Monday, January 25, 2010

In review--The Sones of Cuba

Tito Gonzalez Y Su Son De Cuba
Al Doblar La Esquina (To Turn the Corner)
Independent Release

Ever since I watched the documentary Buena Vista Social Club at the Seattle International Film Festival in 1999, I have been in love with the Cuban son (genre of acoustic rustic music). The melodic call and response vocals and passionate horns accompanied by poly rhythms played on congas, bongos, maracas, très and guitars and guided by the clave beat possesses an infectious quality. The lyrical content ranges from romantic, to socio-political and sexual commentaries, to put it mildly. Sunny, but never laid back, Cuban son and its descendent salsa get people of different backgrounds up on their feet dancing. I would imagine that even someone in a coma would respond somehow to it.

Cuban très (a guitar with doubled three strings) player and fisherman (and cab driver among other occupations), Tito Gonzalez leads his twelve-person band through a set of original songs that sound like they were composed 30 or 40 years ago. A beautiful mixture of piano, horns and Latin percussion play alongside Tito’s warm baritone vocals and boy, does he give his musicians a workout. Al Doblar La Esquina opens with the heart thumping Busco a alguien with trumpets blaring and nimble fingers pounding out beats on congas and a bongo. I am reminded more of Cubanismo than Buena Vista Social Club when listening to the opening tracks.

Even though it is tempting, I won’t describe all of the tracks, but the love ballad (bolero?) Aquel Viejo amor certainly sets one of those wining and dining moods. The suave vocals might cause hearts to swoon and the lush rhythms entice hips to sway. The slow, dreamy and old world Cancion para Bonnie (for his wife who he met through his Buddhist practice), recalls Mambo King Perez Prado’s love ballads. One listen to the blend of horns, piano and soulful vocals ought to turn heads. But the next song, Fiesta en el barrio will knock listeners out of a romantic trance and get their feet moving quickly across the floor in a small apartment or larger venue. And for those listening who just want to listen and not dance, there’s an earful of thoughtfully arranged songs with hummable melodies.

As far as health benefits, Cuban son and salsa uplifts and gets us out of the doldrums. Anyone experiencing winter depression or whose head is filled with worries would benefit from listening to Cuban music and Tito Gonzalez’ Al Doblar La Esquina in particular, might just have listeners turning their own corner.  Recorded in Cuba with some fine musicians on board, certainly this recording can be called splendid.

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