Francisco Aguabella

Francisco Aguabella
Kevin Ramos and Eric Crandell

From the Latin jazz imprint of San Francisco-based groove merchant Ubiquity Records comes the latest in a reputable catalog of CDs guaranteed to satisfy.

Ochimini is Latin percussion legend Francisco Aguabella's fifth release on the label. Despite decades of professional performances and a rangy discography that includes dates and recordings with everyone from Tito Puente to Frank Sinatra, he is not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of congueros of gravitas. He no longer has the youthful physicality of a Giovanni Hidalgo, the iconic "wood block" hands of Poncho Sanchez, or the laurels that go to forefathers like the tragic Chano Pozo or the formerly ubiquitous, recently deceased Mongo Santamaria. But he does have a high-powered résumé peppered with eclectic adventures, including a stint banging the conga drum on the French Connection II soundtrack. He retains the luminous aura that radiates from a bona fide bata, and therefore revered, drummer. And he makes good choices about which numbers he chooses to record.

Throughout Ochimini's arc, he slowly unveils his conga powers, setting them against a steady beat, retreating into the sly and shy tones of mournful incantations, then finally surging through a jaunty and nakedly danceable original, "Te Olvide." The opening and title track is an Aguabella-penned rumba inspired and informed by the Yoruba religion. At first propelled by the improvisations of trumpeter Eric Luis Gonzales, the tune, spiced with sacred drumming and chanting, later settles into a call-and-response vocal invitation to the dance. After this nod to the gods, Aguabella departs for the profane: "Funky Cha" is a classic West Coast-flavored jam that hearkens back to past gigs with the Jazz Crusaders. We don't hear him move totally out front, though, until the third track, when he attacks Cole Porter's classic "Love For Sale" with two muscular solos. But it is the Arturo Sandoval composition "Tumbaito," the sixth of nine pieces on the disc, which dazzles the most with its elegant and plucky rendering of a melody that is a gem of simplicity.

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