A Man & His Music–El Alcalde del Barrio

Chris M. Slawecki, writing for the All About Jazz site, reviews the new release of A Man and His Music—El Alcalde del Barrio, the first retrospective of Joe Cuba’s music. Here is what he had to say.

Exhaustive and exhausting (because you won’t be able to stop dancing), A Man & His Music–El Alcalde del Barrio presents the first major retrospective of the 240 albums recorded by Joe Cuba, the Father of Latin boogaloo, and was released in February 2010 to commemorate the one year anniversary of his passing.

Gilberto Navarro was born in early 1930s Spanish Harlem. Inspired by the storied Latin percussionist Sabu, he taught himself to jam on congas and eventually wound up in the neighborhoods’ legendary Latin ensemble La Alfarona X. A promoter gave Navarro his “Joe Cuba” stage name; his body of work and the adoration of Latin and dance music fans for that work gave him his nickname, “The Mayor of the Barrio” (El Alcalde del Barrio).

Cuba’s lyrics and music deftly and synergistically create the ultimate boogaloo party, and you’ll discover way too much fun dancing among these 34 tracks to fully detail. The first track on this compilation asks “Do You Feel It?” and the subsequent music answers with such potent, powerful Latin and Latin boogaloo grooves that you can’t help but feel it! Different sections of a very large group–including, from its sound, little children–shout out the “Bang bang” and “Beep beep” lyrics to “Bang Bang,” and as dumb as that may read on paper, it sounds brilliant in your ears: “Bang Bang” was one of if not the very first Latin singles to pass one million sales. Those ears won’t be able to tell where the piano ends and the vibes begin, and where the vibes end and the percussion begins, in “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back to Georgia).” It all sort of melts together into a musical stream, and sparkles beneath a magical, glorious Latin sun.

“La Calle Esta Durisima” shines no less brilliant, especially when Tommy Berrios’ vibes bounce Caribbean beats off its wall of Afro-Cuban percussion, and Berrios’ solo to close “Y Joe Cuba Ya Llego” dances like Snoopy rocking his doghouse top.

To be honest, I wish I could share more about other tunes, such as “Macorina,” for which I have very few useable notes because, by that time, I just had to get up and dance. Even so, A Man & His Music reveals a truth that Spanish Harlem has known for decades: Joe Cuba led some hellacious Latin boogaloo bands, was himself a ferocious entertainer, and it seems completely impossible to listen to his music without wanting to dance or at least smile–wildly.

For the original review, a list of tracks, and musicians go to http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/review_print.php?id=37124

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