Cortijo ‘1969-1971: The Ansonia Years’ (Vampi Soul) 4/5

cortijoPuerto Rican master percussionist Rafael Cortijo is a legend in his native island, but relatively unknown outside. He formed a crack collaborative partnership with sonero (Latin sing with the vocal dexterity to ad-lib at want) Ismael Rivera in the mid-late 1960s, but here the focus is very much on his solo leader albums that explore indigenous Puerto Rican bomba and plena rhythms. Covering just a four year period, the compilation is hardly definitive and you will need to supplement it with both collaborative albums with Rivera and the stunning mid-1970s Latin-fusion album, ‘Time Machine’. That said, for the first time listener and seasoned admirer of Cortijo’s music, this re-issue has much to commend itself. Perhaps of greater interest to world roots fans in search of the folkloric music of Puerto Rico than Latin jazz fans who are advised to search for ‘Time Machine’, Cortijo was part of the post-big band era and closely linked to the African-American civil rights era as viewed from a Latino perspective. Music and culture were closely inter-linked with political demands and the desire to create a distinctive Puerto Rican culture within the US. This mirrored also the demands among Americans of Mexican heritage, especially on the West coast, referred to as Chicanos.. The music contained within is universally of a high standard and concentrates on authentic Puerto Rican folk rhythms as illustrated by ‘Alegria bomba es’, ‘Amancer Borincano’, ‘Borincano’ being the indigenous name for the island and its inhabitants as well as ‘El negrito balidaor’, a positive affirmation of blackness among the Puerto Rican population and a shared interest in issues relating to their common African heritage with African-Americans in cities such as New York. Music worthy of re-investigation and with strong cultural, political and social connections.

Tim Stenhouse