Cuban Roots Revisited
If Cuban Roots Revisited were simply a tip of the hat to an influential Afro-Cuban recording of 30 years ago, it still would be worth the time and effort. The original Cuban Roots album, released in 1968, was enormously influential (and currently impossible to find, as only 500 copies were pressed) because of its mix of Afro-Cuban religious music, harmonically advanced arrangements, and lengthy improvised solos. The new Cuban Roots Revisited was intended to be a modern recording of that classic album, using some of today's top Latin-jazz musicians after Cubop couldn't secure the rights to re-release the original on CD. But Cuban Roots Revisited is that and a whole lot more. It is perhaps not surprising that an album featuring the likes of percussionists Francisco Aguabella, John Santos, Humberto "Negue" Hernandez, and pianist Omar Sosa would be this inspired, but the fact that the performers elevate the material beyond a mere tribute to an influential album of yore comes as a real treat. Led by flutist and arranger Mark Weinstein, the leader on the original album and the only member from that recording to be featured here, the all-star group roars through ten tracks -- most of the tunes from the original album plus a new Weinstein original. But with all the material being rearranged for a group that includes flute, three trombones, piano, bass, and percussion, and with the fiery playing from everyone involved, this updated Cuban Roots has its own distinct flavor. Cuban Roots Revisited makes it clear right from the opening "Eleggua," an invocation to the Santería guardian of the crossroads, that it's an album that stands on its own terms. Over a rich layer of percussion led by Aguabella's rhythmic hand-patter, Sosa stretches out in a suspense-inducing piano solo that seems to float effortlessly. From there the album only gathers steam as it moves along. "Mirala Que Linda Viene" nods to Brazil with its sambaesque rhythms and a melody that playfully echoes Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba"; "Changó" bursts at the seams with energy as the percussion-fueled tribute to the Santería god of thunder and lightning pushes Weinstein's flute and Arturo Velasco's trombone solos into the stratosphere; and the closing percussion-only take on "Eleggua" ends the album as beautifully as it began. It might be stretching it to say that in 30 years Latin-jazz artists will gather to record a tribute to an obscure-but-influential recording that came out back in the summer of '99 (for one thing it's a safe bet that Cubop has printed more than 500 copies). It's not a stretch, though, to say that this Cuban Roots deserves as much respect and awe as the original, and if those Latin-jazz players of 2029 want to say the same about their own tribute, they'll have their work cut out for them. -- Ezra Gale
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