Irakere came on the scene in the late '70s with a style of Latin jazz that incorporated soaring jazz brass with quite traditional Cuban rhythms, punctuated by electric guitars and a funky bass. In the years since, Irakere music has been characterized by a hot jazz sound with a very danceable beat. Babalu Ayé closes a circle of sorts for Irakere. Most of the songs on this album are salsa Cubana, some sounding very much like the original New York salsa of years past. But of course, it's salsa with the Irakere flair: electric guitars with the distortion cranked up come in and out; the horn section plays tightly, then loosens considerably in the solos, putting a few relaxed ornaments around each phrase, then suddenly tightens up again; the whole band chants phrases in unison. Then after plenty of straight-ahead salsa Cubana, the CD ends with a mighty rhumba. Lazaro Ros, accompanied by bata drums, a coro singing responses, and the occasional Irakere instrumental, sings the story of healer Babalu Ayé, taking us back to the African traditions that still live on in Cuba, perhaps more strongly than in any other African-based community in the Americas. Irakere has always stayed close to their Afro-Cuban roots. Now on Babalu Ayé they also pay homage to another, much more urban source of the Irakere sound. This CD provides a very satisfying picture of the contrasts that make Afro-Latin music so rich.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Ishikawa