Stefon Harris, David Sánchez, Christian Scott – Ninety Miles Live At Cubadisco

Title: Ninety Miles Live At Cubadisco

Artists: Stefon Harris, David Sánchez, Christian Scott

Label: Concord Picante

Formats: MP3

Release date: September 25th 2012



Live at Cubadisco is the follow-up to the project Ninety Miles (2011), a video documentary accompanied by a studio-recorded CD which focused on the jazz and popular music traditions of New Orleans and New York and the musical and cultural connections with Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean. In fact, the title refers to the short distance between the US and Cuba. Three young and prestigious jazz musicians of African descent are the leaders of the project: trumpet-man Christian Scott (New Orleans), saxophonist David Sánchez (Puerto Rico), and vibraphonist Stefon Harris (New York). Having received great critiques on their 2011 release, the trio is back with a live release, recorded in Havana during the shooting of the documentary.

Following is a video of “City Sunrise” (track 3), featuring an amazing vibraphone solo by Harris:

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Even though Live at Cubadisco includes almost the same tracks as the studio version, the concert—which took place at Havana’s Teatro Amadeo Roldán in 2010—brings them back to life in a reshaped form, with an energy and creativity that is unique to live performances. For this show, the featuring trio relied on two backing bands, both of them composed of top-notch Cuban musicians on piano, bass, drumkit, and Afro-Cuban percussion. These back-up musicians deserve great credit, for they are largely responsible for the overall musical sound, while the two pianists (Rember Duharte and Harold López-Nussa) also contributed two of their own compositions. Overall, the album is a great sample of contemporary Latin jazz, where the complex stew of Cuban jazz and other Caribbean popular and traditional sonorities blend with New York and New Orleans’ styles to produce a new hybrid sound that expands the genre.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas E.

David Álvarez – Clandestino

Title: Clandestino

Artist: David Álvarez

Label: Tumi Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 13, 2012



Clandestino is the latest production from famous Cuban troubadour Daniel Álvarez, former leader of the band Juego de Manos. Released by Tumi Music as a 16-track CD, this album is a clear expression of the contemporary development of one of Cuba’s most important and influential musical genres: trova. And trova runs unequivocally through Álvarez’s veins, for his native city of Manzanillo has held a very active trova cubana scene since the mid-20th century. His compositions reflect this tradition, in which peasant songs integrate socially critical and romantic lyrics with ballad-style and Cuban son accompaniments, sometimes sounding closer to the music of Spain than that of the Caribbean Islands.

Clandestino is also notable for the participation of saxophonist Alfred Thompson (Irakere) and tres master Pancho Amat, who collaborate with Álvarez in creating that magical and dramatic atmosphere that is characteristic of contemporary trova. The influence of Mediterranean sonorities is also very clear, featuring Roldán Carballoso (Buena Vista Social Club), whose presence is predominant in “La tarde” (“The afternoon”), where guitar, violin and flamenco-inspired chants intertwine to make this Cuban song a soulful product of the Spanish and African diasporas of the Caribbean. The opening track, “A mi me gusta compay” (“I like it, buddy”), is a more straightforward trova rhythm, with long verses accompanied by tres, guitar, bongos, and timbales, which then break into a montuno, or a sung call and response chorus section, which is so characteristic of Cuban music.

Excerpts of the whole album can be heard at Tumi Music’s website:

Not only is this album finely produced, with a thick recording sound and crew of world class musicians, but also finely crafted music-wise, where the singer songwriter’s skills are demonstrated by the creation of a unified musical and lyrical concept of romanticism. Álvarez’s voice makes one think of legendary Cuban troubadour Pablo Milanés, but in a kind of contemporary version: an updated Cuban trovador, renovating one of Cuba’s most influential popular musics.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastian Rojas

Elio Villafranca & Arturo Stable – Dos y Mas

Title: Dos y Mas

Artist: Elio Villafranca & Arturo Stable

Label: Motéma

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 10, 2012



Motéma Music recently unveiled the masterpiece Dos y Mas by two renowned Cuban musicians—pianist Elio Villafranca and percussionist Arturo Stable. These world-class performers, who studied together at the Instituto Nacional de Arte in Havana and have participated actively in the jazz and world music scenes worldwide with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Pacheco, Esperanza Spalding, and Paquito d’Rivera, started their musical collaboration nine years ago. This album is the result of their joint efforts: an experience full of musical flavors combining jazz and world music elements with amazing fluidity and self-expression, and presenting sounds not only from Cuba and Latin America, but also the Middle East, Spain, and other regions of the world.

Despite the world music elements, their embodied Cuban influence is still very strong, which becomes clear in Villafranca’s “A Las Millas,” in which he presents an upfront Cuban-jazz theme with Stable’s masterful accompaniment and solo on  congas. Other tracks, however, take forms inspired in other sounds and regions, like “Vertiente,” which is Stable’s composition based on sonorities from southern Spain’s musical traditions, like bulería. The opening track, Villafranca’s “1529,” is a piece in 7/8 rhythm featuring Stable on drumkit as well as Middle Eastern udu and dumbek. Along these lines, more global musical influences take major roles on tracks such as “Shaghezi,” where piano movements follow not only these sonorities, but also avant-garde improvisational melodic and harmonic techniques.

Following is the trailer for the album:

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Dos y Mas reflects its title, which translates to “two and more,” for it is an incredible piece of world music—although with a clear Latin American drive—that blends together the highly diverse musical experiences of two masterful performers, whose rich musical pathways come together on this record. More than a jazz duet record, this production allows listeners to experience the sounds of the world through the lens of jazz and contemporary music composition.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastian Rojas

Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band – Live in Hollywood

Title: Live In Hollywood

Artist: Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band

Label: Concord Picante

Catalog No.: CPI-34110-02

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 30, 2012

Conguero Poncho Sanchez is a musician who’s old-school but not old-fashioned.  His sound is somewhere between the flying-hips salsa-mania of Mongo Santamaría, Ray Barretto’s Latin soul output on Fania Records and the more laid-back but technically excellent modern Latin Jazz scene. So when Sanchez and his band took the stage last summer as part of the Hollywood & Highland KKJZ Summer Concert Series, the audience got a rare treat—an exquisitely tight and talented musical unit that never failed to deliver the gut-punch excitement great Latin music requires. It’s our good luck that Sanchez’s record label, Concord Picante, captured the proceedings and, in an old-school twist, rushed the album to market just months after the live show.

Concord’s pre-release publicity material makes prominent mention of the fact that Sanchez has been with the label for 30 years and 26 albums, noting that “given all the ups and downs the music industry has experienced in the past three decades, it’s remarkable to find anyone who still retains a sense of allegiance or loyalty.” It seems fitting that a guy who plays music with Sanchez’s verve and craft would adhere to old-school values.

In concert, Sanchez pays tribute to two late mentors, jazz pianist and composer Clare Fischer and band leader extraordinaire Santamaría.  Highlights of the concert are a performance of Fischer’s “Morning,” and the band’s blazing rendition of “Afro Blue,” dedicated to Santamaria. There’s also a great 12-minute medley of Sanchez’s own tunes. A final high point is a down and dirty cover of “Cross Cut Saw” featuring Sanchez’s able vocals.

Always fun, never overly analytic but clearly the work of skilled professionals, Live in Hollywood makes for a great hour of listening.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Ondatropica – Tropical Colombian music

Title: Ondatropica

Artist: Ondatropica

Label: Soundway Records

Formats: CD, 3xLP, MP3

Release date: July 27, 2012

Conceived by Mario Galeano (of Frente Cumbiero, Colombia) and Will Holland (of Quantic, UK), sponsored by the British Council, and released by the British label Soundway Records, Ondatrópica is probably the most important album in Colombian music to come out in 2012. This project is a carefully selected gathering of “Golden Era” tropical Colombian music legends and the finest “fresh bloods” of contemporary Colombian music. Recorded and mixed in the mythical Discos Fuentes studios using live and analog recording techniques, Ondatrópica establishes a generational bridge that binds musical genres, arrangements, and performers from two very different eras.

Clearly inspired by the classic sound of tropical Colombian music from the latter half of the 20th century, Galeano’s and Holland’s compositions reframe popular musics from that era into a new hybrid sound. Rhythms like porro and different kinds of cumbia, descarga, bomba, ska, Afrobeat, guaracha vallenata, boogaloo, hard rock, and hip hop, among other genres, are blended together by an all-star ballroom orchestra, who put the energy and warmth of live-recorded sound at the forefront.

Featured on the album are many of the biggest names in Colombian tropical music from the 1950s through the 1980s, like Michi Sarmiento, Fruko, Markitos Mikolta, Aníbal Velásquez, Alfredito Linares (Peru) and Pedro “Ramayá” Beltrán, who join top contemporary musicians such as Eblis Álvarez, El Chongo, Nidia Góngora, El Profe, Pedro Ojeda, Marco Fajardo, and Esteban Copete. They define anew the relevance of this musical tradition by showing the common threads that link the present day generation to musicians who started recording sixty years ago.

This nineteen-track album opens with “Tiene sabor, tiene sazón” (“It has taste, it has spice”), a kind of Colombian Afrobeat-rumba, driven by a twelve-piece ensemble which includes multi-layered vocals, percussion, bass, a brass section, two electric guitars and a Wurlitzer piano.  “I ron man” (track 3), a cumbia rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Iron man,” is one of the most interesting songs. “Ron” is the Spanish word for rum and the chorus repeats “El ron se acabó!” (“The rum is over!”) as a kind of fatalistic celebration of the party spirit that this music inspires. “Rap-maya” (track 15) is a masterful cumbia/hip hop duet of traditional caña de millo flute and beat boxing, performed by Pedro “Ramayá” Beltrán and El Chongo.

Following is the official video for track 4, “Suena” (“It Sounds”), with a guest performance from French/Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux:

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Ondatrópica was recorded in January 2012, using quarter-track open reel tapes at Discos Fuentes studio in Medellin, under the supervision of Mario Rincón, master engineer and developer of the Fuentes sound. During the production process, only minimal overdubs were used in order to maintain the fidelity of a live recording, the primary method used in the early days of the Colombian recording industry. For live recording to sound professional, though, top-notch musicians are required since every mistake requires starting the recording process all over. But excellent performers are what this record has plenty of. Here is the “making of” album trailer:

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The album comes in a lively and colorful case with a 30-page booklet, which includes plenty of photographs, as well as bios of 24 of the 42 musicians that participated in this production. Ondatrópica represents a whole new chapter of Colombian music, not only by reminding us of the mastery of old-school music innovators, but also taking it further into a modern Caribbean/global sound. It is an opportunity for younger generations to recognize and understand that Colombian and Caribbean cultural heritage is not a thing of the past, but is alive, vibrant, and in permanent renovation. This is a must-have for Latin American music fans.


Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas

Hijos de Agüeybaná – Agua del Sol

Title: Agua del Sol

Artist: Hijos de Agüeybaná

Label: Tumi Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012



Bomba is one of the most internationally renowned of Puerto Rican traditional musics and dances. It is a style highly influenced by the African diaspora in the Caribbean, and typically consists of a multitude of hand-drums, shakers, call and response vocals, and dancers. This music is the specialty of Hijos de Agüeybaná, an experienced Puerto Rican band whose first release, Agua del Sol, is a collection of bombas composed by its musical director, Otoquí Reyes.

Most of the tracks on the album portray a traditional sonority with chants and percussion. Some others, though, employ a wider range of instruments and arrangements. For example, the opening track “Saludo al Sol” (“Greetings to the Sun”) uses plenty of synthesized sounds, while the title track, “Agua del Sol” (“Water of the Sun”), features a classical salsa orchestration with guest vocals by the legendary sonero Andy Montañez (El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico).

In the following video the group offers a brief bomba demonstration:

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Agua del Sol
 is published by Tumi Music and comes with a 16-page booklet, which includes a short historical overview of traditional bomba and plena music, as well as lyrics for the songs. In general, the album is a good manifestation of how newer generations assimilate and represent traditional musics: by paying homage to the ancestral sonorities where they emerged while also experimenting and blazing new musical paths.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas

Quetzal – Imaginaries

Title: Imaginaries

Artist: Quetzal

Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 28, 2012



Imaginaries is the latest release from Los Angeles Chicano band Quetzal. A balanced and well produced mix of different musical traditions—Mexican son jarocho, rock, R&B, jazz, and various Afro-Caribbean genres like son montuno and salsa—constitute the band’s signature sound. In this album, though, this mix is represented in a more mature and integrated form of fusion, where the jarocho elements are slightly less preponderant and meld evenly with sounds from other parts of the Americas.

Quetzal was founded in 1992 in East Los Angeles by guitarist Quetzal Flores, who was inspired by the racial uprisings and social movements in the area at that time. Quetzal East LA (the band’s full name) engages in political activism, writing lyrics that serve as a social critique and championing multiple ethnically based musical traditions that represent various aspects of Chicano cultural identity.

Quetzal’s latest release, Imaginaries, is a twelve-song album, which is put together using a variety of musical instruments that provide rich sonorities and a broad aural landscape. Besides the conventional rock band format (electric guitar, electric bass, and drumkit), the listener will enjoy other musical instruments that originate from local contexts, like jaranas (different kinds of typical Mexican lutes), cajon (a wooden percussion box, from Peru) and other kinds of Latino percussion, along with musical flourishes from bowed strings, keyboards, and a moderate use of sound effects, not to mention the incredibly soulful voices of Martha and Gabriel Gonzalez.

While the opening track (“2+0+1+2=cinco”) is a 5/4-time jarocho based song with Spanish lyrics, other tracks, like “Time Will Tell” and “Witness,” are straight-forward rhythm and blues songs with English lyrics. Others, such as “Por eso,” include a more complicated mix of funk, Cuban timba, Mexican jarocho, and salsa, which is paired with Spanish lyrics that praise difference, freedom, autonomy, and personal inspiration.

Following is the trailer for the album:

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Quetzal’s Imaginaries is high quality production that reflects contemporary life in Los Angeles and many other parts of the world. It reminds listeners that national, regional, and local cultures cannot be separated anymore, and that ethnic diversity and multiculturalism should be understood in terms of richness, productivity, and vibrancy.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastian Rojas