various artists,
Best of Cuba
(Arc Music, 2017)

Blazing horns, loads of percussion, gut-strung guitars, multi-faceted, shifting rhythms, trumpet solos and vocals in Spanish, all presented with enough energy to make a dying man get up and dance -- that's what you'll find on the anthology, Best of Cuba.

The CD kicks off with "El Sonaro del Barrio Soy Magnu" by Tumbao Cubacao, which is the type of tune American bluegrass bands refer to as a kick-off song. Its job is to get the party started and it accomplishes that goal in fine fashion. Cubacao sings with passion and abandon and the band is right there to drive him on. The song plays with its tempo, slowing down near the end, only to crank back up and finish off with a fresh burst of power and energy.

"Mi Novio" is described as a combination salsa and features an enthusiastic vocal by Alien Jover, which evolves into a call and response between her and the chorus, which comments on the main vocal, providing a counterpoint. The horns and percussion drive the song steadily forward and even if you're sitting at your desk -- listening on headphones while you work, as I am -- you picture colorfully clad salsa dancers tearing the floor up.

This is music that brings to mind basement house parties in the Bronx, where young people invent the dances the nation will be trying to imitate on down the line. After all, that's how it started in Cuba.

"Amanecer" is the first ballad on the disc and is an billed as an instrumental, even though a chorus sings throughout. Still, the horns, piano and percussion state and develop the theme, leading to a beautiful vibraphone solo.

Here's the deal: Best of Cuba is a wonderful disc that through its selections presents a fine overall picture of the current popular musical scene in that country. It's a scene that for a variety of reasons, both commercial and political, most of America has not been able to thoroughly explore. Sure, we've seen the breakthrough artists, the giants, but we don't know the rank and file musicians who might be big at home but haven't made it beyond the island.

Best of Cuba offers a a remedy to that situation.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

12 August 2017

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