Caravana Cubana: Late Night Sessions could be viewed as how the recent Buena Vista Social Club phenom might have played out had Ry Cooder come to L.A. instead of Havana to record scads of Cuban octogenarians. And here they are, all the local expats, young and old, trotted out in force to throw down on these immensely diggable eight tracks.
This soulful record is a major event in L.A.'s finally-coming-of-age local salsa and Latin-jazz scene. Producer-musicologist Alan Geik has hooked up three generations, at least, of Cuban players, resident and visiting, with the composing of local salsero José Caridad "Perico" Hernandez, whose band Charangoa has been a mainstay at El Floridita restaurant and the L.A. Latin club circuit for many years. Unlike the bolero- and son-heavy Buena Vista album, here there's not only a wider variety of several rural Cuban styles, there are also intricate descarga jams closer in instrumentation and groove to the African side of things, as well as a superbly swingin', bop-informed jazz harmony flavor.
This great-for-dancing-or-listening album took seven arrangers to put together: Nelson Montalvo, Joe Rotondi, David Stout, Gary Eisenberg, Perico Hernández, Carlos Del Puerto Jr. and Lázaro Galarraga. One of Geik's big scoops was bagging classical and jazz pianist Jesus "Chucho" Valdés during one of the maestro's recent visits to L.A. for a session that produced "Chucho Carabalí," a smoking instrumental bop melody written and arranged by Rotondi, with dazzling charts by Eisenberg. Geik also pulled in bassist Al McKibbon, the big Diz and Bird connection who copped his Cuban chops from Chano Pozo in the Gillespie band. Vocally, the highlights are by Lázaro Galarraga, practitioner of sacred Afro-Cuban music, Pío Leiva, another 84-year-old sonero from '50s Havana, and Perico himself. Francisco Aguabella, who brought bata drums into the U.S. in 1955 and has been working in L.A. and New York ever since, also jams, as does conguero Raúl Travieso Rodríguez, brother of the late Arsenio. The new salsa generation is well-represented, including Jimmy Bosch, the ass-kicking young trombonist and rising international jazz star whose solos alone are worth the price of the CD, while flutist Orlando "Maraca" Valle, conguero Miguel "Angá" Díaz, bassist Carlos Del Puerto Jr. and vocalists from Bamboleo all shine.
Buying the Buena Vista Social Club record was never enough to neatly round out your groovy collection . . . you need more . . . this record is essential.
Jesus "Chucho" Valdes, Perico Hernández, Al McKibbon
Stop me if you've heard this one before: 20 years into his/her recording career, there's a cult artist whom some of the people reading this sentence know intimately, perhaps even in the biblical sense, and the rest haven't heard a single note of this person's music (and probably wouldn't like it if they did). A few of the latter -- like you in the back -- retain open minds. This review is for you, and everybody else who just wants to have a low-cost laugh over the usual Thursday-afternoon latte.
English as a bag of prawn-flavoured crisps, Robyn Hitchcock has been playing his patented brand of acidic folk-rock-pop since he first surfaced with the Soft Boys back in the late '70s. Then the singer-songwriter-guitarist took his BeatlesByrdsSyd Barrett songbook and went solo, where his musical (nonprimitive) approach to Art Rock, respect for classic song structure, and surreal humor -- endless songs about insects and amphibians that aren't really about insects and amphibians -- helped make him the kind of man you read about in things like the previous paragraph. (If any of this sounds like your particular cup of chocolate-covered ants, start with Rhino's '97 Hitchcock compilation or the Soft Boys' reissued Underwater Moonlight LP.)
This new album, however, is mostly love songs. They're highly stylized (setting sentiments such as "I Feel Beautiful" in an unsettling minor key, for example), not-so-silly love songs (the droning psychedelesia of "Dark Princess," the respective acoustic and electric blues of "You've Got a Sweet Mouth on You, Baby" and "Elizabeth Jade," and the verse-chorus contrast of the title track), but relatively straightforward nonetheless. Amid all the hearts 'n' flowers, you'll also find dime-store-Dylan taunts ("NASA Clapping"), droll pastoral reveries ("No, I Don't Remember Guildford"), and a pair of what might best be described as character studies ("Sally Was a Legend" and "Antwoman").
Supported throughout by a shifting combination of semi-legends (75 percent of the Young Fresh Fellows, Grant Lee Phillips, Jon Brion, exSoft Boys guitarist Kimberley Rew and R.E.M. riffslinger Peter Buck), Hitchcock mines his most magical musical moments and, not coincidentally, hits his most humorous highlights with the bare-bones anti-pop of "Mexican God," the Pythonesque raga/saga of "The Cheese Alarm" -- which isn't about cheese, exactly -- and the bashing Seattle anthem "Viva! Sea-Tac." Ain't nothin' like surreal thing. (Don Waller)