Indice - Table of contents
Fotos: Tom Ehrlich : Con Tumbao 6-18-22
Reportes: From The St... : Cubadisco 2...
Grupos: Changüí de Gua... : Músicos - Members
Grupos: Changüí de Gua... : Videos
Fotos: Tom Ehrlich : Berkeley-2022
Fotos: Tom Ehrlich : Berkeley 2022
Grupos: Pupy y los que Son Son
Grupos: Emilio Frias "El... : Discography
Grupos: Emilio Frias "El... : Músicos - Members
Giras: Emilio Frias "El Niño" y La Ve...
Grupos: NG La Banda : Músicos
Fotos: Tom Ehrlich : Interview with Carlos...
Grupos: Klímax : Fiesta del Tambor - 2...
Grupos: Klímax : Fiesta del Tambor 202...
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STUDIO RECORDINGS - 1990s:
The first three Klimax studio CD's are an astounding body of work with endless layers of musical sophistication. The melodies and harmonies are so original that repeated listenings are frequently necessary before the listener is able to hum along, but it's well worth the effort. It's tempting to compare Klimax to The Yellowjackets or Steely Dan because both their music and their quirky and sometimes controversial lyrics are so intellectually stimulating, but they could just as easily be compared to Earth Wind & Fire for their raw, earthy rhythmic drive. Above all, of course, Klimax is Cuban, and modernized and reharmonized influences of guaguancó, batá music, and the entire history of Cuban pop are the deepest basis for their music.
1995 - Mira Si Te Gusta - The new listener can get a sense of the scope of Klimax by quickly listening to the first 10 to 15 seconds of each track. Each introduction is a strikingly original miniature composition with rhythmic and harmonic innovations that baffle the imagination. Proceed next to the title track with its throbbing bomba-rap groove. The arrangement is a tour de force, juxtaposing every possible musical element. At 3:05 we have piano vocals and percussion; at 3:44 just brass and percussion; at 4:37 brass, voices and percussion. Crying out to be mentioned is the skillfully-integrated nod to Los Van Van's "Que la den Candela" at 4:21. And the lyrics are anything but just another love song. Like Randy Newman, Steely Dan or Elvis Costello, Klimax's lyrics challenge the listener to unravel their meanings, and dare to take on unusual and controversial subjects, in this case voyeurism and exhibitionism. Like the best art, Klimax's music and lyrics are open to endless interpretations, which is one reason that after seven years, this CD can still shock, surprise and inspire its listeners. The next two tracks to tackle are "Consejo a una Amiga" and "Catarro Chino", each a masterpiece in every respect. Both of these songs are still performed live and spectacular live versions are included on the priceless two-disc "Concierto Europtropical" CD mentioned below. The melody and harmony of the main songform of "Consejo a una Amiga" are drastically different from any other pop song ever written and on the first listenings can sound strange and hard to follow. The melody uses every note of the chromatic scale as it weaves its way gracefully through the drastic modulations of the chord progression. Writing strange and original music in itself is not necessarily a great feat, but this song gets less strange and more beautiful with each listening until its intrinsic logic reveals itself and transforms the complex structure into a hummable series of fully satisfying pop "hooks". "Mi Vecina", "Una Corazonada" and "Lo Que Me Falto por Hacerte" are three more exquisite tracks which have to be mentioned, and in fact, almost every bar of this and the other two Klimax CD's contains some sort of lovingly and thoughtfully constructed musical gem.
1997 - Juego de Manos - The second CD picks up where the first left off, both in terms of controversial and irreverent lyrical content and sublime musical beauty. The first 3 tracks are an outpouring of melodic invention. The body of each song is worthy of the best "standards" of Jobim, Richard Rodgers or Gershwin and yet completely different from any of them, and the arrangments and performances seamlessly weave one beautiful and unusual musical idea into the next. A good starting place for the first-time listener is "Aún Así" - the beautiful opening songform; Riverón's baby bass in a duet with Calunga's soaring tenor at 2:08; the way the sudden modulation to Ab at 3:00 sounds so natural sandwiched between two coro sections in F with only a montuno and no bass to accompany them; the folkloric triplet interjection in the bells at 3:41; the 3-part brass polyphony against the coro at 4:30, and the euphoric combination of the piano montuno 3-part coro whenever the bass drops out. The harmonies and modulations are very complex but the voices and brass make them sound completely natural by always finding the sweetest possible notes. There are more original musical hooks in these three songs that one is likely to find in the entire recorded output of most artists. The fourth track, "El Cocinero", changes the mood from the innocent Mozartean flow of melody to that of a master course in virtuoso arranging. The first 10 seconds could be from a modern jazz big band chart. This is followed by a few bars of Cuban folkloric guaguancó, only to bring in the voices, a capella, singing a very traditional-sounding Cuban Son coro which makes it through two short repeats before mutating into an even more outside modern jazz horn section, which itself disolves into Rap, with the three rapping singers leap-frogging each other until Calunga's final segment soars, via the cleverest transition yet, back into the Son feel. By 3:44 the feel has changed to funky hardcore Timba, complete with a brilliantly syncopated "chanted coro" worthy of Charanga or Bamboleo at their best. This is then blended first into a polyphonic mambo, and then into a mind-bending section which alternates between a new coro, a fragment of the chanted rap coro, and an increasingly folkloric series of guías. By the end the singers sound like 60 year old rumberos straight out of Matanzas. Track 6, "Fidelidad", is the first of Piloto's extremely successful experiments in modernizing and reharmonizing the songs of his famous father, Giraldo Piloto, Sr., who along with Alberto Vera, formed the most successful Cuban songwriting team of the 50's and 60's. "Te Los Marcaron" and "Tengo tu Amor" are both by Yusef Díaz, a brilliant composer and arranger whose work complements Piloto's perfectly. Singer Manuel Denis contributes 3 more songs and in an effort to increase European marketability, the record company asked that Klimax include a cover of "Cuba", complete with goofy English lyrics. The final two tracks, "Amor de Hospital" and "Clases para todos" are pure, glorious Piloto, concluding this classic disc as it began. The lyrics of this CD were even more unusual and controversial that those of Mira Si Te Gusta - so much so that the album was actually banned from radio and television play in Cuba (although they still sell it in the airport!). In response to this Piloto wrote the song "El Ventilador", which itself was banned before it could be included on a studio CD. Thus, the only existing commercial recording is the live performance on the second Concierto Europtropical CD/Video package described below. The live performance is exquisite and it's one of Klimax's best songs with a hard-driving groove and beautiful harmonies and coros throughout.
1999 - Oye Como Va - Klimax fans are equally divided as to which of the three CD's is the best, but there's little doubt that the third is the most perfectly arranged, recorded and mixed. It begins and ends with short, hard-driving Timba grooves, "Presentación" and "Despedida". Along the way there are two very interesting re-arrangements of early Piloto hits. "Mi Estrella" was written for Charanga Habanera and here it's played much slower and with greatly modernized harmonies. It's also played a two keys higher to take advantage of Carlos Calunga's incredible high range, a good 5 or 6 notes higher than even Marc Anthony. The other remake, also beautifully modernized and transposed up for Calunga, is "Te Confunde Ser Esa Mujer", Piloto's first #1 hit, written for NG La Banda nearly a decade ago. [See Piloto's timba.com interview for more on this - For those wishing to compare the versions, "Mi Estrella" can be found on "Hey You, Loca" and "Te Confunde" is on "Llegó NG, Camará"]. There are also two short cha-cha's, both covers - the late Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" , and yet another version of "Cuba". Going back even further into the past is "Y Deja", incorrectly listed on the CD as being written by "Giraldo Piloto and Leo Vera". In fact, it was written by one of the most prolific and successful Cuban songwriting teams of the 50's and 60's, Giraldo Piloto, Sr. and Alberto Vera. Like "Rodgers & Hammerstein", or "Lennon & McCartney", the two became known as "Piloto y Vera". But this distinction was lost on the record company artistic director, who assumed, logically, that "Piloto y Vera" referred to Piloto, Jr. and Leo Vera, who coincidentally sings this track! This song was also recorded by Los Zafiros and later by Ruben Blades. The new Klimax version is greatly modernized and the song sounds very much as if it had been written in 2001. Two more tracks have roots in the more recent past. "La Número Cien" was first recorded in 1999 on CD and video as part of the "Cubamanía" project. The new version is similar, but much better recorded and mixed and bit slower and more refined. In either incarnation it's one of Piloto's strongest songs and a great vocal performance by Leo Vera. "Si Mi Cama Está Vacía", written by Piloto and arranged by Piloto and Díaz, was originally recorded by Venezuela's most popular band, Guaco on their 1999 release, "Como Era y Como Es". It turns out the musicians of Guaco are big Klimax fans and when they shared the stage at a festival in Bogotá they asked Piloto for an arrangement. On a later visit to Havana, Piloto gave them the charts and a cassette of this song. Given that both bands recorded their versions from the same charts, it's very interesting to compare the performances. This still leaves seven more tracks - all new originals and all utterly brilliant. In addition to the aforementioned "Regalo de Amor", the standout track, and easily one of the best Timba tracks ever recorded, is "Yo No Quiero Que Mi Novia Sea Religiosa". After a mysterious harplike chord, the arrangement starts with Leo Vera and the coro incanting a Santería prayer in completely authentic fashion. As the folkloric performance reaches its third phrase, modern synthesizer chords fade in, reharmonizing the traditional melody in a very beautiful and natural way, and building into an explosive drumset fill which brings in the body of the arrangement. The cuerpo, sung by Juan Carlos Hechevarría, alternates between an irresistibly catchy coro and one of Piloto's most beautiful verses to date. Click here for an excerpt of this great song.
If the original idea of Timba was to make Cuban music which incorporates great songwriting ideas from other types of music, Piloto has long since transcended this "fusion" idea and is writing harmonies and melodies unique to any genre. And those who criticize Timba for repetitive, prosaic or offensive lyrics need to pay close attention to this one, which affectionately makes light of many of strange and fascinating details of the unique religion which is so integrally-woven into every aspect of Cuban life and music. The rest of the arrangement fully lives up to its initial promise, delivering quite a few more musical thrills, including a simple but exhilarating offbeat bloque guaranteed to lift the listener right off of the ground. Yusef Díaz plays an even larger creative role on this disc, contributing 5 arrangements and perhaps his best composition to date, "Una Guiñaita".