Eliel Lazo / Yasser Pino / Raul Pineda / Javier Massó ‘Cuban Jazz Report’ LP/CD (Stunt) 5/5

‘Cuban Jazz Report’ marks the official debut recording of the Cuban jazz supergroup helmed by renowned percussionist, Eliel Lazo, available through the revered Stunt Records.

Already an immensely celebrated and decorated musician by his late-teens, Eliel Lazo’s demand with Danish bands and audiences saw him set up home in Copenhagen, from Cuba, in 2007; since then, Lazo’s impassioned approach to his music and culture has seen him deliver his sound across Denmark and beyond including performances with the WDR Big Band, Blanco Y Negro, Herbie Hancock and even having chalked up an appearance on Kylie Minogue’s ‘Kiss Me Once’ (2014) album.

While 2014 saw Lazo release the first project with The Cuban Funk Machine, partnering with US saxophonist, composer and big band leader Bob Mintzer for their joint Stunt Records release, it also saw the birth of Lazo’s “Cuban Nights” series with the intention of presenting new and authentic Cuban music to new audiences. Over the years, that series evolved to showcase a revolving door of new Cuban artists through performances in Denmark and across Europe but for the unveiling of the collective’s official debut project, Lazo has recruited the original line-up to comprise Cuban Jazz Report once again to wave the flag for his signature and cherished Afro-Cuban aesthetic.

With Lazo appearing on percussion, vocals and production, frequent collaborator Yasser Morejón Pino, having appeared previously with Lazo on Stunt Records projects as a member of The Cuban Funk Machine and a member of Blanco Y Negro provides bass and additional production on the album; Grammy-winning drummer Raul Pineda and pianist Javier “Caramelo” Masso round out the quartet each with genuinely scene-stealing performances throughout.

The celebratory nature within Lazo’s compositions and performances have always been prevalent – when discussing his Cuban Funk Machine project in 2014 he described it as “joyous music… Happy jazz”. And it’s something that’s immediately apparent from this project’s outset with ‘Havana Chants’. The music throughout is so infectious that the notion of the live Cuban Nights series that spawned this project begrudgingly edges into your consciousness as something that would have been magical to witness. But while the high-energy of the more explosive numbers like ‘Nuevo Amanecer’, ‘Cuban Style Blues’ and ‘Monday Evening’ are wonderful standouts, the ballads (boleros) are equally captivating like the complete reimagining of ‘La Caminadora’ originally performed in the 1960s by the Cuban close-harmony and doo-wop-inspired group Los Zafiros but recreated here as a lush piano-led bolero with a fantastic vocal.

Having been in the making for five years, the official unveiling of ‘Cuban Jazz Report’ must hold particular significance for the musicians involved. It’s a stunning record that also serves well as a really fantastic introduction to Cuban jazz and Afro-Cuban music.

Imran Mirza