Milton Cardona


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It has been nearly 15 years since Cardona's last recording, Bembe, was issued. This is a most welcome addition to the Afro-Cuban music legacy as played by percussionist/vocalist Cardona and friends. Several pieces include larger vocal groups, a raft of fellow percussionists, or Cardona overdubbing himself. Others have tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, trumpeter James Zollar, trombonist Papo Vasquez, pianist Bill O'Connell, bassists Joe Santiago or Andy Gonzalez, and drummer Robby Ameen. Most striking is the ease with which each cut folds into the next, creating a seamless stream of Santerian consciousness and spirit. There's a constant joy and playfulness, but also a sense of foreboding, and warnings to be careful not to pry too deeply. This is not dark music, but it is quite apart from Latin jazz or pure folklore. Hot clave rhythms are quite prevalent for the vocal-laden piano undercurrent of "Obatala Macho," and Cardona's multi-vocal dub for "Rumbera Soledad." The larger group vocals on "God's Work Is Indestructible" and "Kabiesi" are overwhelmingly powerful, both featuring three bata drummers urging the singers on to more intense levels. What sounds like a coro/choir on "Goddess of Sweet Waters" is actually only four voices that sound like a thousand, and an op for Brecker, Zollar, and Vasquez to toss in their two cents. The title track is quite similar save for a greater call-and-response aspect, the piano montuno leading to a searing percussion workout. A short, dubbed "Malas Palabras" and "Playing with Myself" have Cardona bouncing ideas off his own improvs, and vocally he multi-tracks his voice on doo wop piece "A Kiss," which, unlike the other pieces, is sung in English. "Prayer to Eshu" is a modal funk with Cardona singing peppy lead and background to a more modern jazz effect. Music this vital and alive is hard to dismiss, even if you don't understand Spanish. The rhythmic content and infectious melodicism are easy to get, as is Cardona's virtuosity. Little wonder why he is a first-call accompanist, but here the light shines on him as a leader and central figure in the New Cuban movement. Highly recommended.

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