Various Artists

Cuba: The Dances of the Gods

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When this collection compiled by producer Herman C. Vuylsteke is good, it is absolutely breathtaking. It is perhaps a set that might have come off better as a shorter project back in the days when this label released wonderfully illustrated vinyl projects. Even with what seems like the fat purse of a compact disc's more than 70 minutes, endless chants and songs from voodoo rituals have to come under scrutiny from Eduardo the Editor, and while his leash is lengthened slightly here it is as if a dog has been given slightly more rope but still is unable to reach the water dish. No, it is certainly not that any listener will expire from a musical thirst, but the fade-outs in these pieces, perhaps a necessity, are nevertheless a letdown that can sometimes cause a listener to simply lose focus with the ongoing program. The Santeria pieces are highlights with their absorbing vocal melodies, while all the drumming displays an aspect that makes Cuban music night and day in terms of difference between the African-influenced music of North America. The bedrock rhythm is most often kept in these pieces by some kind of metallic clank in the high register, guaranteed to be audible to all concerned no matter how loud the drums or vocal choruses get. This means the drummers have a different type of freedom, wed to the timekeeping concept but not limited to the exactness of the moment as a funk drummer might be, whose every stroke of the stick is like a howitzer shell aimed at an approaching tank compared to the type of bubbling, percolating drumming that is featured here. But just as food in Cuba is said to be practically tasteless due to the unavailability of spices under the Castro regime, the inevitable result of too many of these pieces, few of which are allowed to reach any kind of conclusion, is a bit of tedium.

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