Latin Jazz CDs: Paquito D’Rivera and Tito Puente

By Fernando Gonzalez

Paquito D’Rivera and the Pablo Aslan Ensemble

Tango Jazz Live At The Lincoln Center (Paquito Records)

Cuban reedman Paquito D’Rivera has been a leader in exploring the possibilities of Latin American styles in a jazz context. He had already whetted his appetite for some kind of jazz tango fusion in his 2007 Funk Tango. Add to this his many personal and professional relationships with Argentine and Uruguayan musicians (quite a few of them members of his working group at one time or another), the long history of tango in Cuba ( in part no doubt nurtured by a sense of familiarity given the proximity of tango and habanera) and you knew that a Paquito D’Rivera tango project was just a matter of time.

He couldn’t have found a better partner for it than New York-based Argentine bassist and bandleader Pablo Aslan, a pioneer in exploring tango with a jazz sensibility.

Aided by a strong, musically bilingual group including trumpeter Gustavo Bergalli, violinists Pablo Agri and Nicolas Danielson,  bandoneonists Michael Zisman and Raul Jaurena, pianist Abel Rogantini and drummer Daniel Piazzolla, D’Rivera and Aslan offer here a program made of old tangos (“Viejo Smocking”), modern tango standards (Astor Piazzolla’s “Verano Porteño”), Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye,” and five originals. This is no lab experiment. The music feels lived-in. The soloing is not only fluid but feels idiomatic to the moment (are we now in jazz territory or is it tango?).

Whatever else can be made of it, this music swings. Drummer Piazzolla, grandson of Astor, the master of New Tango, plays a key role here,  subtly pushing, filling up spaces, nudging this and that way but always discreetly. And D’Rivera sounds completely at ease, adding humor, spice and a certain Caribbean flair to tango’s innate melancholy.

Tito Puente

El Rey (Fania)

Timbalero, composer, arranger and bandleader Ernest Anthony “Tito” Puente Jr., who died in 2000 at age 77, enjoyed an extraordinary, 50 year career that took him from the dance floor of the Palladium and the Woodstock generation to Latin jazz icon status and fin-de-siecle Rickymania. He was both a showman and a true artist with a legacy of more than 135 albums. Almost by definition any Puente compilation will fall short of the full picture (full disclosure: I know this first hand, I was the annotator of the 2001, two-volume The Complete RCA Recordings). But Tito Puente El Rey, part of Fania’s series A Man And His Music,  is an excellent primer that should also satisfy Puente’s fans.

This two-disc compilation, 45 tracks in all, takes us from 1949 through 1981 and the music here is often breathtaking. It includes Puente classics such as  “Abaniquito,” “Ran Kan Kan,”  and “Babarabatiri.”  The original 1962 version of “Oye Como Va,” later made a global hit by guitarist Carlos Santana, is here, as well as the classic Cuban singer Beny Moré´s song “Que Bueno Baila Baila Usted,” from Puente’s 1978 Homenaje a Beny (which won Puente his first GRAMMY).  There is also Puente’s arrangement of “Batuka,” a nod to Santana, and a Santana- flavored remake of “Para Los Rumberos” from the 1972 album of the same name. (Santana had included it in his 1971 Santana III and according to Puente’s longtime friend Joe Conzo, Puente adapted Santana’s intro and tag — which the guitarist had adapted from a Puente riff.)

But the list also includes nods to salsa (Puente had a standard dismissal at the ready when someone asked what it was: “Salsa is what they put on the food. This is what we’ve always played: Cuban music.”), to disco,  as well as short-lived musical trends such as boogaloo and shing-a-ling. There are also cameos by Celia Cruz (“La Guarachera,’”) La Lupe (“Oriente”), and Santos Colón  (including “Oye Como Va” and “Babarabatiri”) among others.

Throughout, the writing, the playing, the musicianship requires no explanations, no justifications,  no concessions for the passing of time. This is what being immortal is.

Just play it.

To read more of Fernando Gonzalez’s reviews and posts click HERE.

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