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Israel "Cachao" Lopez, "Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos (His Rhythm Is Like No Other)" Video, TL-13442.30

Israel "Cachao" Lopez, "Master Sessions, Vol.1," CD, TL-13328.10

Carlos Del Puerto & Silvio Vergara, "The True Cuban Bass," Book, TL-13591..70

Review: Cachao Documented, and a Book on Bass Playing

by David Peñalosa

Israel "Cachao" Lopez was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1918. A prodigy, Cachao made his debut with the Havana Philharmonic at age twelve playing bass while standing on a wooden box. During the 1930s, while playing in the famous charanga orchestra Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, Cachao and his brother Orestes wrote over three thousand danzónes. In 1939 the two brothers composed a danzón entitled "Mambo." The rhythmic counterpoint introduced in that composition began a movement which eventually led to the mambo craze which swept the world. In the late 1950s Cachao brought together the best musicians in Havana to record his now famous descargas. Descargas are open ended jams similar to jazz with an emphasis on improvisation. Other innovations of Cachao's include his various recordings where he played bass with folkloric percussion such as batá drums, guiro (chekeres), abacua, rumba and comparsa. Without a doubt, Cachao is the greatest living innovator of Cuban music.

Now at 76 years old, he has finally begun to get the recognition he deserves. Many black master musicians have not been appreciated during their lifetime for their contributions. A case in point is Arsenio Rodriguez, a contemporary of Cachao, who despite his many important innovations in popular Cuban music, died a pauper.

Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos
CD - Crescent Moon * Epic

Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia has produced a fine documentary film about "El Maestro." Garcia himself is seen on screen frequently in the documentary Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos. His love and respect for Cachao are evident to anyone watching this video. Another thing that becomes evident is that Andy Garcia has some ability playing conga drums. He is seen playing congas on several songs in the performance, in Miami, which is at the center of the documentary.

I'm very grateful to Garcia for exposing Cachao (and his importance to Latin music) to more people than ever before, but I found his on-screen presence an unnecessary distraction. This was especially true during the performance footage. The historical show featured the masters of their respective instruments: Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros (trumpet), Paquito D'Rivera (alto saxophone/clarinet), José "Chombo" Silva (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Bosch (trombone), Nestor Torres (flute), Nelson Gonzales (tres), Richie Flores (congas), to name a few. It would have been fine if at some point in the performance, Cachao asked producer Andy Garcia to come up on stage to play congas, sing — or whatever, for one tune. It's too bad this fine actor couldn't have been satisfied being in the background in his role as producer. In the video we see both Richie Flores and Andy Garcia playing several congas each. Flores with his awesome technique can play quite busily, sounding at times like two drummers. Garcia plays pretty busily at times too — flailing. Most of the time though, his microphone is turned off. At one point in the video Garcia says jokingly that the other musicians let him participate because he "bought the sandwiches." Other celebrities seen in this film include Robert Duvall (enjoying himself at the rehearsal) and Gloria Estefan, who came up on stage to play clave and sing for one song. (Estefan's CD Mi Tierra featured some outstanding Latin musicians, including Cachao.) During Ralph Irizarry's timbale solo the camera stayed for the most part on Gloria Estefan who was singing in the chorus. This was obviously a joyful gathering of Cuban-Americans sharing in the rich tradition of their music, but I got the feeling that the producers of this video thought that they needed a pop star's and movie star's presence to make this incredible music palatable to American audiences.

There's a nice segment where Flores plays accompanying congas for Garcia's reading of a poem about the Cuban port city of Santiago. It is here, and in his role as MC, that we see the actor demonstrate his true talent on stage.

With all the superb players present, this was definitely a musical summit. However, the impression I got from watching the film is that these sessions were, above all, a summit between Cachao and Paquito D'Rivera. It's a joy seeing the mutual respect they share. These two giants knew each other in Cuba, although Paquito was a young boy at the time. Another collaboration between these two masters is the CD 40 Years of Cuban Jam Session by Paquito D' Rivera (Messidor Records). This recording also includes Chocolate, Chombo Silva and Andy Garcia(?!). Although 40 Years is a superb recording, I feel I must warn you that the title is misleading. It is not a record of descargas, but rather a diverse collection of material reflecting Paquito D'Rivera's vast musical experience.

Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos centers around the before mentioned performance, the rehearsal for it and some informative interviews with "El Maestro." There is some interesting historical information in the interviews, including George Gershwin's and Igor Stravinsky's interest in Cuban music. Cachao himself comes off as a gracious master who directs with the utmost authority. The amount and diversity of material covered in the performance is formidable. If you look closely you can see players waiting for cues (missing at least one). The high caliber of talent, though, insured that this show came off brilliantly. You can see the musicians enjoying themselves and inspiring each other. After watching this, one gets the feeling of actually getting to know, to some degree, Cachao and the other musicians. One dominant feature of the documentary is the cutting back and forth between the rehearsal and performance during a song. This is an interesting technique, but it's frustrating when we are watching someone who is taking a solo in the rehearsal, while what we're hearing is the solo from the performance. It looks kind of like bad lip-synching.

Despite its flaws, Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos is a very valuable and enjoyable video. In fact, I found it to be the best performance video of Latin music that I have ever seen. I have watched it over a dozen times and will no doubt watch many more times still.

Cachao: Master Sessions, Vol. 1
CD - Crescent Moon * Epic

This CD, also produced by Andy Garcia, delves into the many styles of Cuban music in which Cachao has demonstrated his genius: danzón, mambo, son, guajira, descarga, comparsa, rumba, guiro. The compositions and personnel on this recording are nearly the same as on the video.

Cachao is still a phenomenal player with an incredible tone that no one can touch. Many of the performances are allowed to stretch out in a descarga flavor. There are some moments where Paquito D'Rivera, Jimmy Bosch, Chocolate and Nestor Torres are all playing at once. They are exciting climaxes that swing with a looseness not often found outside of live performances.

One surprise treat is percussionist Francisco Aquabella and vocalist Lazaro Galarraga on the rumba "Lindo Yambú" and the Lucumí piece "Cachao's Guiro." Galarraga is a renowned Akpwon (a caller of Lucumí songs), while Aquabella is one of the most knowledgeable and talented drummers of Afro-Cuban cult music.

Master Sessions Vol.1 will no doubt live on as a true classic and is such a pure musical work that it is sure to appeal to a wide range of tastes. I hope that those responsible will be putting out Master Sessions Vol. 2 before too long.

El Verdadero Bajo Cubano (The True Cuban Bass) by Carlos del Puerto & Silvo Vergara
Book - Sher Publications

The bass player for the Cuban super-group Irakere, Carlos del Puerto, has written an excellent instructional book-cassette combination. I especially appreciated the fact that it is bi-lingual with clearly written charts. This is almost an "everything you wanted to know about Cuban bass" book and tape.

The True Cuban Bass takes more time dealing with the earlier traditional styles than Funkifying The Clave (Manhattan Music) which spends far more time on funky interpretations of Afro-Cuban bass. These two different instructional book-cassette sets actually complement each other quite well.

The tape uses bass examples and recordings of classic songs (with the bass boosted in the mix). The sound quality is not very good. One could imagine somebody putting this rather low-tech instructional package together in their living room with a few common consumer-level electronic products. Regardless of how it was produced, though, the information is presented in a clear manner.

While the obvious group of people one would expect to be interested in this tape and book would be bass players who want to play salsa, jazz bass players could also benefit greatly from The True Cuban Bass.

If you're a percussionist or piano player in a salsa band, it is essential for you to understand the role of the bass as well.

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