We hear so much Afro-Cuban music these days that we may sometimes run the risk of forgetting that no matter whether it is played as romantically languorous son or ecstatically vivid danzón, this music – spiritual and secular – was always meant to be a celebration. But Chico Alvarez, maestro of The Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band knows better and thus on Oye mi Tumbáo he makes music that is evocative of this kind of celebration every which way you turn. This is music that is played so incredibly right that these elegant arrangements – by a stellar cast of writers – courses through the room like the early morning Cuban sun, for here, unmistakably, is where the spark of Mr Alvarez’s inflammable brilliance is ignited by his consort of musicians fully attuned to his artistry and creative vision.
It has certainly been worth the wait for a new recording from Mr Alvarez and The Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band. The proverbial heat of this music set aflame by Mr Alvarez’s elegantly raspy vocalastics is set to make your blood run faster. I don’t mean the kind of loud and hard-driven overly percussive kind so often encountered today; on the contrary, line is always respected, tempi are up with the rhythmic pulse, but never pushed, so much so that the instruments are allowed to sing with warmth and humanity. The music leaps off the page and dances in the air around the room. Mr Alvarez energizes the musicians providing the invigorating spark for the instrumentalists to join in and play in ensemble, and solo when their turns arise.
There is plenty of detail, but it is natural and never fussy, and ornamentation is continually clever [as in the classic “Hay una rosa en el barrio”], often humorous [in Steve Allen’s “This could be the start of something big”] and always delightful [as in Mario Bauzá, Grace Sampson and Bobby Woollen’s “Mambo Inn”]. Add to that the technical excellence – the exactness with which the brass and woodwinds articulate their eight notes throughout; and the rippling precession of the percussionists including Chembo Corniel, Papo de León and Diego Lopez – who conjure a vivid palette of colours and tone textures together with the rumbling bass of Ruben Rodríguez. Each musician eggs the other on, it’s no wonder the band plays in ensemble like a well-oiled machine generating the perfect combination of blend and clarity.
What really shoots this recording to the top of the pile, however, is the sheer joy of it, the spontaneity and the tireless, surging musical energy of its many sudden feints and sallies. How grippingly, for instance, the tension climbs on “Santo Domingo” when the wailing corneta china is introduced to lead the ensemble in a comparsa. Just as memorable is how the liltingly off-beat tres by Juan de Marcos strums into action adding springy definition to the music of “Llévatelo todo” by the great Arsenio Rodríguez, and “Cógele el gusto” by Santiago Ortega. And then there are the parts full of taut energy of sixteenth notes beautifully articulated by the horns in a build-up that finds release in a glorious chain of suspensions on “Manhattan Latin” intertwined in the strains of Mr Alvarez’s vocals.
Adding to all of this is a wonderfully recorded disc that is over an hour and fifteen minutes long, but, happily, seems to go on forever and you have a musical celebration that is not to be missed, and is sure to be savored over and over again.
Track list – 1. Obatalá; 2. Hay una rosa en el barrio; 3. Eres la mulata; 4. Tumbáo; 5. Mambo Inn; 6. This could be the start of something big; 7. Llévatelo todo; 8. Cógele el gusto; 9. Hatuéy; 10. Yemayá; 11. Rumberito soy yo; 12. Santo Domingo; 13. Manhattan Inn; 14. Será, Será, tu boquita; 15. Yo Bailo la Chambelona
Personnel – Chico Alvarez: vocals and güiro – The Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band – Francis Rodriguez: piano, acoustic and electric guitars; Ruben Rodríguez: baby bass; Chembo Corniel: tumbadores, bongó, cencerro, shékere and batá; Papo de León: timbales; Diego Lopez: drums; Steve Gluzband: trumpet; John Walsh: trumpet; Guido Gonzalez: trumpet; Denis Hernandez: trumpet; Albert Acosta: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Hiram Colón: alto and soprano saxophones, and arrangements ; Mauricio Smith Jr: tenor and baritone saxophones and flute; Cecilia Tenconi: tenor saxophone and flute; Pete Miranda: baritone saxophone; Louis Arques: tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet; Dave Chamberlain: trombone and flute; Luis Bonilla: trombone; Raul Navarette: trombone; Noah Bless: trombone. Special Guests – Alfonso Osuna: Spanish guitar ; Oscar Hernández: piano and arrangements ; Juan de Marcos Gonzalez: tres [7, 8]; Ray Martínez: bass ; Papo Pepín: timbales, bongó, güiro and maracas ; Pepito Goméz: coro; Willy Martinez: coro and cencerro (cowbell) ; Christelle Durandy: coro and background vocal ; Iván Mayorquín: timbales [7, 9]; Edwin Rodriguez: piano and arrangements [1, 10]; Paul de Castro: corneta china . Arrangements – Paquito Pastór: arrangements ; René Hernández: arrangements [4, 5]; Omár Castaños: arrangements ; Mark Weinstein: arrangements ; Alfredo Valdés Jr: arrangements ; Chico O’Farrill: arrangements ; Severino Ramos: arrangements ; Rafael Solano: arrangements ; Gilberto Suarez: arrangements ; Russell “Skee” Farnsworth: arrangements 
Released – 2022
Label – Mafimba Productions
Runtime – 1:15:39