A 2002 session by percussionist Francisco Aguabella, a fixture on New York's expatriate Cuban music scene since the late '50s, Cubacan is refreshingly free of the Buena Vista Social Club cash-ins that marred so many Afro-Cuban jazz records of the late '90s and early 2000s. Instead, Aguabella concentrates on his own conga-led Latin jazz, with emphasis on the latter. The set list includes no fewer than three of Dizzy Gillespie's Latin compositions -- "Fiesta Mojo," "Dreaming," and "Tin Tin Deo" (actually a co-composition with the legendary Cuban congero Chano Pozo) -- as well as two standards given the Aguabella touch, "My Favorite Things" (a restrained version which owes little to Coltrane's famous reworking) and "Autumn Leaves" (given a more successful, almost bossa nova tinge). The heart and soul of the album, however, is in the two tracks dedicated to Aguabella's friend and mentor, Tito Puente. The reflective "El Agua Limpia Todo" is a lovely ballad that Aguabella had written in the '50s at Puente's behest, but the rollicking "Mambo for Puente" is a joyous celebration, remembering the bandleader with the passion with which that he lived and played. Nearing his seventies, Aguabella plays with the vitality of a man less than half his age, and the all-star band supports him perfectly. This is a remarkable album.
by Stewart Mason