Various Artists

Son Cubano NYC: Cuban Roots New York Spices 1972-1982

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Son Cubano NYC is a wonderful collection of New York City-bred Afro-Cuban music taken from the catalogs of Salsoul and SAR (and their subsidiaries) and spanning the early '70s to the early '80s. This was a time when the musicians were getting back to a distinctly Cuban, rootsy sound, which was frowned on by radio stations given the strong Cold War/anti-Cuban/anti-Communist sentiments of the day. Nevertheless, the labels thrived in the New York community as well as overseas, even without radio support. Despite various labels and the appearance of more than ten different ensembles, there's a remarkable consistency of sound thanks to engineer Jon Fausty, who recorded all these tracks. This is exuberant stuff: the top-notch Afro-Cuban percussion and rhythms are overlayed with taut, rhythmic piano playing; rich, driving bass; punchy trumpets; and passionate vocals. The best part, though, is the fact that most of these tunes leave plenty of room for improvisation, so the (mostly uncredited) musicians really get a chance to show what they can do. There are excellent trumpet and flute solos, but probably the most exciting moments come when the piano and especially the tres come to the forefront. The way Charlie Rodriguez (on tres) works with and against the different rhythms on "Cuchillo Para la Piña Cubana" is simply incredible, as is Dr. Ken Leo Rosa's piano playing on "Los Dos Hermanos" by Los Jimaguas. Other soloists are not necessarily mentioned by name, but the playing is all excellent and the rhythms are simply irresistible. There's a good reason why these recordings are still revered 20 to 30 years down the road, and it's nice that Honest Jon's and Astralwerks are making them available to a whole new generation.

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