Cuban Roots Revisited
When the enterprising CuBop label, a champion of original Afro-Cuban music, was unable to secure the rights for a re-release of Mark Weinstein's original legendary 1967 Cuban Roots album, one of the most seminal in the history of jazz that had acquired early cult status, after trying to track down the owners of the rights over a lengthy period, CuBop's co-founder Michael McFadin showed the kind of enterprise and even inspiration that has set the CuBop label apart in today's record industry. He commissioned Mark Weinstein to recreate this phenomenal album in the form of a modern sequel. No effort and cost was spared it would seem, for the "cast" assembled by Weinstein and CuBop to form the Cuban Roots ensemble for this recording reads like a "Who's Who" of Afro-Cuban jazz, and Afro-Cuban percussion in particular. Cuban Roots Revisited was finally released in 1999, with CuBop even making selected tracks available for download from one of the early commercial music download sites (with a notable emphasis on jazz) on the web.
Mark Weinstein's original 1967 Cuban Roots album, despite its first release having been limited to a mere 500 copies (with a subsequent, inferior, pressing under another label, and probable widespread audio cassette copying and/or bootlegging), was hugely influential in its time. Introducing Cuban folk and religious melodies, rhythms and drumming into a jazz setting, or for that matter any setting outside of Cuban folk music, for the very first time, Cuban Roots paved the way for and influenced artists and bands such as Cuban band Irakere of 1970s fame, Paquito D'Rivera (who before moving to the US had been a member of Irakere), Jerry Gonzalez, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow, John Santos, and numerous others. The debt that these and other artists in the Afro-Cuban jazz scene undoubtedly owe the pioneering creative genius of Mark Weinstein is surely immense and cannot be emphasized enough, yet sadly it is rarely acknowledged sufficiently. With such an illustrious history behind it then, how does the successor, Cuban Roots Revisited, measure up?
Other legendary musicians featured on Cuban Roots Revisited alongside Mark Weinstein include the near-immortal percussionist Francisco Aguabella, here featured mainly on the Santeria derived tracks on the sacred bata drum, as well as Lazarro Galarraga, Humberto "Nengue" Hernandez, Omar Sosa and others. The instrumentation on Cuban Roots Revisited was changed to flute (Mark Weinstein having switched to this from trombone some twenty-five years earlier), three trombones including bass trombone, and a rhythm section that now includes the sacred bata drum, which on the original Cuban Roots had been substituted with congas. Seven of the pieces of the earlier album were re-arranged by Mark Weinstein and also Dan Weinstein, as well as by both together, and two new ones added. The arrangement of Mark Weinstein's Just Another Guajira incorporates his original trombone solo from the 1967 recording harmonized for three 'bones.
As with the original album, the tracks on Cuban Roots Revisited fall into three categories. The strictly sacred chants for the orishas of the Santeria religion, the congas de comparsas which are Cuban pre-Lent carnival music that can be both sacred and secular, sometimes with subtle political overtones, and the strictly secular Guaguanco style which however also has roots in sacred Yoruba music. Mark Weinstein and his illustrious sidemen have succeeded in not only presenting a set of equally fresh and breathtakingly inventive music with the same blend of Afro-Cuban folk melodies and percussion, harmonically creative arrangements and intense, inventive polytonal jazz improvs, as on the original Cuban Roots, but also in replicating that earlier album's immense spontaneity, excitement and live atmosphere on Cuban Roots Revisited.
The opener of Mark Weinstein's Cuban Roots Revisited is provided by one of the new pieces. Eleggua is, appropriately, an invocation to the spirit of that name, also called Echu, that begins and closes all Santeria rituals. The first part is ethereal, Mark Weinstein's flute and then Steve Ferguson's subdued bass trombone soli floating serenely above Omar Sosa's lightly sparkling ivories and the percussion, with the second part turning more lively with Mark Weinstein's flute sprite-like, almost mischievous, Dan Weinstein's muted trombone playful. The secular dance Malanga sees Mark Weinstein exploiting the mysterious sounding low register of the alto flute to the full, as well as his regular soprano which dances spiritedly in a lively improv. Mirala Que Linda Viene, another entirely new track, a lively carnival piece, opens with a pace-setting 'bone solo from Dan Weinstein, taken up by Mark Weinstein's flute and Omar Sosa's keys, developing into a series of whirling brilliant flute improvs, interspersed with another 'bone solo this time from Arturo Velasco. This piece captures the mood and atmosphere of a Caribbean carnival like no other! The next piece returns to religious themes with Ochosi-Om-Mi, an almost reflective number but with Mark Weinstein's increasingly animated, impassioned flute painting a supreme mood picture of the spirit of the hunt in a series of imaginative improvs. Just Another Guajira is the sole Weinstein original, a lively boogaloo that in its new incarnation is also wonderfully reminiscent of Trinidadian calypsos of a previous age. Carlitos del Puerto's bass solo and Weinstein's brilliant flute improvs stand out. Returning again to the orishas, Chango is dedicated to the most powerful of them all. Oozing virility and strength, Mark Weinstein's flute and Arturo Velasco's trombone improvs work themselves into a veritable frenzy from which there is no let up. Desengano De Los Roncos returns us to the Guanguanco dance form, with lively elegant improvs from Weinstein's flute as well as Sosa's piano. Once again returning to sacred themes, Ochun, the spirit of love and lust, is a sensuous, sometimes dreamy piece with inventive soloing from Weinstein's flute as well as Dan Weinstein's trombone as well as violin, and Omar Sosa's ivories. By contrast, El Barracon is a remarkably cheerful work song from the dark days of slavery, with tremendously vibrant solos from Dan Weinstein's 'bone and bass trumpet. Appropriately, the closer of Mark Weinstein and Cuban Roots' Cuban Roots Revisited again is an invocation of Eleggua, this time a purely percussive version in bembe style, restrained and respectful.
Good liner notes further enhance this superb album and include a brief history of both the 1960s Cuban Roots and the present album, as well as potted biogs of the members of the present Cuban Roots band and brief descriptions of the origins of each track that are helpful especially for those not previously acquainted with Cuban folk and religious traditions.
More than thirty years after the revolutionary Cuban Roots, Mark Weinstein's Cuban Roots Revisited still comes as something of a shockingly refreshing breath of fresh air with its exciting, exhilarating and deeply spiritual music. Essential? You bet!
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