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Thursday, 12 June 2014, 08:03 PM

ACAS Blow Away the Hardened Timbaphile

3 More Nights at SF JAZZ - Hollywood Bowl on Sunday

photos by Tom Ehrlich

UPDATED: click continue reading below for more Tom Ehrlich photos

The Afro-Cuban All Stars began life as the Rolls Royce of heritage acts, showcasing Cuban legends like Omara Portuondo, Félix Baloy, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Compay Segundo, et al. Today's ACAS is quite a different beast. The repertoire is largely the same - Chan Chan, El cuarto de tulo, Kila Quique y Chocolate (and now a fresh Arsenio classic, Cangrejo fue a estudiar)  - but the arrangements and execution have become much more modern, exciting and innovative. 

The new rhythm section is tremendous. The break-dancing youngster from the last tour, Tony Moreaux (of royal Grupo Changüí de Guantánamo lineage) is now the old man of the group, joined by two twenty-year old phenoms: conguero Tany Allende (who's already paid his dues with the like of Alain Pérez and Yoel Páez in Spain) and timbalero Caleb Michel (a native English speaker from Phoenix who plays like an ENA graduate). Hearing these three lace the traditional songs with cutting edge timba percussion fireworks is like a shot of pure adrenaline when combined with bassist Giovanni Cofiño, the ex-Revé musical director whose praises I've sung many times, and Marco Crego, who played piano on Klímax's epic third album and was heavily involved in the early formation of Grupo Dansón, which of course became Havana d'Primera. All told it's one of the most exciting new rhythm sections I've heard in recent years. 

The lead vocals are pared down to the consummate pro, Emilio Suárez, and De Marcos himself, who turns out to be quite a singer. He and Suárez spent half of their time with cordless microphones, mingling and dancing with audience members while they sang - never missing a note. By the end, the normally staid SFJAZZ crowd was dancing from the rafters.

Among the most innovative features of this band is the horn configuration. To explain, there's a reason why Van Van and Revé use three trombones: trumpets, while higher, more agile and generally more exciting,  are notoriously hard to play in tune. They're thrilling live when you've had a few beers, but their physical construction, combining valves with the natural overtone series, is a nightmare. De Marcos starts with three exceptionally well-trained trumpeters, but his master stroke is the addition of a bass clarinet. The idea no doubt stemmed from the fact that he wanted to bring his daughter on tour, but the result is a revelation. The perfectly intoned orchestral instrument creates a rich, fat base that holds the trumpets together like glue. Combined with the crystal clear and exquisitely revealing acoustics of the SF JAZZ venue, it's the best trumpet section sound I've ever heard live - and I didn't have a few beers to help me arrive that conclusion - only coffee. Another new sonic feature is JdM's other daughter, who normally plays keyboards, now doubling on a vibe-synth, played with mallets.

Finally, props have to be given to SF JAZZ itself. That room is a work of art. It's never too loud (a miracle if you're a veteran of Cuban music concerts). You hear the rhythm section coming live off of the stage and the vocals and horns from vast arrays of small speakers hanging down from the rafters above. It may not be any better than Yoshi's Oakland on their best night, but SF JAZZ is set up so that there are no bad nights and although it has a huge capacity, the sound is perfect everywhere and every seat "feels" close to the stage.

Get down there tonight through Saturday if you can. Los Angeleans game to brave the Playboy Jazz Fest can hear them on Sunday.

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Wednesday, 11 June 2014, 05:13 PM

Afro-Cuban All Stars on Tour

Tonight through Saturday in SF

Juan de Marcos is back with another amazing lineup of talent. New members including Giovanni Cofino, ex-bassist and arranger of Revé and Marcos Crego, the ex-pianist of Klimax - also the son of El Greco, the legendary NG La Banda / Irakere trumpeter. Click here for tickets and more info, and here for the rest of the tour, including Los Angeles on the 15th.

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Sunday, 08 June 2014, 07:37 PM

New CD Reviews + Interactivo Concert Gallery

Nuevas reseñas de CD + Galeria de Fotos: Interactivo en Bertolt Brecht

ENGLISH: Que Líndo Es El Amor, the newest release by Interactivo, won the Fusion category in Cubadisco 2014.  It is a truly exceptional recording, and you can purchase it online in the United States, something that doesn't always happen with these new releases.  You can read the review here
ESPAÑOL:  Que líndo es el amor, el último lanzamiento de Interactivo, gamó la categoría Fusión en Cubadisco 2014.  Es una grabación verdaderament excepcional, y se puede comprar en Internet en Estados Unidos, algo que no siempre ocurre con estos nuevos lanzamientos.  Se puede leer la reseña aquí.  

ENGLISH: Bueno, by Descemer Bueno, won three Cubadisco awards in 2013.  It's an album of contemporary song that features some of Cuba's best Jazz musicians and singers in the recording. You can read the review here
ESPAÑOL: Bueno, por Descemer Bueno, ganó tres premios Cubadisco en 2013.  Es un disco de canción contemporánea que cuenta con algunos de los mejores Jazzistas y trovadores en Cuba en la grabación.  Se puede leer la reseña aquí.  

ENGLISH:  Reflections, by Chuchito Valdés, is very new and musically speaking, it is the album for which this writer has been waiting for from him a long time.   Chuchito's best work to date as a composer and one of the best new Jazz recordings to be released so far this year.  You can read the review here
ESPAÑOL: Reflections, por Chuchito Valdés, es muy nuevo, y, hablando musicalmente, es el disco para lo cuál este escritor ha estado esperando de él por mucho tiempo.  Su mejor trabajo como compositor hasta la fecha, y una de las mejores nuevas grabaciones de Jazz que se ha lanzado este año hasta aquí.  Se puede leer la reseña aquí.  


ENGLISH:
  Finally:  Bill Tilford saw Interactivo live in Habana during Cubadisco 2014.  You can see a gallery here. 
ESPAÑOL:  Por último, Bill Tilford vio Interactivo en directo en La Habana durante Cubadisco 2014. Se puede ver una galería aquí. 

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Saturday, 07 June 2014, 03:05 AM

Mayito Foto Extravanza

Bamboleo Canceled on West Coast

The bad news is that the Bamboleo US Tour is canceled. The good news is that Tom Ehrlich has finished his mega-gallery on all three Mayito Rivera appearances. And of course don't forget to check out Mayito's Tribute to Juan Formell.

BOOK NEWS: my long-awaited (by me, anyway) 440-page history of Puerto Rico, NY and pre-timba Cuba is finally out in hard-copy. The audio and eBook are coming soon. Also, Rebecca Cline's Latin Jazz piano method book is out and it's excellent. [Kevin Moore]

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