La Habana: Rio Conexion is saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera's attempt to bring the gospel of historical bolero to American listeners. These 12 cuts are steeped in the grand Cuban tradition and reinsert its cultural and historical center into a music that has been watered down to the point of being nondescript. But, of course, this is also a jazz recording, and D'Rivera is a jazz musician. The rhythmic and harmonic extrapolations are minimal, however, and focus on the integral form of the music whether it be the album's opening danza, Ernesto Lecuona's "La Comparsa," or the chorinho that closes the proceedings, Pixinguinha's "Segura Ele." In between are wonderfully romantic boleros, ballads of almost unbearable longing. D'Rivera surrounds himself with brilliant players, such as Danílo Perez, Fareed Haque, Pablo Zinger, Johnny Rodriguez, Claudio Roditi, and Jose Madera, to name a few. He also employs a full string section on many tunes. These range from sextets with strings to simple trio pieces, all of them having in common the form of the bolero as it migrated from Havana to Rio and interacted with samba. D'Rivera performs tunes by everyone from Ivan Lins to the great Cuban composers Ignacio Cervantes and Portillo de la Luz. This is an unabashedly romantic recording, which nonetheless possesses serious chops and killer arrangements by the late Chico O'Farrill, Pablo Zinger, and Carlos Franzetti. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek