Saturday, February 2, 2008

In Review---Puerto Plata's Mujer de Cabaret

Photo: Puerto Plata (Iaso Records)

Puerto Plata
Mujer de Cabaret

Iaso Records

I am mostly familiar with Cuban musical traditions, but the nearby island of Dominican Republic, (shares an island with Haiti), offers a similar fare of sones, boleros and merenues. Puerto Plata sings these traditions over luscious rhythms and the guitar work of Edilio Paredes and Frank Mendez, who both have these styles down pat.

Mujer de Cabaret (cabaret women), features 11 delectable songs, fleshed out with hard-driving guitar, Caribbean percussion, and 84-year old Puerto Plata serenading us (both women and men), with his "sweet nostalgic" vocals and guitar. And boy, is there a lot of guitar on this CD!

Fans of the Buena Vista Social Club sound (mostly Cuban sones and troves), will enjoy this warm and sunny offering from a octogenarian musician, who has lived an eventful life judging from the press notes. Not only that he has kept his sense of humor intact over the years, having survived the dictatorship of Trujillo (have you ever read Dominican Republic author Julia Alvarez's novels?), and survived dangerous neighborhoods.

But who is going to be thinking of any of those topics when listening to songs, such as La Cotorrita de Rosa with Edilio Parades' guitar racing through every note, or Te la dejo toda with its sensual vocals. The combination of Puerto Plata's romantic vocals and Frank Mendez's digital dexterity (guitar playing) on Santiago recalls BVSC's Ibrahim Ferrer's love ballads. And it proves helpful to read the liner notes for each song as you work your way through this lively recording. That is if it doesn't work its way through you first!

If you are looking for something to chase the winter blues away (northern hemisphere), or to enjoy a hot summer day (southern hemisphere), look no further than Puerto Plata's Mujer de Cabaret. If this recording cannot lift your spirits out of the doldrums, nothing can. Aye Yi Yi!


Sunday, January 27, 2008

In Review--Alex Alvear's Equatorial

Alex Alvear

Colorao Records

For those listeners who enjoy South American Andes rhythms, flutes, and gentle flourishes, could do no better than Ecuadoran musician Alex Alvear's Equatorial. Alex reflects on a rediscovery of his native music on this disc. Like so many of us who discovered rock or jazz music in our formative years and thought that we could turn our backs on our musical lineage, Alex found that one can never run too far away from their roots. (Although he did find himself playing Cuban music for some time before returning to his Andes roots). And thankfully he returned full force to his musical heritage because his sweet musical offering brings smiles to listeners' faces--I am sure of it.

"I must confess I never fostered traditional music as many of my fellow Ecuadorian musicians have been doing for decades, despite numerous challenges and lack of support. My knowledge of the music of my homeland has been purely empirical; a collage of interactions with musicians, sound-bites and soundtracks from the street and daily life..."

But then later when he found himself living in the U.S. " an immigrant in a foreign land, to feel a connection that binds me to my roots and place where I was born (became important). I feel that this work is an umbilical cord that neither time nor distance have been able to sever." (Liner notes).

Indeed, who would want to sever the umbilical cord that connects one to this lush, music layered with exotic percussion, traditional and European instruments. A large group of musicians came on board bringing in flutes, violins, bandoneon, piano, Celtic harp and other worldly sounds. Colombian vocalist Marta Gomez contributes her honeyed vocals to SoƱando con Quito and Caballito Azul. Latin reedman, Paquito D'Rivera adds his clarinet the Argentine tango, Diva and Hasta Siempre, Jean-Baptiste Bocle performs vibraphone on a bonus track.

With so many musicians coming in and out of the room, this highly colorful album takes several listens before its warm tones sink in. While the sound is overall South American Andes, it also has a wider global appeal. And obviously with so many musicians coming in and out of the room, bringing in their musical gifts, Alex Alvear deserves plenty of kudos for his talents in arranging and composing a collection of bright and breezy songs. You might wish you were on a plane heading to South America after listening to this one or if you are a musician yourself, you might wish to be invited to the next jam session.