Various Artists

Christmas in Havana, Cuba

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There are a deceptive few seconds at the beginning of this disc, a few pretty piano notes playing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The rest of this festive holiday jam session featuring largely unknown Cuban musicians (under the production of Juan Estevez and JP Torres) is, as might be expected, brassy, bright, and percussive, sort of a swinging Christmas in old Havana. Trombonist Torres leads the crazy explosion of "Jingle Bells," his cackling lines punctuated and then enhanced by a swaying horn section as Jose Alberto Quintana plays a hypnotic piano harmony in the background. "White Christmas" is given a gentler, though still brassy, treatment, showing off the more restrained lines of Torres over a cool pitter-patter percussion pattern. A few of the usual standards are on hand -- like a folksy, romantic twist on "Silent Night," featuring rising horns behind Manny Lopez' gentle guitar -- but there are also a few fun traditional brassy Cuban surprises, like "Burrito Sabanero" and "Campana Sobre Campana." The actual "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" features a sweeping synth orchestral flavor and a whimsical mix of piano and harp sounds, along with a chime/percussion segment. Each tune has a unique indigenous Cuban rhythm and shows a great deal of invention by the producers, who balance the instruments and horn sections beautifully.

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