Styles: Cuban Jazz
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
With the increase in global appeal and demand for Cuban music in the last several years, L.A. Meetings could perhaps be the last recorded Sandoval document from a vanishing era. An era of playing music for the love it, an era when more emphasis was placed on the art and less on profit.
Recorded less than a year before his defection from Cuba - during a brief visit to Los Angeles in 1989 - this is the Arturo Sandoval that caught my ear in the late 1970s. This is the Arturo that was raising musical eyebrows and attracting attention around the world long before all the gold records and Grammys, the multi-record deals, before the movie soundtracks, celebrity guest appearances and way before the HBO bio-pic about his life. This is the same Arturo Sandoval that was so much a defining part of the early Irak ere sound. That unprecedented grand daddy of Cuban jazz bands which, after more than thirty years, is still the benchmark and spawning ground or so many great Cuban jazz musicians.
I'm not sure what it is about Cuban musicians, I just know that I hear it. There's a certain indescribable quality about the music they produce that's unique. Maybe it's their limited resources, which requires them to try harder and be more inventive with what they've got, or better yet, with what they haven't got! All I'm sure of is that there's a definite sense of musical adventure and an indefinable energy that can be clearly heard in just about everything that comes from the island. On the other hand, it could be our North American musical ethnocentricity that perverts us into thinking that jazz is "supposed" to sound "a certain way." It's very refreshing to hear musicians who aren't afraid to defy the norm. Don't get me wrong, this isn't some kind of way-out project, it's just that we, as "Americans," have a nasty little habit of dismissing anything as "inauthentic" that doesn't fit within our narrow compartmentalized vision. Cuban musicians aren't afraid to play by their own concept of the rules, or to make new ones along the way. Rules that include much riskier and experimental music than what we're used to here in the US. A very refreshing quality and one that many believe jazz is supposed to be based upon.
L. A. Meetings has an effervescent, raw, slightly-on-the-edge kind of sound that comes from a primal joy of playing music for music's sake. The music is tight, energetic, inventive and inspiring. In a word, it's HOT! The band tears out of the gate and with an uncompromising and aggressive musical drive that let's you know right off, they don't plan on taking any prisoners.
From the opening strains of the bass intro to first track, I suspected that I was in for a musical treat, that L. A. Meetings was going to be a burner. By the end, I knew my instincts were right. What you've got here is Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval at the peak of his pre-defection artistry.
An ass-kicking conga solo by guest Poncho Sanchez highlights Rimsky. You can hear Arturo shouting his approval, egging Poncho on at the beginning of a lengthy and hard-driving solo, which I suspect, was driven by his trading with Arturo's timbales just before. You get the sense that Poncho walked into authentic Cuban percussionists' cutting session. Poncho's playing is inspired and almost transcendent here. Little did they know that by the time this recording was released, both would be Grammy winners, and two of the most successful and soughtafter Latin jazz performers in the world.
Pete King's Heart is probably the most straight-ahead composition on this collection. It features a basic swing rhythm and is dedicated to the proprietor of a famous London jazz club, Ronnie Scott's, where Cuban musicians have always been welcomed and celebrated.
L. A. Meetings is kind of a funky Afro-bluesy tune that provides Arturo a launching pad for his soaring 'brass-crobatics.' The rest of the band, as they do with every other style represented on this recording, sounds perfectly comfortable and at home with the funk. Jorge Luis Chicoy's guitar solo just kind of sweeps you off your ears.
Mi Lugar (My Place) keeps that funky groove, this time with a little taste of Reggae, another rhythm that Arturo feels comfortable with and again he almost immediately accelerates off on some blistering licks. Sandoval demonstrates his incredible range on this one and Chicoy once again just rips out an amazing guitar solo.
Libertad Carnaval, with its Calypso/West African feel, evokes images of happier, less complicated times. I guess that's what carnival is all about, right? An opportunity to forget your worries and leave responsibilities behind. There's even a synthesized steel drum that helps give it that "street" feel.
Poncho and Arturo apparently hit it off because Poncho stuck around to play bongos on the beautiful classic samba-ballad 6Dindi. In contrast to the rest of this hard driving recording, Arturo tastefully weaves his horn in and out of the melody with a very gentle sensitivity.
It appears that in spite of his tremendous commercial success since coming to the US in 1990, Arturo Sandoval has managed to maintain his musical integrity and creativity. However, it hasn't been without a price. As Arturo so succinctly put it, "I miss rehearsing and playing with my band every day. Over here (in the US), when you call a rehearsal, the first thing everybody asks is 'who's paying?"
It certainly took a while to get here, but what you hold in your hands is a little piece of jazz history. L.A. Meetings captures a moment when one of the world's greatest trumpeters was preparing for a major life transformation, one that was to have global musical repercussions. This is Arturo Sandoval with his last and best Cuban band.
- Alfredo Cruz