Viva CuBop! Jazz the Afro-Cuban Way
The fact that CuBop, the Latin jazz arm of the independent label Ubiquity, has released twenty-two records in three years is proof enough that something is going right with "the little Latin jazz label that could." The label's first compilation, Viva CuBop! Jazz the Afro-Cuban Way, shows that its success comes from more than just a marketing plan: It's also got impeccable taste. Sampling everything from the sizzling all-star Cuban Roots CD to new recordings by Afro-Cuban masters like Francisco Aguabella, Johnny Blas, and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers, among others, Viva CuBop! stands a cut above in a world where label compilations are usually just glorified sales pitches. Based on the intensity of its performances and on the variety of Latin jazz styles it represents, Viva CuBop! is an excellent snapshot of the state of Latin jazz today and probably is one of the best introductions to the form a new listener could find.
Starting with "Malanga," a guaguanco from the Cuban Roots album, the disc moves through the supercharged Latin funk of Aguabella's "Cavalie," the intoxicating montuños of Papo Vasquez's "The Last Dynasty" and the cha-cha of Bobby Matos's "Philadelphia" without missing a beat. The fact that this stylistic diversity doesn't compromise the disc's charging drive and rhythmic flow is what makes it hold up so well, and it also means that Viva CuBop! avoids the kind of "sameness" that sometimes plagues even the most inspired Latin jazz albums.
Picking highlights on a disc this loaded with talent is difficult, but some tracks do stand out, among them Johnny Blas's sizzling Afro-Cuban take on Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," Vasquez's melding of sophisticated modern jazz harmony and Afro-Cuban rhythms in "The Last Dynasty," and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers' irresistible "Descarga on Las Palmas."
CuBop, as a subsidiary of the more electronica-focused Ubiquity label, has been rightly applauded for introducing Latin jazz to a new generation of listeners, but that notion almost smacks of a compromised version intended to attract kids who grew up with watered-down "Latin House" remixes. While CuBop's track record (and, in a marketplace where successful Latin jazz labels are all too rare, its continued existence) proves that it is indeed reaching a new audience, Viva CuBop! also serves to reassure Latin jazz aficionados that they don't have to worry: The kids are getting the real deal. -- Ezra Gale
Whine de Lune
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My, what a difference a year makes. When the Chapel Hill trio Trailer Bride appeared last year with their debut album Smelling Salts, they represented the worst of alternacountry, from the ponderous, plodding tempos to the narcoleptic drawl of vocalist Melissa Swingle, whose smart-assed cornpone made her lyrics cringeworthy. How, then, to explain Whine de Lune, the group's aching, evocative, and enthralling second longplayer? Maybe it's Swingle's vastly improved vocals, which come on both sly and forceful. Maybe it's the addition of guitarist Scott Goolsby, who darts carefully around Swingle's flourishes of minimalist slide-guitar. Or maybe it's the songs, which eschew the smarmy, postpunk hokum of Smelling Salts for tragic tales of life, love, and everything in between.
Whatever the reason, Whine de Lune is a triumph, a 30-minute hayride through a valley of death, frustration, dashed hopes, and broken hearts. Swingle's writing surveys the world around her, making the universal personal and vice versa. "Work on the Railroad" is a sharp attack on sexism in which, after being refused a job because she should be at home with her husband and babies, a woman throws herself on the train tracks. "Too Many Snakes" is a wickedly funny morality play -- a begging plea to St. Patrick to do something about the human reptiles slithering around her -- that would be a great '00 election anthem for a worthy presidential candidate. (Good luck finding one, though.) And "Sapphire Jewel" is a loving ode to her child that exists in the middle ground between Chrissie Hynde's defensive defiance and Swingle's own soft, romantic heart.
But like Blondie used to say, Trailer Bride is a band, and Whine de Lune is a showcase for the quartet's unique take on the verities of honky-tonk punk and punked-up country-and-western. The swell of Goolsby's slide guitar, Swingle's harmonica, the upright bass work of Darryl White, and Brad Goolsby's propulsive percussion underpin the desperation of "Clermont Hotel" and "Work on the Railroad." They gallop furiously on "Felt Like a Sin," while the death trip relayed in "Crazy Love" crawls appropriately at a funereal pace, with Swingle's saw -- yes, the thing you use to cut wood -- adding an eerie edge that, like most everything on this stunning effort, is unforgettable. -- John Floyd