Various Artists

Cuban Gold, Vol. 2: Bajo con Tumbao

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Vol. 2 of this estimable Qbadisc series continues the estimable task of giving U.S. listeners some idea of what was going on in Cuban music in Cuba during the embargo. Familiar names from the island like Orquesta Aragón and Los Van Van are joined by Arturo Sandoval and an artist who would become Buena Vista Social Club familiar -- pianist Ruben Gonzalez. Both Sandoval and Gonzalez were in the Estrellas de Areito lineup. With two other sets of "estrellas" (stars) among the artists, you wonder if these groups were one-off get-togethers in the studio or regular working units around Cuba. The nonexistent liner notes and skimpy musician credits won't provide that information, but nonetheless Bajo con Tumbao is a good introduction to a number of classic Cuban styles. Almost half the songs, like Estrellas Cubanas' solidly arranged "Bombo Chara" and Orquesta Aragón's "Pare Cochero," with violin inventively riffing through the conga solos, feature the smooth charanga sound. Estrellas de Chocolate sports a rowdy-ish guitar and horns, and the track lurches and lumbers along with quite appealing rough edges. Sandoval takes a nice solo during "Guaguancó a Todos los Barrios," followed by a typically spare, elegant one from Gonzalez. The leisurely 15-minute track doesn't wear out its welcome thanks to the locked-down rhythm foundation but someone should have miked the guitarist's amp -- his solo is so faint it sounds like he's three rooms down the hall. But the highlight is Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son's "Quimbombó," with its whooping trumpet flares and chorus hook flying over a fiercely propulsive groove not too far (but far enough) from "Guantanamera." The music is definitely focused more on mainstream Cuba than new approaches or unknown underground artists pushing the envelope. Still, Cuban Gold, Vol. 2 is a very consistent, high-quality compilation recommended to anyone curious about modern Cuban music from the island itself.

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