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Saturday, August 26, 2006
Mamborama goes nationwide

Yupi, a first for the little band that could, national press in the form of a review in the Los Angeles Times. WHEE! Here's an except:

"This pulsating dance album is enough to make you stop bemoaning the death of salsa. Pianist, composer and Cubanophile Bill Wolfer invites some of Havana's top timba musicians to join him on the third CD by his band, Mamborama...

It takes skill and swing to mix it up in this league. Wolfer has the chops; the Palm Springs resident is a former soul-music session musician (Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson) who travels often to Cuba. He produced, arranged and wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on this CD, which is simultaneously cool and scorching, jazzy and funky, like the best Cuban dance music."

Here's the link, I think registration is required, but free.
A pleasant Saturday with El Benny

I've been sitting here fooling around at the computer, and listening to Benny Moré. I'm busting to see the new Cuban film "El Benny," word is that it's really good. I'm actually surprised that it's taken this long for a biopic of Benny to surface, but better late than never, and there is no danger that Cubans are going to forget Benny, he is revered as a God (A los Santos y Benny Moré is a common toast). My novia and her mom tried to take in a show of the flick at the Yara on La Rampa, but the line was overwhelming. I'll take her to see it when I get back in a few weeks.

Many hard core Timba fans who may think that modern Cuban music begins and ends with Paulo FG and Michel Maza might be surprised at the influence that Benny has on the music today, more than forty years after his death. In fact, if you are arguing about who is the best Cuban singer, you have to exclude singers that have passed on, because otherwise, it all begins and ends with Beny. There. I've used both spellings. No can seem to agree whether there should be two "n"s or not, Benny is hardly a Castilian name, and the double "n" isn't used in Spanish. Whatever.

You can hear El Benny every time Issac Delgado uses his high-pitched trademark call of "¡Ay! ¡Ay!" That is borrowed from Benny. El Indio's rapid fire scat singing, "Ven ven ven ve-de-be-de-be-de-be-be-de-be," originated with Benny.

What I've been listening to is the box set Grabaciones Completas, 91 songs and four and a half hours of brilliance, well worth the money. After that, I put on Tony Calá's solo album, Tony Calá canta a Beny Moré. Tony channels Beny perfectly, and somehow remains Tony, his vocals are superb, even though they are submerged in bad reverb. El Tosco arranged and produced the album, and the músicos of NG La Banda tear up Tosco's charts. It is badly recorded and mixed, and whoever mastered it should never be allowed within 100 meters of a recording studio again, but the performances overcome the technical shortcomings.

Here's a review of the film "El Benny" from the Hollywood reporter.

here's a pic from the film, the above is the real Beny.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Recording with El Tosco, pt. 2

After a few trips out to his house in Playa, we finally got down to the day of recording. Tosco has a studio in his house, and all my recording equipment is portable, so it finally was a simple matter of making a house call, and capturing Tosco's amazing flute in his own habitat. My daughter Lauren and I gathered up the equipment, and Tony, my landlord, volunteered to be roadie for the day.

We took a taxi out to Tosco's house in Playa, gave him a bottle of Havana Club Siete Años rum, and started setting up. As usual, there were people everywhere, the phone was ringing off the hook, and Tosco was doing seven things at once. We got the equipment set up and Tosco came in, ready to go. He put on the headphones, didn't ask to see a chart, didn't ask what key it was in, and just nailed it on the first take. Wait, not exactly, he didn't like the solo on the second half of the song, and insisted on doing it again. It sounded great to me, but in those situations, you listen to the maestro.

All, in all, it took about five minutes. Tosco asked if there was anything else I needed. "How about a shot of rum?" That was it. Tony headed out into the street to look for a taxi, and Lauren and I settled down in the living room to wait. Tosco was getting corn rows put in his hair, and Lauren asked if he minded if she took photos. No hay problema. Later, Lauren excused herself to go to the bathroom, where she was surprised to see a giant parrot perched on the shelves without a cage.

Tosco sat patiently drinking a giant mug of beer, tomato and lime juice with a dash of hot sauce while the girls did his corn rows. Gracias, Tosco, what a pleasure to work with a musician of your caliber.

This is Tony telling the story while we relaxed with a beer after the session. I love how Cubans talk with their hands, they do it more than the Italians.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Stories behind the songs, pt. 5

A tutorial: How to get El Tosco to play on your recording project.

The short version? Patience. Here's the longer version. I first met Tosco on my first trip to Habana in April of 2000. I saw NG La Banda at the tropical, and was knocked out, bwah, que rico! que musicos! After the show, I approached Tosco, and told him that I was an American musician and that I loved his group, that I was amazed. I effervesced, I praised mightily. Tosco just looked at me, and without even the hint of a smile, nodded his head in agreement, as if I was telling him that the sky was blue. That was the whole encounter. Tosco is NOT an easy guy to get to know, even on a superficial aquaintance level.

But, over time, Tosco's and my path crossed many times. Inadvertently. Lázarito Valdés (Bamboleo) and I went to a couple of his shows at Cafe Cantante and sat at the maestro's table and drank up all of his scotch. Afterwards, we went upstairs to Delerio Habanera, and sat with Tosco, and plates of sandwiches materialized, and when the scotch was finished, a bottle of Havana Club Siete Años filled in for Tosco's favorite beverage.

Over the last few years, we ran into each other at the Jazz Cafe, and many other clubs. For awhile, I was living in a building three floors above his brother's casa. His brother asked me for a Mamborama CD to give Tosco, and I happily obliged. So, poco a poco, Tosco got to know me and mi locura de Mamborama, heard me play at the jazz cafe sitting in with Pérez Pérez, on and on. Now he was more approachable then that first time where he reminded me of the horror stories I used to hear about Miles Davis (disclaimer: Miles was really cool when I got a chance to meet him in 1984, he was more mellow by then).

So, eventually, at Casa de la Musica, I just asked him if he would play a flute solo on the new CD. He said sure, and gave me his phone number. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Getting it done was another story. To be continued...
Friday, August 04, 2006
Thank you, Bruce.

Bruce Polin of has written a great review of Directamente Al Mambo. It's especially gratifying, because Bruce gets exactly what I was going for with this CD.

Directamente Al Mambo (CD Ahi-Nama Records)
***EditorsPick: Finally here: Mamborama's long awaited third release. Their previous CD, "Entre La Habana Y El Yuma" (2003), was a huge hit, mixing up Cuban timba, salsa and jazzy dance numbers. Directamente Al Mambo continues in this vein, and raises the bar for its intensity, swing and soul. These guys are pumped. Leader and pianist Bill Wolfer composed the music and much of the lyrics, but he also collaborated heavily with Sixto Llorente on a good number of tracks here. Wolfer's most definitely an individual who likes to play with the tools he has, pushing - changing, but not entirely breaking the form: smoldering timba. Note his synthesized fuzz tone guitar riff on "La Mentirosa." It works. His dizzying keyboard work on "Señorita Pajarita" tangles with El Tosco's flutework in just the right way, pulling you in smiling the whole time. Surprise touches abound on Directamente. The band itself is known to change shape with each release, and on this one Wolfer hired some heavy hitters. On it you'll find Los Van Van's Roberto Hernandez "Robertón," Tony Calá, José Luis Cortés "El Tosco"(NG La banda), Cubanito 20.02 checks in, Carlos Manuel "Kalunga," Alexi Sanchez "El Nene," José Goméz "Pepito," Feliciano Arango, Alexander Abreu, David Bencomo, Amaury Pérez and others. The result is a fresh, invigorating and inviting Cuban music experience that will shake up your preconceptions of Cuban salsa. Way to go.
Very Highly Recommended. (BP)

Mamborama news and the world of Cuban music, accompanied by occasional self-indulgence.

Extensive Cuba trip report now online.

Here's an online scrapbook of photos of La Habana and some of the recording sessions for the new album.

August 2003 / September 2003 / October 2003 / November 2003 / December 2003 / January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / April 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / February 2005 / April 2005 / June 2005 / December 2005 / March 2006 / April 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 /

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