Música tropical de Cuba y Francia - Rubén Paz y Chéverefusión

SpanishEnglishDiscography - 1992-Échale Limón (Japanese version)

1992-1996 - The Middle  Period

cuban music, musica cubanaÉchale Limón (Japanese recording) - This is a complete recording session from Japan which has been released in at least three different packages which have the songs in different orders and possibly have different mastering, but the same recordings are on each one, whether it be the gorgeously-packed but incorrectly documented French pressing "Échale Limón", "Cabaret Estelar" from Caribe Productions or "Cabaret Panoramico" on BMG’s Kitty Records. Among the nine tracks are three of the quintessential masterpieces of Timba - "Échale Limón", "Santa Palabra" and "El Trágico". "Échale Limón" might be NG's greatest chart. It starts with Tosco rapping away over a funky march laid down by Calixto and Arango, who have a field day with the whole arrangement. While the recording quality is relatively good, the conga is tragically undermixed, so it's much more difficult to hear Wickly's contributions than it is on "En la Calle". In any case, at 0:15, Calixto plays the first of about 20 inspired and hard-swinging fills, bringing in the opening horn section. While the bass stays on a pedal tone, the horns play a majestic 4-note phrase and as the trumpets hold the last note, the saxes and keyboards descend in a countermelody worthy of Johannes Brahms, and then the two parts harmonize for the final three notes. The phrase then repeats, but now the bass is playing a beautiful and unexpected harmony, and the countermelody is varied to fit. The phrase resolves into a rhythmic break ("bloque"). Virtually every salsa arrangement starts with a short brass section, but it's hard to think of one to compare with this. After twenty seconds of soaring brass, we're back to the funky march, this time with the horns tossing in a paraphrase of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas". NG was well-versed in all phases of Jazz history. In their less inspired moments they threw in references more or less verbatim, but at their best, the quotes, like those in the best guías, use the Jazz quote simply as a jumping-off point for a new and inspired musical idea. The cuerpo consists of three sections of march/verse/chorus/horns. The verse is one of the best and most unusual in all of Timba - it has no piano, bass, horns, or congas! - just drums and a vocal melody created from only two different notes. Partway through the second phrase Miguelito Armas inserts five perfectly-voiced synthesizer chords creating an unforgettably catchy verse from the bare minimum of musical elements. The effect is reminiscent the verse of Michael McDonald's "Takin' it to the Streets". This is one of Tosco's rare lead vocals. The song fits his style, but the performance has its questionable moments, and leaves one imagining how great it would be to hear it sung by Tony Calá, Mena, or the already departed Issac Delgado. Such thoughts are forgotten at 2:53 as the head ends and the second of the two staccato brass punches which brought back the march now becomes a sustained chord. As the note rings out dramatically, Tosco says "y llegaron los chamacos" - in one phrase providing the inspiration for the signature catch phrases of both Issac ("llegaron...los metales de la salsa") and Manolín (who lovingly refers to his horn section as "Los Chamacos"). But even Tosco is silenced by what follows. The soaring brass fanfare that climaxes into the montuno section is one of the most inspired moments in all of music and defies any attempt to describe it in words.

cuban music, musica cubanaThe montuno section of "Échale Limón" begins with the piano doubling a syncopated and angular bassline. At 3:16 the rhythm section shifts to the next gear and Peruchín launches into one of his best and most influential montunos. It begins normally enough, although the chord progression makes even that sound very original, but at 3:20 is one of the first examples we've found of a "displaced" montuno, one of the conceptual breakthroughs that allowed pianists to break out of their formulaic patterns and to create the endlessly creative montunos which are so central to the great Timba that followed. We apologize if the reader is beginning to think that the website should be called www.echalelimon.com, but this is still only the halfway point! Tony Calá takes over to sing the guías and although there's a bit of uncharacteristic straining in the upper range, he sings one of the most inspired set guías ever recorded. After a great mambo and a few more guías, Tosco leads the old "a la derecha, a la izquierda" coro, but in Japanese! In the live version on the Musicales video described in Part I, they also do it in English and Russian! The mambo that follows is the second tip of the hat to Jazz tenor sax giant Sonny Rollins and a very interesting twist at that. Rollins took the chord progression of Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm" and wrote an original melody over it to create the Jazz classic "Oleo". Here, NG takes "Oleo", note for note, but plays it over the chords of Échale Limón, creating a very original effect and one that fits seamlessly into the arrangement. Check the polyrhythmic bloque at 5:30. All of the great Timba musicians are well-versed in folkloric music and the complex world of batá and guaguancó is always right under the surface ready to be called into action. On the last repetition of the "Oleo" mambo the bass drops out and switches to "bomba" style, which brings in the second coro - "estaba la langosta en su salsa". At 6:18 a third coro begins and Tony and Tosco each offer a folkloric guía to their favorite deities before going into harmony for "vamos a guarachar, mamá". The final mambo has the saxes and trumpets playing counterpoint and then brings the third coro back in on top of it before fading out to conclude one of the essential tracks of all Latin music.

The next 4 tracks give us a chance to recover before "Santa Palabra". As their titles suggest, each is based on a different traditional Cuban rhythm with explosions of modern NG jumping in and out at will. "Conga Negro Cansado" looks back to the "conga" dance craze of the 40's and 50's, "Murikami Mambo" is named for the Japanese entrepreneur who co-produced the album. At 3:54, Tony Calá pre-dates another of Manolín's trademarks - "A la batalla!". "Club 4 Cha Cha Cha" is written by Tosco, but sounds like it was written before his birth, although the arrangement has plenty of ideas from the 90's interspersed. Tosco's flute solo is one of the highlights of the track. Tosco could have had a very successful Maraca-esque career just on the strength of his brilliant flute playing. His ideas are always interesting and intelligent and his tone has all of the virtues of classical virtuosity and none of the affectations. "Danzón Rio Sumido" is mostly instrumental, also featuring the flute.

This brings us to what is rightfully NG La Banda's most famous song, "Santa Palabra". The arrangement doesn't have all the twists and turns and glorious technicolor of "Échale Limón", but as an overall performance, it's even better. Tony Calá is perfect - every guía is inspired and his voice has a resonance that few singers ever attain. The whole rhythm section swings relentlessly and Calixto Oviedo is flat out unbelievable. It would be worth buying the CD just for what he plays on the hihat on this track. The song consists of two 3:2 vamps and an incredible intro/outro. After a piano/bass intro, Calixto plays a simple but excruciatingly funky fill while Tosco throws off an exhortation ("brrrrrrrrrr.... ¡Siácara!") which Roberto Guayacán used 5 years later on "Te Pone la Cabeza Mala". At 0:20 an amazing series of cross-rhythms in the horns leads to the famous extended bloque at 0:34.

The cuerpo goes all the way to 5:18 with multiple verses and choruses, all based on the same 4-bar progression. Both the chorus and melodic outline of the verse are quite simple and repetitious but Calá and Calixto are so creative that almost every bar contains some unique and irresistible gem. For example, on the chorus the vocals start halfway into the first bar, leaving a big hole into which Calixto inserts a different magical drum fill each time. Compare what the drums play at 1:30, 1:40, 2:21, 2:32, 3:23, 3:34, 3:55 and 4:35, just before the chorus sings the words "Santa Palabra". When Calá joins in and improvises over the same hole, the effect is even more exciting. Listen to 2:21 ("Santísimo") and 3:23 ("oye, que todo lo sabe"). The other key point in the repeating structure is the beginning of the verse. Here there's no hole - Calá is always singing the beginning of some wonderful phrase while Arango drops out briefly, but Calixto fills it anyway, creating some of the highest moments of the whole track. Check out 0:59, 1:51, 2:43, 3:44 and especially 4:45. Last but not least is the verse that starts 4:05 - listen to the Calixto fill as Tony sings "Elegua, Elegua, Elegua, Elegua".

cuban music, musica cubanaIf one were trying to pick an example to demonstrate what "Timba" is, the second half of "Santa Palabra" would be a good choice. It starts at 5:16 with a piano breakdown, accompanied by a funky hihat pattern and an early example of the what is now a very common timba kick drum pattern (2, 2+, 4, 4+) while Calá calls out the words to the coro in advance, another device that Manolín and others would use later. "Despójate, quítate lo malo, Échalo pa' ‘trás, límpiate mi hermano". Then we get another early example of an important Timba arranging device. As the piano continues, the bass comes in with a powerful and dramatic melodic line, doubled by the synthesizer. Finally the coro enters. In concert this is accompanied by hand movements that everyone in Cuba knows. To put it all together, we have the first phrase of the bass and synth, and just as it ends, the first phrase of the coro enters. As the coro takes a breath, the double hit of the kick drum comes in, leaving after it a brief space for the sweetest notes of the piano montuno to shine through before then second phrase of the bass/synth, then the next phrase of the coro and so on. The parts leapfrog each other in perfect counterpoint and the masterful arrangement spotlights each one and each combination. After the second full repetition of the coro, Calixto plays a fiery fill, pounds out the rhythm of synth line and then answers it with the second half of the clave. After one more repetition with the whole band blazing, the piano drops out and the drums switched to a folkloric groove. Another bloque on the rhythm of the synth line brings the piano and horns in and the bass switches to a fuller tumbao and Chappotín plays a great trumpet solo over the other horns while the coro continues. This is the magic of the Timba - the many elements of the groove are isolated and combined in every possible combination. When they all go into high gear together, it should clash and sound too busy, but it doesn't. In his fascinating interview on ChuckSilverman.com, ex-NG drummer Jimmy Branly talks about how he had to learn to play much less to succeed as a session drummer in Los Angeles - "In Cuba everyone is playing on top of everyone. But the thing is it sounds good. Because for what you’re playing you need what the other guy is playing to make it work. What you’re doing doesn't work by itself. You need the other guy overplaying on top of you at the same time. In that way it sounds like one instrument. That's the concept behind the new Timba, the new Latin style, the new fusion."

"Santa Palabra" is followed by two mellower tracks sung by Mena. "Bolero Advertido" is a short, traditional bolero beautifully tinged with Jazz orchestrations. Next is "Como Pantera", the longest track on the CD at over 9 minutes. It starts out mellow and then slowly builds the energy level back up to prepare for the powerful concluding track, "El Trágico". It starts out as a guaguancó and Calá enters with a typical folkoric a capella vocal, but the melody sounds strangely familiar. A little later Peruchín enters to reveal the source of Tony’s guía, Grieg's Piano Concierto in Ami, played note for note with beautiful classical technique on a real acoustic piano. (Much Salsa and almost all Timba is recorded on electric keyboards by choice because the timbre cuts through the percussion better). After another folkloric interlude, Peruchín re-enters with one of his best montunos, again against just kick drum and hi-hat. A funky Calixto break leads into another of Tosco's soaring symphonic horn themes. When Mena and Calá enter, trading verses, Peruchín adds a bluesy figure that makes the montuno one of the most memorable features of the chart. Like so many great Timba songs, this one can be instantly recognized by the montuno alone. The song, and album, end with another searing Chappotín solo and one of NG's most inspired folkloric sections. Timba is frequently described as Salsa which incorporates Rock and Jazz influences, but as evidenced by Santa Palabra and El Trágico, the folkloric, Santería-based Afro-Cuban influences are at least as important in defining the style. One of NG's most compelling innovations was its ability to create strikingly original music by adding modern harmonies to Afro-Cuban rhythms and vocals which are traditionally sung with just drums and by using the kick drum and bass to mimic the "conversational" interplay that's so central to folkloric drumming.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 03:31 AM