pedrito Martinez’s group but also imparts a playfulness along similar lines to that group. Everywhere you are constantly reminded of the Cuba’s extraordinary sound worlds, a feature that absolutely grows on you as you listen more carefully to the disc again and again.

A real pea-souper of a chart descends in Benjamin Lapidus’ “Bizcocho”, that’s to some judicious sustain in Pablo Vergara’s pianism. In more biting numbers, he perhaps underplays the element of subversiveness – and that goes for pieces such as the boleros heard in the first half of the album where Mr. Vergara captures the malevolent edge with more subtlety than anyone including the other musicians in the band. But mostly the whole group balances the poetry of Afro-Cuban dance with a deep sense of form, which also makes a subjective case for the enduring quality of the album.

Of the other featured players, the percussionists excel. Their charm is palpable. Just as you are thinking that the Big Chief, Jose Conde has abdicated his princely proprietary locus in the group, you become aware that the singing on the slower numbers (boleros) is particularly seductive. IN fact, if you close your eyes, you could almost be listening to one of the finer vocalists playing by a pavement at a popular club in old Havana.

Track List: Elixir; La Mano del Rumbero; Bandera; Pollitos de Primavera; Mulata; El Niño de la Clave; Convivencia; Bizcocho; Amor Ciclónico.

Personnel: Jose Conde: lead vocals, güiro and all arrangements; Pablo Vergara: piano; Jorge Bringas: bass; Juan-Carlos Formell: bass; Roberto Quintero: congas, maracas and guïro; Obanlu Iré: congas and shékere; Gabriel Machado: timbales and bongos; Román Diaz: clave; John Spek: trombone (2); Jose Davila: trombone; Rey David Alejandre: trombone; Dennis Hernández: trumpet.

Label: Pipiki Records
Release date: June 2015
Website: olafresca.com
Running time: n.a.
Buy music on: amazon

About Ola Fresca

Weaving the musical bridges connecting Cuban son, salsa, timba, and funk, Ola Fresca (Formerly Jose Conde y Ola Fresca), in its first 10 years and two world acclaimed, award winning, original albums under the direction and creative energy of Jose Conde, has evolved a swinging, fearless tropical Latin sound directly from Brooklyn, New York. Read more…

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