The Very Best of ¡Cubanismo!: ¡Mucho Gusto!

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¡Cubanismo! might have started a year before the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, but there's no doubt the latter -- in addition to constant touring -- has helped them break through to real success. There's little that's revolutionary about Jesús Alemañy's Cuban blend, as it harks bark heavily to both the dance music of the '40s and '50s, as well as the chops that helped Cuban jazz stand out, simply supercharging the power and speed a little for modern audiences. That isn't to deny that it's appealing, successful, and very, very good. Alemañy himself can blow like Dizzy Gillespie, and the band isn't afraid to improvise as well as work through some excellent charts. Their Cuba-New Orleans album, represented here by "Peso en Tampa" and the Crescent City tale of "Marie Laveaux," was inspired and was a necessary development in their sound. However, the two new tracks available here, exploring the connection between Cuba and Jamaican reggae, don't fare anywhere near as well. The angry anthem of "Get Up, Stand Up" comes across as anemic. Though it's cast with great musical sophistication -- plenty of key changes, complex harmonies, and solos -- its punch was in its simplicity. A basic message of human rights (in both English and Spanish here) gets lost amid the virtuosity. "Could You Be Loved," sung by Luciano, gets the Cuban big band treatment with a slightly timid rap, but again, the glory of a simple melody is covered in too much frosting. What ¡Cubanismo! do well, they do very well indeed. And that makes it all the more obvious when they falter.

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