Here, There & Everywhere: The Jazz Winners at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards

January 31, 2010

By Don Heckman

The jazz Grammys have been awarded and – Surprise! – there are no surprises.  Which, given the nominations, is not particularly surprising.

Even so, that’s not to question the worthiness of winners such as the Joe Zawinul album 75, (recorded a couple of months before the composer/keyboardist’s death) – despite its peculiar presence in the “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” category.  Kurt Elling’s award in the “Best Jazz Vocal Album” was richly deserved; it was his ninth nomination and first win.  So, too, for the Bebo and Chucho Valdes award for “Best Latin Jazz Album.” The father and son Cuban piano stars have been instrumental in bringing first rate Cuban jazz to wide audiences.  And as an addendum in other categories, it was good to see pianist Bill Cunliffe receive a “Best Instrumental Arrangement Award” for West Side Story Medley (Resonance), and Claus Ogerman win the “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists” for Diana Krall’s Quiet Nights (Verve).

It was, on the other hand, unfortunate to see younger talent – Julian Lage, Gerald Clayton, Miguel Zenon – overlooked.  But they’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future.

The real problems lay, as they have for the past few years, in the nominations and the definitions for the categories.  Too often – the “Best Jazz Vocal Album” category was a good example – fine recordings from lesser known talent were ignored in favor of familiar faces.  Other categories – “Best Contemporary Album,” “Best Latin Jazz Album,” ”Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” – are catch-alls, pitting dissimilar nominees against each other, reflecting the Recording Academy’s seemingly diminishing knowledge and interest in jazz.  And the “Best Improvised Solo” category continues to be an absurd grouping.  One wonders what definitions a voting member uses to compare, say, an improvised solo by Martial Solal to a solo by Terence Blanchard.

Getting back to the “Surprise” (or lack of same) factor, it wasn’t surprising that the jazz awards were given in the afternoon, relegated to the non-televised segment of the Awards.  But it was startling to see the Grammys handed out by pop singer/songwriter Colbie Cailiat and Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood.  It wasn’t clear what, exactly, their connection with jazz might have been.  Maybe the Academy knows something I don’t.

Here are the nominations and the winners:

Best Contemporary Jazz Album

WINNER: Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate 75 (Heads Up International)

Stefon Harris & Blackout Urbanus (Concord Jazz)

Julian Lage Sounding Point (Emarcy/Decca)

Philippe Saisse At World’s Edge (E1 Music)

Mike Stern Big Neighborhood (Heads Up International)


Best Jazz Vocal Album

WINNER: Kurt Elling Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane and Hartman (Concord)

Randy Crawford No Regrets (PRA Records)

Roberta Gambarini So In Love (Groovin’ High/Emarcy)

Luciana Souza Tide (Verve)

Tierney Sutton Desire (Telarc Jazz)


Best Improvised Jazz Solo

WINNER: Terence Blanchard “Dancin’ 4 Chicken” from Jeff ‘Tain” Watts CD, Watts (Dark Key Music)

Gerald Clayton “All Of You” (ArtistShare)

Roy Hargrove “Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey” (Groovin’ High/Emarcy)

Martial Solal “On Green Dolphin Street” (CamJazz)

Miguel Zenon “Villa Palmeras” (Marsalis Music)


Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group

WINNER: Chick Corea & John McLaughlin Five Peace Band Five Peace Band – Live (Concord Records)

Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow & Antonio Sanchez Quartet Live (Concord Jazz)

Clayton Brothers Brother To Brother (ArtistShare)

John Patitucci Trio Remembrance (Concord Jazz)

Allen Toussaint The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch)


Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

WINNER: New Orleans Jazz Orchestra Book One (World Village

Bob Florence Limited Edition Legendary (MAMA Records)

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside)

Sammy Nestico And The SWR Big Band Fun Time (Hanssler Classic)

University Of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band Lab 2009 (North Texas Jazz)


Best Latin Jazz Album (Vocal or Instrumental)

WINNER: Bebo Valdés And Chucho Valdés Juntos Para Siempre (Sony Music/Calle 54)

Chembo Corniel Things I Wanted To Do (Chemboro Records)

Geoffrey Keezer Aurea (ArtistShare)

Claudio Roditi Brazilliance X 4 (Resonance Records)

Miguel Zenón Esta Plena (Marsalis Music)

Classical CD: Michael Maniaci “Mozart Arias For Male Soprano”

January 29, 2010

Michael Maniaci

Mozart Arias For Male Soprano (Telarc)

By Don Heckman

The words “male soprano” may sound like a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron.  And it largely has been so for the past century and more.  Nonetheless, a substantial catalog of music was composed for male sopranos, mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries.  And historical references to their work reach as far back as the fifth century and as recently as the mid-19th century.

The overwhelming majority of those male sopranos were eunuchs, castrated before puberty to retain the range of a prepubescent voice with the lung and breath power of an adult male.  Only a few recordings of an actual castrato remain – from a scratchy cylinder recording by Alessandro Moreschi made in 1904 (reportedly well past his prime).  But the quality and the challenges of the music composed for these remarkable artists – especially during the late 17th and early 18th centuries – clearly indicate the length and breadth of their extraordinary abilities.

Over the years, a very few male sopranos grew to maturity with similar capabilities as the result of endocrinological conditions.  Other high male vocalizing is present in countertenors and in falsetto singing.  But none of those conditions are the source of male soprano Michael Maniaci’s voice.  In the liner notes to this CD he explains that “While my vocal cords lengthened and thickened somewhat, they didn’t do so to the extent that most men experience. My voice comfortably goes to a soprano high C, and I’m most comfortable in the two octave register from high C to middle C.”

“Comfortable” is an understatement to describe Maniaci’s performance in this collection of Mozart arias, accompanied by the Boston Baroque, directed by Martin Pearlman.  The first notes of the recitative and aria Ah qual gelido orror…il padre adorato from Idomeneo instantly make it clear that we are hearing a remarkable soprano voice – clear, airy, moving freely into the top notes, yet delivered with a stunning degree of strength and power.   Here, as elsewhere in the program, Maniaci affirms that he is not simply an unusual musical phenomenon, he is also a gripping interpretive artist.

The lovely aria Ah se a morir mi chiama from Lucio Silla reveals yet another quality – a soaring lyricism rendered with subtle dynamic control and utterly fluid ornamentation.   And the Allegro, Alleluja from the motet Exsultate, Jubilate provides the opportunity for coda displaying Maniaci’s brilliant, high wire vocal articulation.

But for this listener, the aria Parto, ma tu ben mio from La Clemenza Di Tito is the highlight of the album, largely because Mozart composed such a gorgeous duet for soprano voice and clarinet (written for his close friend Anton Stadler).  Mancini brings it to life, winding supplely in and around the flowing clarinet lines performed superbly here – by Nina Stern or Diane Heffner (unfortunately the liner notes are not specific).

We’ll never actually know, of course, exactly what the castrati of the 17th and 18th centuries sounded like.  But, in Michael Maniaci’s voice, we hear qualities that surely come close to revealing the aural secrets of one of music history’s most fascinating and mysterious eras.

Quotation of the Week: Judy Garland

January 29, 2010



“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

Judy Garland


To read more Quotations of  the Week click Here.

Picks of the Week: Jan. 25 – Jan. 31

January 25, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Jan. 25. (Mon.)  The Saxtet.  A cluster of L.A.’s finest jazz saxophonists get together.  Dave Angel, Gene Cipriano, Phil Feather, Roger Neumann, Bob Carr, Dave Koonse, Kendall Kay Charlie O’s.    (818) 989-3110.

– Jan. 25. (Mon.)  Larry Goldings Organ Night. It’s boogaloo night this time, with a dance floor set up for the exhibitionists in the crowd.  Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 26 – 28. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Celebrating Django Reinhardt at 100.  Gypsy guitarists Dorado Schmitt and Samson Schmitt, Marcel Loeffler, accordion, Pierre Blanchard, violin, Brian Torff, bass. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

Josh Nelson

– Jan. 27. (Wed.)  Karmetik Machine Orchestra.  Featuring appearances by North Indian sarodist Ustad Aashish Khan, electronic artist Curtis Bahn, Balinese gamelan master I Nyoman Wenten, vocal synthesizer Perry Cook, with a theatrical set designed by Michael Darling. SCREAM Festival.  REDCAT.   (213) 237-2800.

– Jan. 27. (Wed.)  Josh Nelson Duo.  With Pat Senatore.
An intgriguing combination — Pianist Nelson’s youthful adventurousness and the always solid, veteran bass work of Senatore.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

– Jan. 28. (Thurs.)  Mary Ann McSweeney Quartet.  Bassist McSweeney’s program explores an unusual range of music, from Harold Arlen and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Featuring special guest Claire Daly, trombone, Bill Cunliffe, piano and Paul Kreibich, drums.  The Crowne Plaza Hotel LAX.  (310) 642-7500.

– Jan. 28.  (Thurs.)  John Beasley Jazz Circle.  Pianist Beasley will perform music scanning his career, from his first album, Cauldron, to the recent, heavily charted Positootly.   Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 28 – 31. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Joffrey Ballet. Cinderella.”  The scintillating Joffrey dancers perform the classic version by Sr. Frederick Ashton to the gorgeously atmospheric Prokofiev score.  The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.   (213) 972-7211.

Roseanna Vitro

– Jan. 29. (Fri.) Roseanna Vitro Quartet. Vitro doesn’t bring her warmly intimate singing to L.A. very often.  Don’t miss this rare chance to hear her up close and personal. Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Bern.  Drummer Bernie Dresel’s played with just about everyone.  But he seems to have most fun when he’s propulsively driving his own band, Bern.   Spazio. (818) 728-8400. 

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  The music world’s ultimate power couple.  And they can still deliver it.  Hall has been, and remains, one of the underrated jazz singers.  And trumpeter Alpert knows how to find both the space and the center in an improvisation.  Disney Concert Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Sony Holland.  Singer Holland’s recent move to the Southland has brought another imaginative jazz voice to Los Angeles.  She sings with Theo Saunders QuartetThe Culver Club in the Radisson Hotel Los Angeles Westside.  (310) 649-1776.  l

– Jan. 29 & 30.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Django 100 A Century of Hot Jazz.  Gypsy guitarists Dorado Schmitt and Samson Schmitt, Marcel Loeffler, accordion, Pierre Blanchard, violin, Brian Torff, bass.  Orange County Performing Arts Center.  (714) 556-ARTS.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Feb. 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.)  Laurence Hobgood Trio.  Grammy-nominated pianist/composer Hobgood celebrates the release of his CD When the Heart Dances, with Hamilton Price, bass and Kevin Kanner, drums.  Hobgood is a long-time accompanist for singer Kurt Elling, also Grammy nominated, who will be in town to co-host the pre-telecast Grammy program.  Will Elling make a surprise appearance at one of Hobgood’s gigs?  Stay tuned.  Cafe Metropol.  (213) 613-1537.

Ellis Marsalis

– Jan. 29 – 31. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ellis and Delfeayo Marsalis. Favorite Love Songs.  The patriach and the trombonist of the Marsalis clan perform some classic material with John Clayton and Marvin “Smitty” Smith Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Los Lobos.  The pride of East L.A, the Grammy winning masters of Latin roots music.  With an afternoon family performance of Disney tunes, and an evening set of their signature classics.  UCLA live at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-4401.

– Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Christian Howes, Robben Ford.  The encounter between Howes’ adventurous electric violin playing and Ford’s blues guitar should generate some colorful creative sparks.  Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

– Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Mark Winkler.  Singer/songwriter Winkler not only interprets the American Songbook with convincing ease, he also writes songs with equally timeless potential. Upstairs at Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Alfredo Rodriguez

– Jan. 26. (Tues.) Alfredo Rodriguez.  The young Cuban pianist has been startling audiences with his uniquely inventive improvisations.  To check my review of his Los Angeles appearance a few months ago click here.   Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

– Jan. 29 – 31. (Fri. – Sun.) Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica BlowoutA Muddy Harp Tribute with blues of every stripe and color.  Featuring James Cotton, Paul Oscher, Mojo Buford, Willie Smith, Johnny Dyer.      Yoshi’s Oakland (510) 238-9200.

– Jan. 29 – Feb. 4. (Fri. – Thurs.)  SF World Music Festival.  Forty-three bands in 11 showcases over 7 days, featuring The Action Design, Rykarda Parasol, Dave Smallen and The Trophy Fire.  At the Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th Street), Thee Parkside (1600 17th Street) and DNA Lounge (375 11th Street).   SF World Music Festival.

New York

– Jan. 25 – 27. (Mon. – Wed.) Gato Barbieri.  Still one of the true unique saxophone sounds in jazz, Barbieri recaps his classics and tries a few new things as well. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 26. (Tues.)  Somi. The American born daughter of parents from Rwanda and Uganda, Somi’s songs — and her singing — are compelling blends of traditional music, jazz and her own utter originaliy.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

Tierney Sutton

– Jan. 26 – 27.  (Tues. – Wed.)  Cindy Blackman Explorations. her dynamic drumming traces in a direct line to the innovative playing of her mentor, Art Blakey, and to her source of inspiration, Tony Williams. The brilliant young trumpeter Dominick Farinacci is opening act on Wed.   Zinc Bar.   (212) 477-9462.

– Jan. 26 – 30.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Tierney Sutton.  Sutton brings an impressive blend of musicality, imagination and believeable story telling to everything she sings. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

– Jan. 28. (Thurs.) Wayne Krantz Trio.  The Trio, with Tim LeFebvre on bass and Keith Carlock on drums is one of the major pace-setters in contemporary jazz fusion. 55 Bar(212)  929-9883.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Sam Sadigursky.  The saxophonist/composer celebrates the release of Words Project III: Miniatures, the third installment in his Words Project series.  The unique set of works combine his diverse compositional views with poetry from Emily Dickenson, Carl Sandburg, Maxim Gorky and others.  Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn. (718) 222-8500

Live Jazz: The 7th Panama Jazz Festival

January 22, 2010

By Fernando Gonzalez

Panama City, Panama. The 7th Panama Jazz Festival, celebrated in Panama City January 11-16, concluded Saturday with a free, outdoor concert at Plaza Catedral, in front of the historic cathedral in Old Panama City. What started only a few years ago as a Quixotic adventure by Panamanian pianist, Grammy winner and educator Danilo Pérez has become one of the most significant events in jazz, and music education,  in Latin America.

But as good as the music was throughout the week, it was only part of the story. The festival features the participation of educational institutions such as the New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, Fundazione Siena Jazz from Siena, Italy, and the Golandsky Piano Institute at Princeton University. And the educational activities — directed by saxophonist Patricia Zárate, Perez’s wife — included educational programs, clinics and workshops ranging from Panamanian Folklore to yoga, a children’s program and technology. Also, during this festival it was announced the launching of Berklee College of Music’s Global Jazz Institute, a new, interdisciplinary initiative.

Danilo Perez

“The festival was a labor of love, not just for me but for many people, Carmen Aleman, Robin Tomchin, Javier Carrizo, many people,” said Pérez in an interview Saturday. “But also many people would come and tell me ‘Jazz? In Panama? Salsa maybe, but jazz? Really?’ And in our first year I put up most of the money and frankly, I almost lost everything. We barely made it. But in the second year we got one sponsor, Samsung, and that helped; and the third year we got another, Toyota, and then the administrations in Panama joined in and helped out — and here we are.”

“I know now, for some people it looks like this just happened, that it started yesterday. But it didn´t happen that way,” continues Perez, who notes he started educational activities 25 years ago.  “Many people have helped. This has become a movement.¨

This year’s edition was attended by an estimated 22,000 people (again, a reminder:  for jazz, in Panama).

Ellis Marsalis

The event is now the main promotional and educational program of the Danilo Pérez Foundation, an organization created in 2005 to promote social change through education in music.

The festival´s headliners this year included pianist Ellis Marsalis’s trio, saxophonists Joe Lovano and Carlos Garnett, singer Lizz Wright, bassist John Patitucci, guitarist Tom Patitucci, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and percussionist Jamey Haddad, alongside the ubiquitous, ever present Perez on piano.

Following a festival tradition of paying tribute to a Panamanian jazz figure, this year’s event was dedicated to Panamanian pianist Sonny White (neé Ellerton Oswald) who in the mid-1930s worked with Sidney Bechet, Teddy Hill, and Billie Holiday, among others. Notably, White was the pianist for Holiday on “Strange Fruit.”

Musically, the festival offered some extraordinary moments, beginning on Thursday with Marsalis’ soberly elegant performance leading a trio also featuring Jesse Boyd on bass and Jason Marsalis, drums, as well as the stunning set by Lovano, Perez, Patitucci, Carrington and Haddad.  Friday’s program followed with a moving (and effective) appearance by Garnett,  a Panamanian player perhaps best known in the US for his work with Miles Davis, and  a quietly powerful performance by Wright — made  even more remarkable by the fact that she was supposed to be on her way to Costa Rica for a vacation.

Lizz Wright

But a last minute cancellation due to illness by singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and a personal plea from Pérez, brought Wright to Panama. She turned out to be an inspired choice. Performing nearly without rehearsal with an ad hoc (albeit deluxe) backup band, Wright offered a set of standards and originals with uncommon aplomb and grace.  She has a dark, rich voice with deceptive range, and her dramatic, opening number, “I Loves You Porgy,” sung a cappella, silenced the cavernous Teatro Anayansi and the raucous Panamanian audience. It also set the tone. There were several high points in the set,  but the called-on-the-spot duet with Pérez on “Embraceable You” was a reminder of the nature and power of jazz — not just improvisation and swing and soul but also smarts, adventure and risk-taking.

But if the music was impressive, the loudest noise was the buzz of educational activities, not only because of the teachers at hand (Lovano, the Patitucci brothers, and Haddad offered hands on workshops throughout the week) but the level of participation.

“New England Conservatory came first. Berklee [College of Music] started coming in 2006, and both soon realized that something was happening, ” says Perez who is a Berklee and NEC alumnus, has taught at both schools, and is now the artistic director of Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute. “They realized we have grown organizationally but also in concerts and clinics and workshops. When they first came we had 4 concerts now we have 15. We have 80 clinics, panels, workshops. And they have seen these kids grow up before their eyes. Their level has gone up. The first year we auditioned for scholarships nobody qualified. We gave one scholarship and it went to Melisa Saldaña from Chile. Now …”

This time, an estimated 830 students attended the educational program, eight scholarships were given out to Berklee (seven to Panamanian students, one to a Costa Rican pianist)  and six to the Golandsky Piano Institute at Princeton, N.J..

This will have an impact long after the music has faded.  A reminder that at the Panama Jazz Festival, what happens onstage is only part of the story.

Lizz Wright and Ellis Marsalis photos courtesy of Toddi J. Norum:

News: The Berklee Global Jazz Institute

January 22, 2010

By Fernando Gonzalez

The just launched Global Jazz Institute, announced at a gala at the 7th Panama Jazz Festival, is not your standard program – not even for a forward looking institution like Berklee College of Music.

“The vision is comprised of three elements,” explains pianist and educator Danilo Pérez, Artistic Director of the program. “ The student has to commit himself or herself to promote social change  through music; the work is interdisciplinary (we are including dancers, painters and others to add dimensions to the work that are not commonly associated with jazz); and it has an ecological component. I have been nurtured by spending time in the jungle [in Panama] with Patti [saxophonist Patricia Zárate, his wife] and the girls [daughters Daniela and Carolina]. We found out that those visits helped us to maintain a balance, that we connected to a very powerful creative world.”

Danilo Perez

“Also, we did a study on the connections between ecology and culture,” continues Pérez. “And, for example, we found out that with all the changes that had been happening [to the Panamanian jungle] there is only one flutist left [among the indigenous population] who remembers and knows the old rituals – and you have to travel seven, eight hours to find him. So it made it very clear to us that restoring the ecological balance was to also protect the culture.”

The vision and approach in the program, explains Perez, is “basically, expanding the work we were doing in Panama, but under the umbrella of the school. And I loved it.”

As set up now, the program, which officially starts this Fall semester, can vary from two years to four. As Mitzi Dorbu, a spokesperson for Berklee further explained, “students may pursue a performance degree, diploma, or two-year certificate through the institute.”  Some of the courses in the curriculum include Survey on Improvisation Styles, Global Jazz Ensembles, and Creative Improvisation Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration.

There are 14 students enrolled in the program. And while any student can apply, the selections are based upon a live audition and an interview. “While the institute is looking to attract advanced players that are musically gifted, selection for the BGJI will not be solely based on musical proficiency,” explained Dorbu. In practical terms that translates to the fact that in addition to demonstrating creativity and instrumental proficiency, the students should have a social awareness and be open to other disciplines. Applicants to the program are encouraged to submit personal work in other artistic disciplines, along with original music.

“We’re looking to foster multifaceted, creative students who will be also open to artistic interests other than music,” explained saxophonist Marco Pignataro, Managing Director of the program. “We’re looking to develop the whole artist, not just the musician.”

For more information contact or log on to the Berklee website at

CD Review: Tito Rodriquez “El Inolvidable”

January 21, 2010

Tito Rodriguez

El Inolvidable (Fania)

By Fernando Gonzalez

The Golden Age of Latin music in New York, centered around the Palladium Ballroom, was largely defined by three orchestras: Machito and His Afro Cubans, led by Frank “Machito” Grillo, and the groups of timbalero Tito Puente, and singer and multi-instrumentalist Tito Rodriguez. Each had a distinctive sound. All offered a rare mix of finesse, power and sabor (swing?) that remains the high watermark for large Latin jazz ensembles.

But of the three, The Big Three as they came to be known, Pablo Rodriguez Lozada, best known as Tito Rodríguez, is the least known to general audiences.  El Inolvidable, a two-disc retrospective of his 60s recordings, should serve as a hell of a party starter – and a reminder of his contributions.

Rodriguez had impeccable musical schooling off and on the bandstand, monster hits,  produced his own TV show and headlined at top spots. But as Ned Sublette and Harry Sepúlveda point out in their informative booklet notes, the lack of appreciation for Rodriguez has had more to do with his short career (Rodriguez died of leukemia on February 28, 1973 at age 50) and the vagaries of his record companies’ promotional efforts than with band or his own work. As they put it “Not only was Rodriguez’s band generally considered the most danceable of the three, it was, player for player,…probably the greatest collection of Latin musicians ever assembled in one regular working dance orchestra.”

And the fact that musicians such as bassist Israel Lopez “Cachao,” pianist and arranger René Hernandez, trumpeter Victor Paz, pianist Eddie Palmieri, saxophonists Mario Rivera, Ray Santos ( also an exceptional arranger) and Bobby Porcelli, were at one time or another members of his band makes their point amply. You can actually hear a lineup of the band as Rodriguez calls up their names, one by one, in his spoken intro to “Esta es mi Orquesta,” which by the time it was released, in 1968, was outdated. (It would have been a great contribution to fans and students to note the players and arrangers on these tracks.)

There are no fillers in the collection and some delightful surprises (Cachao’s  “Descarga Cachao” basically a tight, swinging Cuban jam).  And, although some hits have not been included (most notably “Inolvidable,”  and “En La Soledad”), this is a very satisfying collection.

The set shows Rodríguez as a singer who can move from the sonero tradition, skating gracefully over the dance grooves (check “Yambú,” presented here live), to the easy swing in the Venezuelan-llanera music-classic-turned-guaracha “Alma Llanera,”  his signature “Mama Guela,” or Chano Pozo’s  “Blen, Blen, Blen.”) to smooth crooner (“Cuando Ya No Me Quieras,” “Si Te Contara,” or “ Cara de Payaso,”) and back with ease.

But not everything was sweetness and light – thankfully.

Rodríguez developed contentious relationships with fellow bandleaders, especially Tito Puente and Johnny Pacheco (by all accounts some for show and marketing, some real), and took them public, writing pieces about it, tweaking them, mocking them and generally showing his disdain, predating rappers by, oh, twenty something years. Check “Avísale a Mi Contrario,” (Warn My Rival) a direct shot at Puente.  And listen closely to “El Que se Fué,” (The One Who Left) in which he sweetly sings “The one who left doesn’t matter, who matters is who’s coming in,”  and in the refrain, still over a killer dance groove, adds “I don’t care about you or twenty like you, I keep swinging. You were not the one with the groove,” all allegedly directed at Pacheco.

Romantic? Elegant? Smooth? Oh sure, but he could also bring it if needed.  And his audience heard it too. It was the barrio gone uptown – but still the barrio.

That tension was there, in the implacable grooves pushing forward under his exact phrasing, and the smart, sharp arrangements. And that’s just one reason why Rodriguez is inolvidable. Unforgettable.


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