Picks and Pans Review: Ritmo, Sonido Y Estilo (rhythm, Sound and Style)
Manny Oquendo and Libre
Salsa is a music of abundance and flamboyance. When realized as fully as in these releases, it leaves you tingling. Until his death last month at 76, Machito had lost none of his grainy, gruff charm as a singer or verve as a leader. Born Frank Grillo in Havana, he went to New York in 1937 and, with his brother-in-law Mario Bauza, precipitated the Afro-Cuban jazz phenomenon of the late '40s, which attracted such luminaries as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. His last record won him a Grammy Award for Best Latin Recording in 1983, and this one is just as polished and spirited. It includes a captivating mid-tempo called Guantanamera Pensativa. (The familiar name refers to the Cuban port of Guantanamo.) Machito's front line of trumpets and saxophones surrounds his rhythm section with sumptuous upholstery on this track, and overall, listening to the band is like riding in a smooth and powerful limousine. By contrast, Manny Oquendo's Libre is a festooned dune buggy. There are no soothing saxophones, only one trumpet and four brash, uproarious trombones. The rhythm section, fired by Oquendo's slashing, emphatic timbal drums, could make you want to open your collar in a blizzard (Elena, Elena), and the solos and arrangements are colorful and imaginative (Little Sunflower). Adding to the party atmosphere are the lusty background vocals that mass the voices of seven of Libre's 14 members. In both bands, the piano and even lead vocal are integral parts of the percussive locomotion. Spanish is a fast, taut, staccato language, and the dry, concise sounds of congas, claves, maracas and bongos mirror and enhance it. It's a language that shoots off the front of the tongue. That's why, when Libre's flutist, Dave Valentin, soloing on Little Sunflower, uses his throat to roll a gurgling guttural through his instrument into a note, it's startlingly, brilliantly out of context. (Machito: Timeless. Oquendo: Montuno)
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