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Study - Timba Gears "Reelin' in the Gears" - Gears in Action: En Vivo
Gears in Action - pt. 2 - En Vivo!
The gear system, and Paulito's ability to improvise, allowed the 1998 band to perform the same few songs over and over, with very different and exciting results each time.
De La Habana
¿Y ahora qué?
¿Y San Toma qué?
Con la conciencia tranquila
La última bala
No te lo creas
Played somewhat less often:
Entre dos amigos
No me puedo enamorar
Tú no me calculas
Estamos en escena
Most hardcore fans agree that live Timba is immensely more exciting than studio recordings and there are many reasons why. After hearing dozens of live concerts and recordings of live concerts by any given band, one starts to get a sense of which parts are worked out and which are improvised. Each band has its own way allowing for the spontanaeity which is the life's blood of great live performances. For example, in case of the legendary Issac Delgado band of 1997, the gear changes are much more loosely defined than Paulito's, but if you listen carefully to Alain Pérez on bass and Melón González on piano, it's almost as if they're soloing -- each iteration of the tumbao is fair game for virtuosic variations and improvisations. It's the best of two worlds -- combining the visceral gratification of the best Pop music with the unpredictable musical creativity of the best Jazz. With Bamboleo, watch pianist/leader Lazarito Valdés as he holds up different numbers of fingers to cue in different bloques at different points each night. In the case of Manolito y su Trabuco, listen to the bombastic and heavily improvised fills of their titanic drummer Roicel Riverón. In contrast, Charanga Habanera uses a much more rigid structure because it's necessary to support the visual element of their intricately choreographed espectáculo (stage show).
In the case of Paulito and the Élite of 1998, the bloques and bass tumbaos were more predictable than those of Issac's greatest group, but this allowed the overall structure of the song itself to become more open-ended. By virtue of his lightning fast wits and the presence of musicians who could recognize and react instantly to hand signals which he seamlessly integrated into his dance routines, Paulito was able to improvise form at a level never attempted by any other pop group of any genre, before or after. For each song, he had a large palette of optional coros, and would at times even invent new ones on the spot. Likewise, Ceruto and his crack horn section had a variety of mambos which could be mixed and matched. Each song had at least one special Pedal and one special Songo con Efectos section, and one or more unique bloques to move from one section to the next. Each large subsection would begin with Breakdown gear, during which Paulito would talk to the crowd, sing free-form improvisations, and present the idea for the next coro. The coro could enter in Marcha or Pedal, and before it was over the gear would shift about once every 8 basic steps between Bomba, Songo con Efectos, and Marcha, in any order desired. Next would come a horn Mambo, starting in Marcha de Mambo gear, but then also receiving the Bomba and/or Songo con Efectos treatment. The conceptual breakthrough of this approach was to separate the band into two sections -- bass & percussion versus horns, voices & piano -- and to give each of them a different methodology for switching from one section to the next -- so that the structural form of the arrangement was being spontaneously developed on two different levels and at two different sets of time intervals. The music genius of Pablo Fernández Gallo was his ability to keep one foot, as it were, in each of three worlds -- conducting this ever-changing symphony of rhythms and gear changes, singing brilliantly and spontaneously, and, last but not least, dancing and interacting with the crowd with a level of showmanship that almost rivaled that of Charanga Habanera, whose dynamic front men were in no way burdened with the lofty task of directing the overall flow of the music.
But tragically, 1998 was the peak when it shouldt have only been the beginning. In case you're wondering why we've mentioned but not yet defined Songo con Efectos gear, it's because it wasn't developed until after Con la conciencia tranquila was recorded. This brilliant but short-lived incarnation of La Élite broke up (in December, 1998) a year and half before Paulito recorded his next album. There's no telling how many new gears this group might have developed had they stayed together, and had Timba not been knocked off course into "reggaetón" and other insipid attempts at crossover commerciality. As it is, tragically, the key members of Timba's greatest rhythm section are scattered from Barcelona to Madrid to Miami to Sao Paolo -- with none of them now playing a note of Timba, while Paulito himself, having furthermore lost his arranger and musical soulmate Juan Ceruto, drifts farther and farther from his brilliant past as he chases the elusive and ultimately irrelevant dream of success in the fickle global pop market.
Having managed in two short paragraphs to both deify and villify the enigmatic Mr. FG, I'd better refrain from my "flip-flopping" and get back to the subject at hand -- namely, the gears of La Élite in live performance.
Below are complete streaming mp3 files and gear by gear analyses of 7 live versions of Y San Toma qué, ranging from early 1997 to late 1998. Each blue link will play a complete, unedited, live mp3. The idea is for you to click on the blue link, dance in place, count your basic steps, and see if you can follow the gear chart below.The number to the left of each line is the number of basic steps before going on to the next gear change. If you find yourself feeling the urge to despeloteándote during the pedales and bomba, you're on the right track!