It isn't hard to understand why Pablo Menéndez calls his band Mezcla, which means "mixture" in Spanish. The California-born guitarist (who has spent much of his life in Havana, Cuba) isn't afraid to combine different styles of music, and that is exactly what happens on Havana Blues Mambo (the first album released under Menéndez' own name). This is essentially an instrumental jazz effort, but it doesn't fit the rigid purist definition of instrumental jazz; Menéndez doesn't believe that a jazz guitarist is obligated to sound exactly like Barney Kessel or Johnny Smith circa 1953. Instead, Menéndez brings a variety of influences to the CD's jazz foundation, including rock, funk, African and Latin music. Latin generally means Afro-Cuban on Havana Blues Mambo, although Menéndez hints at Afro-Brazilian music on "Hijos de la Mezcla" and "Akerte Oba Oba." And on "La Gitana," (which means "The Female Gypsy" in Spanish), he successfully combines jazz with both Afro-Cuban music and Spanish flamenco. For all the guitarist's unpredictability and risk-taking, Havana Blues Mambo is fairly accessible; Menéndez never goes out of his way to be abstract, and his work tends to be lyrical and melodic. That is true of the Menéndez originals on this CD, as well as a Latin-minded arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," which producer Orrin Keepnews correctly described as "the national anthem of jazz." The Monk standard is one of those warhorses that has been absolutely beaten to death over the years, but it hasn't received an excess of Latin-minded interpretations -- and for Menéndez, "Round Midnight" works well as a Cuban-style bolero. Havana Blues Mambo is unlikely to please bop snobs, but it's an enjoyable demonstration of Menéndez' ability to draw on a variety of influences while maintaining a jazz orientation.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson