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Paquito D'Rivera, "Portraits of Cuba," CD, TL-15013.10

Review: Portraits Of Cuba

by Luis Moreno

Cuban jazz has always found its voice in a big band. Most recently it roared sublimely in Mario Bauza’s last recordings and, convulsed with swing, it was heard speaking-in-tongues on Chico O’ Farril’s “Pure Emotion.” Paquito D’ Rivera’s “Portraits of Cuba” is an aural history of the last 100 years in Cuban music. It is a jazz-impressionist view of that history. Carlos Franzetti, arranger and conductor, set the goal of rendering a jazz tribute to Cuban music in the same sense that “Sketches of Spain” is a jazz tribute to Spanish music. To achieve that goal Franzetti wrote charts that have this band blowin’ like a trained force of nature: alternating gale fury with a gentle tropical breeze.
The evolution of the bolero Cubano is traced from its roots in the Habanera or danza Cubana on “Tu,” through the contributions of such masters of the genre as Ernesto Lecuona on “Como Arrullo de Palmas,” Rene Touzet on “No Te Importe Saber,” and Cesar Portillo De La Luz on “Tu Mi Delirio.” On original compositions such as Franzetti’s “Mariana” and Paquito’s “Song To My Son” the contemporary and eternal viability of this romantic spirit is affirmed. Enduring Cuban values are revealed in classics like the cancion de cuna (lullaby) “Drume Negrita,” Ignacio Pineiro’s “Echale Salsita,” “La Bella Cubana,” and amazingly on “The Peanut Vendor” (El Manisero), which had languished in caricature until now. “I Love Lucy” effuses with the energy that was Desi. The title track is the opening movement for “Aires Tropicales,” an extended piece written by Paquito for the Aspen Wind Quintet. It serves as both a summary of the subject and as a compass for future directions.
There are goals that take a lifetime to fulfill, projects that assimilate experience and bring you full circle - this is one of them. As a child in Cuba, Paquito heard recordings of Benny Goodman and conceived the dream of being a jazz musician in New York. By fulfilling that dream he also came to know Cuban music from inside and out. “Portraits of Cuba” recapitulates all the memories and nostalgia of both man and country and offers it to the listener. Somewhere Benny Goodman is wearing a smile a cloud wide.

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