For one week in 1998, a number of Cuba's most sought-after ensembles and musicians descended upon Havana's historic SonoCaribe Recording Studios. Invited there to work with producer Daisku Hinata, the musicians proceeded to lay down tracks for the CD compilation Rhythm and Smoke: The Cuba Sessions. Over the course of this week, 14 bands recorded some of some of their best songs during marathon sessions that began at 9:00 a.m. and wrapped up around 4:00 a.m.
Each track on this album deserves to be listened and danced to many times. From the traditional charangas of Los Papines, Sabor y Tumba, and Maraca to the more aggressively electrified nueva salsa Cubana and timba tunes from Bambelo, Klimax, and Chispa y Sus Complices, this CD covers a broad range of Cuban sounds. Of particular note are Changuito's timbale-centered percussion solo ("Solamente"), Los Papines's polyrhythmic guaguanco rumba ("Los Barrios"), and Cantores de Rosario's visceral son ("Guajiro Natural"). The songs are well recorded and slickly produced, though at times it seems that percussive bell lines could be louder and songs are faded out just as they begin to really heat up. Written by drummer and producer Chuck Silverman, in collaboration with Cori Cascante and Jonathan Platt, the CD's liner notes are extremely helpful, going so far as to describe in some detail the individual groups, their particular songs, and the styles of music that are represented.
In sum, Rhythm and Smoke is not an attempt to latch on to the dernier cri of North American-chaperoned Cuban musics. Though both Rhtyhm and Smoke and The Buena Vista Social Club sessions grew out of film documentary projects that were intended to be about Cuban cigars, the similarities between the two pretty much end there. The music on Rhythm and Smoke reflects the Cuban music scene -- in all its splendid dissimilarity, melodic beauty, and rhythmic complexity as it was at the time of the recording. Unlike The Buena Vista Social Club, which, despite the superb talent of the Cuban singers and musicians who perform on the album, suffered severely from Ry Cooder's slide guitar noodlings and his son's non-traditional rhythmic meandering, Rhythm and Smoke is Cuban music through and through.