Alfredo Rodriguez
y Los Acereko,
Cuban Jazz
(Naxos World, 2002)

Many have pointed out over the years that difficult social conditions seem to foster artistic creativity. Shostakovitch and Prokofiev produced much of their best music under Stalin. Jazz started among poor black musicians in the South. The flowering of Cuban Jazz is another example to prove the point. Recent successes in the U.S. include the Buena Vista Social Club, Jess Alemany's Cubanismo and the non-stop touring of Arturo Sandoval.

Alfredo Rodriguez works the same Latin vein and his recent Naxos release captures all of the joy and excitement of Cuban jazz at its best. Pianist Rodriguez often reminds me of Ruben Gonzalez, but tilts a little further in the direction of American jazz. That's apparent in quotes ranging from "Nature Boy" to "So What" and in his fine work on "All the Things You Are." That track also features Bobby Caracs with an intriguing Spanish twist on the scat style of singers such as Bobby McFerrin.

The ensemble includes trumpet, tenor sax and violin. Trumpeter Manuel Machado has the full, bold sound so typical of Cuban players. Like Sandoval he's totally at home in the American jazz idiom. Violinist Ruben Chaviano F. is a delightfully sweet solo addition on several tracks. Jos Carlos Acosta adds further variety when he switches from tenor to clarinet.

The percussion work is outstanding on all tracks. It's provided by some of Cuba's finest including Tata Gunes, tumbadoras, Oscarito Rodriguez, bass, J.L. "Changuito" Quintana, timbales, and R. "Mamey" Evangelista, bongo. They sparkle, cook and swing while providing the rhythms that guarantee the music is Cuban at its heart. Gunes' "Pa' Gozar," at over 12 minutes, is the longest track and lets the percussion players stretch out a bit.

Rodriguez was classically trained as a boy and chose to close the album with a brief arrangement of Robert Schumann's "Scne d'enfant." In a duet for piano and clarinet it makes for a gentle and beautiful conclusion to a terrific outing.

The low Naxos price makes the album a steal. Liner notes indicate we can expect a follow-up. Count me in.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 8 February 2003

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