One of the standout discs in Tumbao's excellent series of early Latin music, Qrquesta Casino de La Playa's Memories of Cuba, 1937-1944 contains a nice blend of rumbas and early mambo selections from the renowned Cuban group. The varied and infectious collection of 17 tracks makes it clear why the Orquesta (through many tours) was so instrumental in bringing popular Cuban music to Latin America. Contributing to their fame were upcoming stars, like pianist/arranger Perez Prado and vocalists Orlando Guerra (aka Cascarita) and Miguelito Valdes. In his florid and dynamic fashion, Prado does contribute some fine solos on the first four tracks here, but it's later keys man Anselmo Sacasas who steals the spotlight with otherworldly statements on "El Caballo Y La Montur" and "Esto Es Lo Ultimo." The contrast is less divergent between Cascarita and Valdes, both of whom are blessed with powerfully animated and sultry voices. While mentor Cascarita contributes the majority of vocals, Valdes is featured on four numbers, including a fine version of his ticket to fame and nom de plume song, "Babalu" and the Cuban standard "El Manisero" ("The Peanut Vendor"). Throughout the set, the large ensemble of brass, reeds, and Afro-Cuban percussion provide vigorous and tight accompaniment. And rounding out a mostly up-tempo set are Arsenio Rodriguez's conjunto bolero "Bruca Manigua" (another incredible Valdes vehicle) and the cinematic mood piece "Almendra." With a very decent sound mix adding to its cache, Memories of Cuba is a great purchase for fans of vintage Cuban music.
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