To merely suggest that this album: Pablo Menéndez & Mezcla: Pure Mezcla – Direct from Cuba Live at Yoshi’s Oakland, is just a fusion of Afro-Cuban and Jazz idioms would be doing it a great injustice. This molten mix of “Mezcla de oro azul y el cegamiento brillante”; colours so powerful that they touch not only the sense of sight, but also stir the depths of the very soul. The sizzling hot guitar melded in with wildly fibrillating percussion and the pizzicato harmonics of the breathtaking curlicue of roistering bass line brings the Orishas to life and underpins what sounds like an Afro-Cuban joyful shout. While there have been many albums where musicians have experimented with various permutations and combinations of instruments this ensemble that has been put together by the Oakland, California-born, Cuba-based guitarist Pablo Menéndez is unique for the manner in which it continues to carve its own niche with an eclectic Jazz mix as African ‘hi-life’ rhythms collide with guitarist Pablo Menéndez’s distorted rock-style solos. Throughout the music has a rippling Afro-Latin Jazz groove that builds almost explosively under Mr. Menéndez’s complex, soaring guitar lines.
It is hard to imagine what the group could do to better the magnificent opening track; a masterful version of Chucho Valdés’ classic piece “Mambo Influenciado”. And while nothing could really top that, the visceral energy of the music continues track-after-track. It behoves the musicians to maintain such vigour throughout and they do not disappoint. In fact, the band injects an old-school cinematic quality into a roistering, percussive rumbling groove, also alternating that with a loose funky one. And by way of contrast the band also swings on “I’ll See You in C.U.B.A” and though the version of “’Round Midnight” is not as reflective and crepuscular than that played by Thelonious Monk and others, it is definitely worth listening to over and over again. Pablo Menéndez seems to be at the pinnacle of his powers and leads his band of merry men right where he is on “Oyá-Echubelekeo” and “Ákete Oba Oba” . The guitarist is also at the height of his powers throughout the record and may even scale greater heights on subsequent adventures, but even if he never achieves anything better than this album, he has reason to be proud. The opener is a joyous, dancing piece; a feeling that engages you and never lets up until the end of the album. The music on “Hijos de la Mezcla” features a thoughtful violin solo that is almost elegiac. Bassist José Hermida combines forces with the percussionists Octavio Rodríguez and Roberto “Capitán” Smith to make the rhythm section something breathtaking to behold.
The musicians continue to ring in the changes in mood, structure and tempo for subsequent songs making for a constantly interesting programme. The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition is maintained throughout. What a fabulous record this is!
Track List: Mambo Influenciado; Hijos de la Mezcla; Lo que me Amarra Aquí; I’ll See You in C.U.B.A; Suzi’s Mood; Oya-Echubelekeo; Ákete Oba Oba; ‘Round Midnight; Imbe Imbe Mayeyé; El Solar de la Cueva del Humo; El Camino se Hace del Humo; Lenguasá.
Personnel: Pablo Menéndez: guitar and vocals; Octavio Rodríguez: percussion and vocals; Roberto “Capitán” Smith: percussion and vocals; Julio Valdés: keyboards, violin and vocals; José Hermida: bass and vocals.
About Mezcla: Under the direction of guitarist Pablo Menendez, Mezcla has been a part of the sound-track of the Cuban music scene for the past thirty years. Mezcla brings together several veteran masters with some the best of young players on the scene today. When at home in Cuba they perform regularly at Havana’s premier jazz club La Zorra y el Cuervo and at the annual Havana Jazz Festival (Jazz Plaza). Mezcla’s music is a genuine celebration of the culture and musical roots of the Pearl of the Antilles. Read more…