Machito Y Sus Afro Cubanos ‘Tanga -The King of Afro Cuban Jazz’ (ÉL) 4/5

machitoFrank Grillo aka Machito is one of the founding fathers of what we now call Afro-Cuban jazz (or it’s more generic title of Latin jazz, though in terms of the actual style Afro-Cuban jazz is more appropriate). This CD, while never aiming to be a complete or even definitive account of the music, nonetheless provides a necessary and extremely useful overview of the roots of Afro-Cuban jazz from the late 1940s through to end of the mambo dancefloor era in the early 1960s (the mighty Palladium dancefloor in New York had closed altogether by 1966), cherry picking some of the essential moments. One of these is unquestionably the extended suite that trumpeter and brother-in-law of Machito, Mario Bauzá composed, namely ‘Tanga’. This was a true fusion of jazz and Cuban music, and, from somewhat awkward beginnings in the early-mid 1940s, jazz and Latin musicians would gradually study each other’s music intently and consequently come to a greater understanding of what was required to bring them closer together. A four piece Latin rhythm section combines beautifully with five non-Latino reed musicians including Flip Philips on tenor saxophone and Bobby Woodlen on trumpet and the rest is history. Radio stations have recently picked up on the Chico O’Farrill penned, ‘Vaya! Vaya! (Vaya Nina)’ and this is a fine example of the genre. Many of the sides found here were originally released on 10″ vinyl and that was the case of the classic ‘Freezelandia’, once again under the tutelage of Chico O’Farrill’s expert arranging talents. A seminal Latin jazz album where some of the very greatest jazz reedmen featured was ‘Kenya’ from 1957 and three pieces have been selected here. Alongside one of the greatest ever rhythm sections that included Candido Camero, Carlos ‘Potato’ Valdes, José Mangual Sr. and Ubaldo Nieto, jazz musicians of the calibre of Cannonball Adderley, ‘Doc’ Cheatham and Joe Newman let rip on the appropriately titled uptempo number, ‘Frenzy’. A pared down line-up, this time with Herbie Mann on flute, Johnny Griffin on tenor and Curtis Fuller on trombone, would return the compliment just a year later on ‘Brazilian soft shoe’, from another essential album entitled, ‘With flute to boot’ aka ‘Afro-Jazziac’.

By 1950 jazz musicians were more comfortable performing Afro-Cuban jazz and once again Chico O’Farrill’s masterly arrangements led to another key recording on Norman Granz’s Verve label, ‘The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite’, this time with Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison and Charlie Parker among the alumni and the various moods created within are no less than a master class in the evolution of Latin jazz and expertly delivered. Elsewhere the Tico albums of Machito are briefly showcased, as on the excellent 1956 album, ‘Asia Minor’, and the title track is but one example on this compilation of the exotic eastern-derived themes. Another illustration of this is ‘Oboe mambo’ from 1951. One has to bear in mind that in the immediate post-WWII period, after such deprivation and suffering, the general population was in search of entertainment that would take their minds temporarily off their current struggles and the mambo dance craze partially filled this gap in their lives admirably.

In order to fully comprehend the roots of Afro-Cuban jazz, one would need to supplement this release with the Verve double CD ‘Cuban Blues: The Chico O’Farrill (the arranger and band leader arrived in New York from Havana during the 1940s where remained thereafter) sessions’ as well as other albums hitherto referred to, but as a starter this is an ideal place to begin and, as ever, with El/Cherry Red releases, unbeatable value. Excellent black and white photos and full line-up information.

Tim Stenhouse