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Machito, Greatest Hits CD
Machito, Cuban Rhythms CD
Machito, Fireworks CD

Review: Short Cuts

by Bosco El Gitano

Francisco Raul Grillo, better known as Machito, is considered to be the “Godfather” of Latin music for his many contributions and his beautiful concept of experimentation with latin and jazz music. Born in Havana Cuba, Machito began singing and playing percussion in rumba groups in the 1930’s. In 1937 he got his chance to sing lead with Las Estrellas Habanera, and, in that same year, moved to New York City. By 1940 he formed his own Orchestra, The Afro-Cubans, with Mario Bauza as musical director. They did their first recording in 1941, and the rest is history.

Greatest Hits

Machito established himself with such hits as "Sopa de Pinchón" which was a best seller for him in 1942. This tune typified his best work, incorporating his stimulating vocal style and great horn arrangements which included saxophones, trumpets and trombones. The CD also features Machito’s sister Graciela [who was a member of the all woman Orchestra Anacona in 1933] on lead vocals on "Caso Perdido," a romantic soulful bolero with a sweet piano solo. This CD picks up steam with "Noche de Farra," a festive mambo with excellent vocals and, again, aggressive horns. "Quimbombo" features fine conga work. Machito's is generally regarded as the first New York band to include the conga drum as a regular member of the rhythm section. "Carambola" is a Latin-Jazz fusion composed by Chico O'Farrill and Dizzy Gillespie (who passed away this past January). The one instrumental tune here is "Asia Minor," a mambo that contains a groovin' conga tumbao and a nice piano solo by Rene Hernandez. The closing cut, "La Paella," is a fine vocal duet for Graciela and Machito. This CD demonstrates why this band was, along with the Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez bands, one of the big three mambo bands in New York.

Cuban Rhythms with Miguelito Valdez (1949)

The Machito orchestra backed Miguelito Valdez for some 26 recordings. Cuban Rhythms, recorded in 1949, features the great Cuban vocalist known as Mr. Babalu in top form. The fifteen tracks contained here run about 50 minutes and range from Afro to Bolero to Guaracha and Rumba. It opens with "Rica Pulpa" with Miguelito singing in the pregón style. Nice bongo playing and horn arrangements throughout the recording. "La Rumba Soy Yo" effortlessly goes from one rhythm to another and features a silky piano solo and tremendous big-band horn work. "Oye Negra," a guaracha, is a good example of what is at the root of modern Salsa. "Letargo" is a beautiful Bolero which displays Mr. Valdez' singing abilities. These recordings were very successful for both Miguelito and Machito.

Fireworks (1977)

This album is explosive and electrifying from beginning to end, featuring a unparalleled line up of musicians which reads like a who’s who of Latin and Jazz music in New York. Thirty-nine players participated. The recording is split into two sessions, the first opens with a young (nineteen) and vary talented Lalo Rodriguez (lead vocals) on a contemporary Guaguancó entitled "Mi Ritmo Llego." It's composed by Lalo and his singing is incredible. Backed by the powerful Machito Orchestra, this swinging up-tempo tune also features a trombone solo by the great late Barry Rogers.

The second cut showcases Lalo’s sensitive vocal talents on the soft bolero "Desilusion" — another Lalo composition with expressive horns and a good arrangement by Ray Santos. The third tune is an easy paced Son Montuno written and sung by Machito with some funky timbale playing by Nicky Marrero.

The second session opens with the tune "Macho," an instrumental descarga and the hottest number on the recording. "Macho" starts out with the traditional Afro-Cuban Batá drums, while Machito speaks to the Orishas of the Santeria religion. This thirteen minute jam moves easily through several modes and rhythmic changes with sax, trumpet, and piano solos set against Andy Gonzalez' supportive bass lines. Just when you think things are as hot as they can get, Nicky Marrero cuts loose on those rapid-fire timbales and heats things up even more! This is one hell of a tune.

The closing cut "Soy Salsero" is a lively Son Montuno with Machito on lead vocals and Lalo working the Coro flawlessly. The muted trumpets are set against the back-drop of the Cuban montuno, followed by the floating trumpet solo of Victor Paz. Nicky Marrero’s percussion talents are very effective incorporated here as well. Machito also sings a little about his friend “Mr Babalu” Miguelito Valdes. This is my favorite tune on the CD.

Frank “Machito” Grillo was a pioneer in the Latin and Latin jazz world as well as a great gentleman who was loved by many. His big band formula mixed with Latin percussion is a timeless and irresistible blend. He is missed by many.

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