In 1959, the year Fidel Castro and his rebel army gained control of Cuba, mood music mastermind Percy Faith released his tribute to the music of this tiny island nation. Malaguena travels familiar territory for Faith, who explored the music of Mexico on his 1958 album Viva! Faith's arrangements are not re-creations of the Cuban dance band sound, although he did take pains to include examples of popular Cuban dance styles such as the rhumba and the samba. Instead, Faith sets a Cuban mood via Americanized interpretations of Cuban music already well known in the popular culture. His selections include many famous tunes, from "El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor)" and "Andalucía (The Breeze and I)" to "Para Vigo Me Voy (Say, Sí Sí)." The melodies are rendered in a lush string fantasia with buoyant passages of horns and Latin percussion that alternate with pretty, moody passages colored with tinkling xylophones or delicately plunked guitars and violins, during which the listener may forget that he or she is supposed to be in Cuba. Regardless, the point of the album is not to present Cuban music per se, but to use Cuban music as a launching point for orchestral flights of fancy that tickle the ear with a surprising array of exotic and familiar sounds. In that regard, Malaguena is a success, with varied orchestrations and enough Cuban flavor to show that Faith had a good understanding of his source material.
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AllMusic Review by Greg Adams