It’s ironic that I’m here in Cuba and I’m being force fed the same FM pop pablum that I avoid at all costs back home. Fortunately, the drinks are plentiful and now that I know to ask for the “top shelf” stuff (Havana Club), they’re also very potent. I’m also noticing as well, that the more I drink the more the more I’m really digging this Cuban music since it’s uniquely European (Spanish primarily) orchestration combined with a largely poly-rhythmic African percussion is perfectly suited to passing the time poolside while turning myself into a human bacon strip. Next up on the Cuban playlist is the influential ‘A Toda Cuba le Gusto‘ album (click HERE) by the Afro-Cuban All Stars.
The Afro-Cuban All Stars is a Cuban band led by Juan de Marcos González (formerly a player for Sierra Maestra). Their music is a mix of all the styles of Cuban music, including bolero, chachachá, salsa, son montuno, timba, guajira, danzón, rumba and abakua. They are known internationally for this 1997 album, which was recorded at the Buena Vista Social Club sessions (more on that later). Members have included Rubén González, Orlando “Cachaíto” López, Ibrahim Ferrer, Raul Planas, Pío Leyva, Manuel “Puntillita” Licea, Félix Baloy, Yanko Pisaco and more recently Caridad Hierrezuelo and Pedro Calvo.
‘A Toda Cuba le Gusto‘ is a lively, spontaneous record that manages to sound both relaxed and forceful at the same time, which shows off the talents of many of Cuba’s elder statesmen of Afro-Cuban jazz. Over gently pulsating conga grooves and low-register ostinatos, such luminaries as pianist Ruben Gonzalez and singer Manuel “Puntillita” Licea float dramatic melodies, as their solo contributions are answered by brass section chords as thick and sweet as the Cuban rum cream in my pina colada.
As might be expected, the trumpets blare with traditional Cuban bravado, evoking gentle romance and fiery passion with equal ease. The opening track ‘Amor Verdadero’ is a great intro of the Cuban “feel” for the rest of the album. The next track, however, really captures my attention however where the resident gringo, Ry Cooder, gets in some choice licks. It is easily my favorite song on the album, ‘Alto Songo‘ (click HERE), which plays a funky upright bass riff against a seemingly improvisational piano lick. It’s stunning perfect for an equally stunning Caribbean afternoon and might just be the best thing I hear all week.