There is an old idea among ethnomusicologists that some musical traditions have similarities that make them susceptible to fusions, while others are so different that musical interaction is difficult or impossible. The idea is pretty much discredited -- believers adduced the lack of Native American presence in European America as an example, but anyone spending 15 minutes in South America can figure out that European and Amerindian traditions are fully susceptible to mixture. Even so, the Mozart Meets Cuba fusion attempted here by an ensemble of German and Cuban musicians seems objectively difficult. The Romantic composers, with their inclination for pure tune, have always been easier for African-based music to deal with, but how do you put the straight line of Afro-Cuban percussion together with Mozart, where everything depends on balance among elements that are disparate in rhythm and in the speed at which things happen? Transplanting the music of Beethoven into popular contexts is notorious for producing tacky results, and Mozart is hardly any easier.
Mozart Meets Cuba will hold the attention of listeners interested in the issues such fusions raise (and the issue fusion raises is "can't we all get along?"), even if it doesn't always rise above the awkwardness inherent in its task. The ensemble consists of a German trio, the Klazz Brothers (piano, bass, and drums), augmented by a pair of Cuban percussionists. Essentially they play jazz arrangements of Mozart and augment the rhythm section with Cuban rhythms, giving each piece a clever Cuban title like Bomba de la Noche (the first movement of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525). The musicians involved all seem vitally interested in what they're doing (apparently they met in Havana and found that they enjoyed experimenting together), and they have a great variety of ways of approaching the problem they face. The two Cuban musicians, Alexis Herrera Estevez on timbales and Elio Rodriguez Luis on congas, select rhythms that seem to work with the particular Mozart piece involved; each track has a different rhythm, and you can get a quick education in basic Afro-Cuban musical vocabulary by following what they're doing. Likewise, pianist Tobias Forster adjusts the Mozart music to the requirements of interaction with the ensemble, sometimes playing the theme straight but building his thematic material out of a characteristic motive or chord sequence elsewhere. At times, you can almost hear the musicians thinking as they try, so to speak, to squeeze what they do into the gaps of the other discourse. Mozart Meets Cuba (there's also a companion Classic Meets Cuba disc) isn't likely to stimulate a new boom in fusion between classical music and Cuban jazz, but it's quite lively on the whole.