In celebration of the famous Tropicana casino in Havana, Cuba, D'Rivera assembled a 22-piece big band to play many of the famous tunes that the "most beautiful nightclub in the world" was known for in the '50s. The band is a killer, rising up to the vaunted musicianship of D'Rivera, including trumpeters Mike Ponella and Diego Urcola, trombonists Jimmy Bosch and William Cepeda, saxophonists Andres Boiarsky, Oscar Feldman and Manuel Valera, bassist Joe Santiago, timbales player Ralph Irizarry, drummer Mark Walker and percussionist Milton Cardona, among others. The first tune, "Mambo A La Kenton," sets an apropos tone in that it was composed by Armando Romeu, who led the Tropicana Orchestra. Staccato horns and cha cha lines not only suggest Stan Kenton's fascination with this music, but reflect the influence of Machito as well. The cha cha romp "Old Miami Sax" has the sax section trading fours and twos, then joining in counterpointed frenzy. Brass and reeds mix up melodies interactively on D'Rivera's fabulous jazzy chart for the title cut, while the leader's tribute to old partner "Chucho" (Valdes) was done many years ago in a smaller context, but is recapitulated on this happily expanded, mambo-ized version. There are such familiar tunes as Mario Bauza's classic "Mambo Inn," with Paquito's clarinet and extra horn inserts in the melody, and Chico O'Farrill's "El Coronel Y Marina," which has more mambo/cha cha-informed, leaping staccato lines. There are three compositions by Ernesto Duarte, all slower tunes. Ballad "Cicuta Tibia," with vocalist Brenda Feliciano, doubles and then halves the time, while Lucrecia sings on "Como Fue." He also penned the slower instrumental cha cha "Sustancia." The lone non-big-band cut is the well-known "Peanut Vendor," with acoustic guitarist David Oquendo's strumming inspiring a five-piece vocal chorus in straight clave beat; Paquito's clarinet is the lone, heartsick wolf. Of the many ensembles D'Rivera has fronted, this is the one that not only hits closest to home, but evokes a shared passion for the Tropicana, which was the impetus for the Latin jazz movement itself. His extraordinarily informative liner notes about the history of the Tropicana is worth the price of the CD alone. Highly recommended, thoroughly enjoyable, and perhaps his magnum opus.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos