(by Dave Hucker, from The Beat, Vol. 25, No. 5, 2006)
Willie Bobo always had lotso meaning for me: (A) As a top percussionist, one of the old-school generation pioneers of crossover jazz with roots spanning the decades between Chano Pozo, Tito Puente, boogaloo/ Latin soul and pop.
(B) His funky fusion cuts were well known for frequently grooving dance floors I had control of. But you could find Willie in the funk clubs and the jazz-dance clubs. He genuinely was popular across the board straddling the musical interests in London at the time. One of the many Willie Bobo tracks that I played over the years was 1978's "Always There" with its searing red-hot trumpet jazzy funkiness. It had been a staple in my dj set; I liked it so much, I put it on a compilation I did in 1988 titled Latino Connection (Caliente). I thought I knew most of the best of Willie. However my gob got a really good smacking when I was introduced to a heap of unreleased Willie Bobo with Lost and Found (Concord Jazz).
The tapes had been residing in Willie's widow's wardrobe before they were unearthed by son Eric, 13 years after his father's death. The tracks had been recorded between 1970-76 -- in many ways Lost and Found is a missing link in Willie's musical progression. It is also a chance to listen to Willie in a very pure form, as some of these recordings were demos, with all the one-time rough edge that means.
There is some really outstanding music here. It just sounds so fresh while also framed by the musical period in which it existed. The songs are well constructed and have a proper musical progression, the musicians are tight and sweet, while the songs from Dale Frank are perfect. Overall the purity of this no-overdubbing recording simply spills out and rushes towards your ears in a very analog way.
The version of "Broasted or Fried" here is certainly a premier one, whereas "Pretty Lady" is a Latin pop construction way ahead of its time, as it rips off into a reggae/Caribbean groove and proto-Spanish rap. Spanish rap over Jamaican and funky riddim? This was a decade before the Panamanian reggae espanol of Nando Boom and El General and another decade before its modern child -- reggaeton -- was born.
Willie was always so way ahead of the pop Latin style and always so in the groove, he knew where the pop sensibility was ever since his days with Perez Prado. This release gives us some pure, soulful Willie Bobo at his best. "Midnight Lover" is just so funky with its scintillating guitar and a horn section that sounds welded together. "Soul Foo Young" is a mega-cyclonic funky chock-sockee riddim where the vortex swirls eastward. There are also the very, very slurpy tunes, but because they are so well done, we forgive them for their viscosity. However null pointe for the designer of the sleeve who chose a minuscule distressed typewriter- style typeface against a black background for the sleeve notes, which make them virtually illegible. I had to resort to a magnifying glass to attempt, with great difficulty, to read them. So a box of crayons and a coloring book for this designer.
And in future a ban on using computergenerated typefaces. Only letterpress can be used and they have to set the lead slugs in the form and pull the proofs themselves.
Speaking of reggaeton, Tego Calderon's new release El Subestimado/The Underdog (Jiggiri/ Atlantic) has been getting very favorable nods from the reggaeton cognoscenti. Even persons less enamored with the style find good things to say about Tego and especially his latest offering. He has been getting better all the time, standing tall above the lesser reggaetonistas. His loose, smart, sassy lyrics with their thick, good-natured unpretentious and off-the-wallness bounce off the sharp layers of sound and rhythm. The construction of tracks is subcontracted to a whole heap of different collaborators. Err, let me read this: DJ Nelson, Danny Fornaris, DJ Nesty, Naldo, DJ Joe, Echo and Diesel, Cookee Major League, Salaam Remi, Erick Figueroa, Daniel Cruz and Eduardo Lobo and Troyton Rami and no, I've never heard of most of these characters either, apart from hardcore salsa pianist Figueroa.
Subestimado clocks in (depending on your clas- sification of interludes and fillers) at about 19 real tracks. So it is good value for money but that also shows the compactness of the songs: four-plus minutes is a scarcity. It packs a punch -- it has torque as well as talk. Tego has been exploring more straight salsa themes recently. His overdubbing of Tommy Olivencia's "Plante Bandera" was a major breakthrough (RIP Tommy Olivencia, who died at the end of September -- you were one of the unknown giants of late-'70s/early-'80s salsa).
From this release the salsa-oriented cuts are "Chango Blanco" and "Llora, Llora." "Chango Blanco" is a mambo-ish masterpiece with all the rough edges that it could almost be one of those 1970s salsa garage bands of which I am so fond. Tego rides this tune well, and it has lovely guitar too. The classic Oscar D'Leon song "Lloraras" is a standout, getting a spectacular going-over. With Oscar providing new vocals and bouncing off Tego, this works so well at mixing the elements together seamlessly, when the beat drops the piano stitches the original and new together. A great mix, your choice, you dance with the salsa elements or the new beats. I'm sure this track will be warmly welcomed by the many djs who refuse to put on the popular but overplayed original. So the chance to not only to play a version to please the wingers and even better, a reggaeton one as well -- well it's three-and-a-half minutes of manna from heaven. The final salsa thing is "Llevatelo Todo," well, it's more of a pan-Caribbean groove.
For me, other high points include "Mardi Gras" where a rank guitar darts above the vapors of this bluesy track. "Slo Mo" is a sublime groove with nice nuttiness and a slow hip-hop mix-up with a dose of chatter. There is less difference between the best of the reggaeton boys and soneros than you might think."Payaso" is pretty damn funky and features a sample of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man." "Chillin" has fellow in lyrical crime Don Omar and is a muy superior calidad rockers, it has everything including an organ and a top-build quality.
"Veo Veo" produces pretty dense words over a sparse, chunky-funky unreconstructed riddim with guitar and inbred craziness, while "Cuando Baila Reggeton" has another universal Caribbean sensibility. "Bureo Bureo" has a jazzy flavor. Buju Banton pops up on "Bad Man," bigs up himself and other parts of the Caribbean but contributes little. His addition is one of the least-interesting tracks on this major release. Tego definitely has the swing and is on a serious roll. I think Subestimado will stand as one of the highpoints of reggaeton so far.
Tego should go and do something with the Santiago de Cuba reggaeton posse(s). They would all get on very well together. Musical barriers do not exist, political barriers are leaky. So the idea is everybody meets on neutral territory in Jamaica. Eddie Palmieri could be there meeting Tego halfway as well and them all getting together with Herman Olivera for true sonero lyrical duke-out. It makes sense, it could happen.
Sally Nyolo went home, back to her roots in Cameroon and recorded, in a basic studio in a tinroofed hut, musicians who she discovered after appearing on tv and appealing for new talent to come and see her. She and the artists have been fully triumphant and have created a most interesting release. Studio Cameroon (Riverboat) features, as you might expect from such a pyrotechnical vocalist like Sally, a hearty dose of female vocals.
The cd opens and sets the high standards that follow with Guéyanka and Sally's "Souris-moi." Sally describes Guéyanka as being like Miriam Makeba and I'm not going to argue with her. They bounce off each other trying to outdo each other with fabbo crazy vocals that veer between punk and scat jazz. Sally's screech, like monkeys in the forest canopy, was a major part of Zap Mama's d.i.y. punk sensibility.
Sally shows the more traditional Cameroon side to her voice with "Bikoutsi," which beguiles us with a smooth, finely honed melody and very slippery riddims that develop. Not only that, demented doo-wop vocals drop in. The Bidjoi sisters are students at Sally's old school; their "Chantal" is one of those simple and beautiful melodies, flowing above a very good rootsy reggae-ish groove that ends up with the sounds of the street wafting in and becoming part of the mix, creating something of great beauty.
Other high points in this 14-track release include Orchestre D'Essono with "La Vie," a sweet, gentle highlife-style song, and Mr. Eddy's "Obili Eba," a proto makossa with lovely guitar. Mandeng is a singer recommended by the local chief as a man with great talent. His "Mote Atane" is a deep'n'groovy effort with wild percussion. However Gisele Mvo Anji is a phenomenal discovery, she has a magnificent voice. On "Djim Miadje," her pure, ringing honeyed tones drip over the octaves. She is capable and well endowed with an ability to go to every kind of emotion. When she starts talking the chorus, it hits a another groove.
Studio Cameroon is a major release which oozes good vibes with its fresh-sounding ambience with many musical nooks and crannies. And everybody sounds like they are so relaxed and having fun. Sally has done very well to give the artists the chance, time and space to make such fantastic music. I'm sure it will be very much appreciated and widely listened to.x Last time I mentioned underrated Puerto Rican vocalist Lefty Perez was over his 1997 release Soy Tuyo (Caiman). It has taken him nearly 10 years to get a new recording out. But Salseros Unidos (EsNtion) was worth the wait, it is a corker. The opening title track is the usual widescreen blockbuster necessary for beginning a cd, in this case a song about salsa and mentioning just about every country, star and musician of the past and present. Lefty has one of those classic, clear sonero voices,with a good range and the ability to move all over the place. The songs are all tight and well constructed, well arranged and have depth. Even what might seem to be yet another love song in "El Amor" has lyrical bite on top of the smoove groove.
One of the invited guests is violinist Alfredo De la Fe, who unleashes his perpetually wayward violin on a wild dance number titled "Guaya Guaya." There is the obligatory reggaeton-style track "Nunca Es Tarde" which is not that bad. So all in all another fine sharp effort from Lefty. He may be not be considered top level by some people but at least he takes care with his cds and creates a well-rounded creative release, unlike many of the so-called top stars like Marc Anthony or Victor Manuelle.
Another goodie comes from Ray Castro's Conjunto Clasico, Si Ella Estuviera (Machete). This band has been around for donkey's years in different forms. This one features a young NY singer called Hector Luis Pagan. Co-founder, songwriter and coro is Ramon Rodriguez. This is a collection of his tunes dating back to the '80s done in a very crisp manner, nothing groundbreaking, nothing radical, just quality music done well and with passion. There is one of my alltime fave songs "Olga y Maggara" redone here. I had to go back to listen to the original, this new "Magarra" version does add to the wonderfulness of the original. Si Ella Estuviera is good, solid, honest music.
This is totally mad crazy: I did try to ignore Albert Kuvezin's Re-Covers (World Village). I really did resist but I could not. It kept coming back at me, giving my mind a right good reaming. Produced by Ben Mandelson, who knows a thing or two about craziness, this is one of the most off-the-wall releases that will fall into your lap in recent memory.
Recovering from a series of setbacks including a car crash, Tuvan Albert found solace in his music collection of rock and blues which inspired him to make an album of his fave songs. His throat singing is this side of pleasant a la Tom Waits or the current Bob Dylan. Albert takes on some of the classics of Western rock and popular music and wins hands down. He has been wowing people for some time with his Yat Kha South Siberian growl. But this is different, this is craziness with a twist.
It's difficult to do but Hank Williams' "Ramblin Man" is just the other side of side of genius level, while "Man Machine" is a masterpiece of nonelectronica. But the version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is one of the most wonderful renditions of this great song, a song so great in its original form it has been difficult to better it, but Albert has. The good Captain Beefheart donates "Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles" -- this is taken to a place where even Don Van Vliet could not envisage. A whacked-out monster track whacked out quite a bit more. And as for "Wild Mountain Thyme" I am lost for words, all I can say is a feral "grrrr." Keep the candles burning because "Black Magic Woman" is a wild shit brujeria especial. "Exodus" is certainly one for the archives. It goes places the original never did but stays faithful and adds something new.
It is a major contribution to the world to take the Tuva style and inject these Western classics with another life. But as many commentators have said many other times that's what classic songs do. Re-Cover is one of those great albums. Certainly a best-of-year, a total classic mad in extremis release. It makes perfect sense to me, a unique very psychedelic look into another dimension. Thank you, Albert, for bringing some sanity to the world.
There is a hit tune that is on the Internet by dj Awadi of Positive Black Soul called "Sunugaal" that is about the current mass exodus of desperate people sailing the dangerous journey in pirogues from Senegal to the Canary Islands. This is a battle between the haves and those who want to have. The Spanish navy has been trying to stem the tide, but it is a pointless exercise just as pointless as it is trying to stop the Mexicans/Central Americans getting into America. The song calls on the Senegalese government to improve the lot of its citizens so they do not have to risk their lives trying to get out and find a better life. Every day the bodies of those who did not make it and the severely dehydrated, sunburned and hungry migrants who did, wash up on the tourist beaches of the Canaries. Early on in this year a pirogue of mummified Senegal migrants was found in the West Indies, having drifted the Atlantic. [www.studiosankara.com/sunugaal.html ; www.awadimusic.com ]