Various Artists

It's a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba: The Latin-Jewish Musical Story, 1940s-80s

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The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation does it again. For the past decade, this non-profit group has doggedly -- and often humorously -- offered a wide-ranging exploration of the Jewish experience in American cultural life through their recordings. They've reissued classic, sometimes forgotten recordings, including Irving Fields' Bagels and Bongos, Juan Calle & His Lantzmen's Mazeltov, Mis Amigos, and killer compilations such as The Jewish American Jet Set, a comp from the vaults of Tivka Records, and Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black Jewish Relations. The latter features iconic African American artists performing Jewish songs -- Billie Holiday, Slim Gaillard, Nina Simone, Cab Calloway, et al. It's a Scream How Levine Does the Rumba is a double-disc that documents the Latin-Jewish music craze that began in the 1940s and continued through salsa's power years in the early '80s. It moves back and forth from Jewish artists exploring Latin music and Latin musicians interpreting Jewish tunes. The names are both well-known and obscure, but the flawlessly compiled set acts as an extension of Black Sabbath. There are 41 cuts spread over these two discs, telling a labyrinthine story that moves from the Catskills to Harlem to Miami and beyond. While things commence on a humorous note with Irving Kauffman's "Moe the Schmoe Takes a Rumba Lesson," and the Barton Brothers' "Arriba, Pt. 1" from 1947, they quickly heat up: Xavier Cugat's band performs Fields' "Miami Beach Mambo," the infamous Ruth Wallis title track from 1952 weaves together both rhumba and Yiddish klezmer, establishing an inseparable link. Ray Barretto's flamboyant, cooking reading of "Exodus" and Celia Cruz's revisioned offering of "Hava Nagila" communicate from the other side. Other highlights include Candido with Al Cohn on "Cheek to Cheek" from 1956, the mighty Tito Puente Orchestra with vocalist Abbe Lane on "Pan, Amor y Cha Cha Cha" and Machito's "Mambo La Concord" both from 1958. The 1960s deliver Joe Quijano's "Sabbath Prayer (Plegaria)," and Mark Weinstein's "Just Another Guajira" from his mindblowing Cuban Roots album to name just two. The '70s are represented wonderfully by selections from Harvey Averne, the Ghetto Brothers, Pete Yellin, and Willie Colon, with Jewish salsa king Larry Harlow carrying it out on "Yo Soy Latino" from 1983. The booklet contains essays by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin and jazzman Arturo O'Farrill -- both of whom understand the Jewish-Latin experience firsthand -- as well as a longer essay by the Society and track-by-track histories. Sound quality is exceptional. Simply put, It's A Scream How Levine Does the Rumba is in a league of its own as a musical and cultural document.

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