al­bum re­views

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Salsa Ex­plo­sion! The New York Salsa Revo­lu­tion

1968-1985 (Strut Records) Bow­ery punk and down­town disco may have ruled the roost in 1970s New York, but many for­get the era’s ec­static salsa scene in Span­ish Har­lem, which spawned some of the most well-known hits of mod­ern Afro-Caribbean mu­sic. Dur­ing those 10 years, New York’s Fa­nia Records, dubbed the Latin Mo­town, seemed to have an ex­clu­sive on the genre’s stars: Héc­tor Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Wil­lie Colón, La Sonora Pon­ceña, and Ray Bar­retto. The mu­sic here, col­lected from some of Fa­nia’s biggest records, rep­re­sents a par­tic­u­larly fer­tile pe­riod when is­lan­ders’ son, mambo, guaguancó, and booga­loo gen­res fused with Amer­i­can big-band jazz — the re­sult­ing hyp­notic blend was chris­tened salsa by record ex­ecs. Not all artists were happy with the re­brand­ing of the mu­sic they played. Tito Puente, fea­tured on this com­pi­la­tion, fa­mously com­plained that salsa was what he put on pasta. “Che Che Colé,” the open­ing track by Colón, takes the “3-2 clave” beat of the genre to dizzy­ing heights against a rous­ing fe­male cho­rus and the in­sis­tent scrap­ing rhythm of the güiro gourd. Lavoe’s “El Todopoderoso” is a gospel siz­zler whose or­ches­tral swings are daz­zling. Like Al Green, Colón can sing about Je­sus with a pas­sion that crosses gen­res and re­li­gions. Celia Cruz’s duet with Johnny Pacheco, “Cú­cala,” is a slow burner that coasts along a de­li­cious back­ground of tim­bal per­cus­sion and stabs of mambo pi­ano riffs. This disc is a blis­ter­ing in­tro­duc­tion to a la­bel and mu­si­cal era whose out­put has rarely been matched by to­day’s salseros and Latin croon­ers. — Casey Sanchez

KISSES The Heart of the Nightlife (This Is Mu­sic)


Roots: My Life, My Song

(Sony) At the age of 65, the so­prano Jessye Nor­man re­tains a fair amount of her ex­tra­or­di­nary op­er­atic voice, but over the years she has dis­played in­creas­ingly bizarre ideas about how her sing­ing re­lates to ac­tual mu­sic mak­ing. Sony’s cover sticker proclaims that this is “the long awaited NEW solo al­bum … fea­tur­ing mu­sic from Ber­lioz to Elling­ton,” and her ef­fer­ves­cent pro­gram es­say im­plies the same. That the playlist in­cludes no Ber­lioz is there­fore odd, but that’s per­haps the least bizarre as­pect of this twoCD set, which one im­bibes with mount­ing fas­ci­na­tion, be­muse­ment, and dis­may. Nor­man writes that she se­lected her largely jazz-in­flected reper­toire (here backed by a quin­tet) partly to honor four singers she has es­pe­cially ad­mired: Nina Si­mone, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzger­ald, and Odetta. Nonethe­less, the pre­de­ces­sor who comes to mind most of­ten dur­ing this recital — cer­tainly dur­ing the ef­fect-laden tracks of Elling­ton’s “Heaven” and Bern­stein’s “Some­where” — is Yma Su­mac, who sim­i­larly chan­neled ex­or­bi­tant vo­cal­ism into un­stint­ing weird­ness. Just as pe­cu­liar is Nor­man’s take on Weill’s “Mack the Knife”; it be­gins with a demon­stra­tion of her unique ap­proach to spo­ken dic­tion, which seems to em­anate from some dis­tant galaxy. The en­tire project is ir­refutably camp. Gen­eral voice lovers may find it fleet­ingly cu­ri­ous, but on the whole it may be most en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced among di­vas of the gen­der-il­lu­sion­ist lip-synch­ing cir­cuit. — James M. Keller

Hi­lario Durán is

one hot pi­ano player,

lay­ing out rhyth­mic block

chords with his left hand

and fleet im­pro­vi­sa­tions

with his right.

God help us all, but there’s a “yacht rock” re­vival go­ing on in Amer­ica right now. That’s right, I speak of a re­newed in­ter­est in the kind of preppy early-’80s soft-rock schmaltz that ranged from the heinous (“The Piña Co­lada Song,” “Sail­ing”) to the sub­lime (most any­thing by Hall & Oates). I will even ad­mit to hav­ing re­cently at­tended a yacht-rock party at a club, though I’ll plead the Fifth on whether or not I en­joyed my­self. Pretty much any­thing on Kisses’ The Heart

of the Nightlife would have blended in with the DJ’s set that night, and this is some­thing I will cop to: as it hap­pens, I love this al­bum. Crafted by Jesse Kivel and Zinzi Ed­mund­son, it’s a lush set of sub­tle disco that sounds like neon signs re­flect­ing in pud­dles on a rainy evening. Lyri­cally, as with some of the best 1980s pop hits, it comes across like teenagers sing­ing about what they think adult love might be like. Some­times the vibe is played for com­edy (“I’d like to take you out for a nice steak din­ner/Just me and you” goes the cho­rus of “Mid­night Lovers”) and other times for very se­ri­ous drama (the drum­ming on “On the Move” sounds sus­pi­ciously like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”). It all evokes a mildly sen­sual, some­what silly mood to help you get your yacht-yachts out.

— Robert B. Ker

HI­LARIO DURÁN TRIO Mo­tion (Alma Records)

Pi­anist Hi­lario Durán, a na­tive of Ha­vana, cut his chops play­ing in the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna (mid1970s) and the bands of Cuban trum­peter Ar­turo San­doval (1981 to 1990) and Cana­dian sax­o­phon­ist and flutist Jane Bun­nett (early 1990s to mid-2000s). The 2006 al­bum From

the Heart by Du­ran’s Latin Jazz Big Band, fea­tur­ing Paquito D’Rivera, won a Juno Award for Con­tem­po­rary Jazz Al­bum of the

Year. Mo­tion opens with “It’s Only Seven,” jam-packed with per­cus­sion and time changes. Durán is one hot pi­ano player, lay­ing out rhyth­mic block chords with his left hand and fleet im­pro­vi­sa­tions with his right. He’s abet­ted by his trio mates on the al­bum: drum­mer Mark Kelso and bassist Roberto Oc­chip­inti. The sec­ond of seven Du­ran com­po­si­tions is aptly ti­tled “Con­ver­sa­tion With a Lu­natic.” It’s a crazy, beau­ti­ful stew of Cuban jazz with daz­zling play­ing by the leader. A high­light is the 10-minute “Ha­vana City,” which adds vo­cals and batá drums by guest Joaquin Hi­dalgo and ro­man­tic saw­ings by The Pan­da­mo­nium Strings. It’s just a gor­geous, col­or­ful, and grand piece. “For Emil­iano,” writ­ten in honor of a men­tor, Cuban pi­anist Frank Emilio Flynn, is the al­bum’s calmest song, but it still kicks. And the ti­tle track is prac­ti­cally in­sane but si­mul­ta­ne­ously warm, with ballsy so­los by Oc­chip­inti and Kelso as well as Du­ran. Ex­hil­a­rat­ing. — Paul Wei­de­man

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