The Legend of Cuban Percussion

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Carlos "Patato" Valdes is truly a legend of Afro-Cuban music and a master conga player. This CD, one of few for the 70-something percussionist as a leader or co-leader, bubbles or boils under a layer of flute, saxes, vocals, and piano. Fellow master percussionists Orestes Vilato and Changuito help buoy Patato's more delicate shadings, while pianist Rebeca Mauleon-Santana, woodwind player Enrique Fernandez, bassist Joe Santiago, and drummer Walfredo del los Reyes are among the most prominent helpmates. The music is nearly pure Latin-jazz, happy as can be, and brimming with excitement. Of the 12 tracks, two act like Dizzy Gillespie's famous "Manteca," using the up-down bassline and piano/bass extrapolated leads on "Descarga en Faux," while a melodic conga/bass tandem sets up their latter workout and overdubbed flute with baritone sax of Fernandez on "Son de Patato." The group offers "Yo Tengo Ritmo/I Got Rhythm" in hip, bright clave dress with bari/tenor lead, an all flute-led jam on "Luz" has montuno piano, a timbale jumps out for Vilato, Mauelon-Santana quoting "Old Devil Moon" as she builds her solo, and there's a 3/4 chant to 6/8 modification of Horace Silver's "Senor Blues" going Yoruban, with double flutes and a tuneful kora/xalam-tama solo by Abdou M'boup. The most demanding percussion sounds are heard in the light piano montuno contrasting the three main hand players breaking out in "San Francisco Tiene Su Propio Son," while churning rhythm under light, airy flute with slight synths inform the nicely combined "Desde el Fondo del Rio." Multi-overdubbed, minimalist horns, and skittering flute over an insistent two beat evokes a "Goloya Swing," while the hot mambo "Oguerre" features jabbing baritone sax, Ahmad Jamal-istic, piano elegant from Mauelon-Santana, and Fernandez's majestic flute. Ivan "Melon" Gonzalez is featured on piano for the dramatic solo piece "Guajira en el Espacio," and the ensemble slow cha "Sangre de Africa" with more animation than Mauleon-Santana. The zinger is M'boup's feature on "Kora-Son," a direct African tune, born on a journey from Havana to Senegal. As impressive as this recording is from start to finish, it makes one wonder why Patato has not been offered, or accepted, more opportunities to bring his music to the world. This will suffice. Not only as a great example of his artistry and music of the genre, but a strong candidate for Latin-jazz CD of 2000, and beyond.

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