Irakere [1979]

(CD - Col #88697122762)

Review by

North American Latin jazz audiences were knocked out when this LP came out, for it was the first idea many of us had of the explosive power of this Cuban jazz/rock band, which had been let briefly out of Cuba to tour. Columbia taped them live at New York's Newport Festival and Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival, and the result was a noisy, ambitious, frenzied, tremendously exciting mixture of everything but the kitchen sink. Co-founder, keyboardist and arranger Chucho Valdes was as thoroughly attuned to the thumping electric bass, the careening buzz of a synthesizer and bell-like electric piano as he was to his homeland's complex rhythms and his own classical training -- and despite the cultural embargo, the 11-piece group was in touch with then-current developments in American jazz/rock. "Juana Mil Ciento," curiously the only track not available on CD, comes roaring out of the box with an incendiary mix of battering Cuban drumming, Arturo Sandoval's wild trumpet and Paquito D'Rivera's wailing alto. Paquito also contributes a free-floating, sometimes slapstick fantasy on themes of Mozart. The most audacious number is the 17 1/2-minute "Black Mass," which unleashes Valdes' staggering classical piano technique, knockabout rock guitar, Cuban chanting, high-wire brass, and lots of drums without somehow losing its train of thought. All but one of these tracks were reissued on CD as part of The Best of Irakere; admittedly, the LP's raucous sound is a bit more exciting than the cleaned-up CD.