Johnny Conga – Breaking Skin (Independent 2009)


 


Johnny Conga comes from a long line of illustrious tumbadores, too many to mention, but suffice it to say that from the musical evidence on Breaking Skin, the genealogy may well include the likes of Chano Pozo, Mongo Santamaria, Tata Güines, Candido, Armando Peraza, Francisco Aguabella and a host of others. Lest anyone out there scream, “Blasphemy!” it bears mention that Johnny Conga stylistically connects ancient with modern from the challenging rhythms of West Africa – the beating heart of ritmo – to the son and danzon, timba, bembe, charanga, rumba, mambo and so on.

Conga’s exclusively rhythm tracks – the “Conga Solo” series, which feature 2 and 3 congas, “Bembe Ochun,” “Conganation,” “Congobel Part II” and “Congarobics – 3 Congas” are all stunning displays not only of virtuoso tumbadora work, but inspired emotional homecoming. The hypnotic edge suggests a conjuring of the spirit world, a call to prayer that is primitive and powerfully modern. It suggests that the drum connection with musical spirituality is vibrantly alive.

Johnny Conga may be making a very important statement here. He is not only establishing his pedigree with this record, nor displaying a flashy skill. There is something greater than dexterity on display here. Johnny Conga is re-establishing the spirit connection with musical journeying. To suggest anything else would be silly. Jack DeJohnette had once lamented that spirituality had left music after John Coltrane died. Musicians it seemed were no longer probing, looking for the tonal centers of song and dance, while entertaining at the same time. But as civilizations spiral uncontrollably into the future, bereft a spirit the world spins darkly. Music like that on Breaking Skin is a constant reminder that there is an alternative, a seeking for the ebullience that can only come with a search for the deeper connection with the roots of humanity, the ritmo of the soul.

So can this record be really enjoyed without this mumbo jumbo? It can and in many more ways than one. True that there is an innocuous start to the record, with Chick Corea’s early chart, “Guajira,” but that only sets the stage for the musical heat that is to follow. There is also a superb display of transcendent interplay between Conga, piano and vibes player, Mario “Del Barrio” Marrero, and rhythmic counterpoint with timbalero, Edwin Bonilla together with the bongocero, Ronnie Loreto. “Seattle Bembe” is a fine example of ritualistic drumming, the rumbling incantation and Bembe raining, blended with a bubbling in the barrio as the maestro of the Yoruba worship calls upon the spirits up above to bless all songs.

“Siempre me va Bien” blends sassy melody with the raining of seemingly mambo coconuts and a delightfully drunken hypnotic clave laughter conjoined with piano con clave. But Johnny Conga does not stop at celebrating merely the Afro-Cuban, or the Afro-Caribbean – as on “Caribe Madness”. There is also some superb deconstruction of the Brasilian rhythms, featured on intense samba tracks such as “Mariel,” which rocks from a sensuous piano and vibes introduction to a swaggering bolero, before skipping with heart-stopping motion back to a samba. “Afro-Samba” is no less wonderful, though completely different from its fluttering counterpart. And, of course, “Midnight Mambo” is a sexy confluence of brass woodwinds and percussion – the highlights are the tenor saxophone work of Tom McCormick with Johnny Padilla on soprano doing svelte pirouettes in counterpoint.

Throughout the record, Johnny Conga’s effortless method of creating memorable ritmo is always on. The rhythmic splatters he creates are non pareil. His left hand patterns and a variety of right hand slaps both open toned and flat slapping is inspired and memorable. Add to that the compositional abilities and the recasting of older work in a modern context and this makes Breaking Skin a record that is pretty close to perfect.

Tracks: Guajira; Seattle Bembe; Siempre Me Va Bien; Conga Solo – 2 congas; Mariel; Conganation; Midnight Mambo; Congobel Part II; Kathy’s Theme; Afro-Samba; Conga Solo No. 2 – 3 Congas; Bembe Ochun; JC’s Revenge; Congarobics – 3 Congas; Comparsa Con Campanas; Afro-Dixie 6; Rumba Pa’ La Ocha; Caribe Madness.

Personnel: Johnny Conga: Congas; Juan Pablo Torres: trombone; Eddie “Guagua” Rivera: bass; Edwin Bonilla: timbales; Mario “Del Barrio” Marrero: piano, vibes; Ronnie Loreto: bongo, bell; Doug Michaels: trumpet; Tom McCormick: tenor saxophone (solo 1,3, 7); Johnny Padilla: tenor saxophone (solo: 5, 12), soprano saxophone (solo 7); Jose "Juanito" Martinez: drums; Guests Sammy Alamillo: drums, handclaps and background vocals; Jeff Woods: congas, guitars, handclaps and background vocals.

Johnny Conga on the web: www.myspace.com/jcjohnnyconga

Review written by: Raul da Gama

Danilo Navas
Danilo Navas
Founder, Editor, Webmaster: Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report, Toronto Music Report. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

More from author

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related posts

11,403FansLike
1,661FollowersFollow
656FollowersFollow
1,857FollowersFollow
5,657FollowersFollow
165SubscribersSubscribe

Featured Posts

Omar Sosa’s 88 Well-Tuned Drums: A Film by Soren Sorensen

Anyone approaching this film about the iconic Cuban composer and pianist Omar Sosa, by the award-winning filmmaker Soren Sorensen will be almost immediately struck...

Danilo Pérez featuring The Global Messengers: Crisálida

Danilo Pérez began forming his worldview - and aligning his music to it - ever since he came under the sphere of influence of...

The Feeling Messengers, Past and Present (Part II)

Miguelo Valdés & The New Messengers Of Feeling Miguel Valdés, or “Miguelo”, as he has since become known, was born in the province of La...

The Feeling Messengers, Past and Present (Part I)

Preamble Within the current renaissance of popular Cuban music, coupled with the seemingly eternal presence of its first cousin American Jazz, we are once again...

In Conversation with Carlos Cippelletti

Pianist, composer and arranger Carlos Cippelletti, is a promising young Spanish, Franco-Cuban artist from the last generation of Afro-Cuban jazz musicians born outside the...

Celebrating Jane Bunnett: Spirits of Havana’s 30th Anniversary

After dark they gather, the spirits of Havana. Is that a ghostly, but fatback-toned rapping down in the barrio where the great composer and...

Piazzolla Cien Años: Lord of the Tango@100

There is a now famous photograph of the great Ástor Piazzolla that is iconic for so many reasons. Chief among them is the manner...

Omara Portuondo, Multifaceted Gem of Cuban Music

My moon app announces that in 14 hours the Supermoon of May will be here. During a full moon I often get inspired to...

Ray Barretto · Barretto Power

Barretto Power: A Celebratory Reissue on its 50th Anniversary It was 1970 when Fania Records released Barretto Power, one of a series of seminal albums...

El Gran Fellové: Part 3- When my Parents…

When my parents bought their home in 1968, Sunset Beach was just another sleepy little beach town It spanned about one mile in length, sandwiched...

Join our mailing list

Participate in contests, giveaways and more