Kip Hanrahan is one of the most enigmatic figures in American music. He presides over recording sessions like a sage elder (or perhaps a dictator). Though he often takes no part in the actual musical performances, his mere presence as Producer and Composer seems to direct his loyal musicians in interpreting his music, which has been described as “soundtracks to films that don’t exist”. His earlier releases on American Clave, likeDesire Develops An Edge
, paired the surreal vocals of ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce with noir jazz charts of rich exoticism. More recently he’s taken a more accessible interest in Afro-Cuban music and channeled it through the excellent group Deep Rumba (Rumba Profunda). His taste for dark moods still predominates, even on the more upbeat selections. This disc, the second Deep Rumba recording, effectively transportsBuena Vista Social Club
to the seediest of Havana bars, with junkies shooting up in the back booths and slutty waitresses with overflowing cleavage proffering powerful rum concoctions. For all its lightlessness, however, Deep Rumba is far more appealing to the mainstream audience than the Hanrahan/Bruce collaborations. The titular leader didn’t even compose any of these works; he simply bills himself as Musical Director and offers up a background vocal on track #6.
Hanrahan gathered some outstanding company for this session. Tenor man Charles Neville (of those famous New Orleans brothers) rubs elbows with fusion drummer Robby Ameen,Buena Vistatimbalero Amadito Valdes, and Latin jazzers like bassist Andy Gonzales, drummer “El Negro” Horacio Hernandez, and conguero Giovanni Hidalgo. The rhythms and song structures are mostly true to traditional Cuban forms. The disc opens with a woeful lament by Neville’s solo tenor sax, which leads into a hot drum duet by Ameen and El Negro. The percussionists take us from Bourbon Street to Birdland, then finally down to Old Havana where the enchanted voice of Xiomara Lougart tempts us with pensive beauty. Track #2 has a discomforting juxtaposition, so typical of Hanrahan: the slow, gentle ballad sounds of Lougart and violinist Alfredo Triff float ethereally over a veritable volcano of percussion. Triff also plays wild, distant jungle howls on the unusual #15, which features Gonzales’ bowed bass.
More traditional Cuban sounds are scattered around the disc, with many unexpected twists. Track #7 is especially abstruse, a trio of tenor sax, vibrant bass, and El Negro clicking two large metal keys together like claves. The next track is a brief, memorable rendition of the classic Besame Mucho ; Lougart sounds like she’s lounging half-drunk on a worn couch, a full ashtray sitting on the floor. Vocalist Haila Monpie’s contributions are also noteworthy, her voice being more youthful and less dusky than Lougart’s. Other excellent lead vocals are provided by the soulful Pedro Martinez and Puntilla Orlando Rios, a nice variety overall. The disc closes strangely, with the disembodied telephone-voices of Velibor Pedevski and El Negro over a pointillistic ground of handclaps and percussion played on some type of metal “sculptures”. As always, Hanrahan leaves us puzzling over the unforeseen. This is an unconventional but most entertaining disc, especially recommended for those who like a middle ground between Latin jazz and Buena Vista-style traditionalism.
Personnel: Charles Neville, tenor sax; Robby Ameen, trap drums; El Negro Horacio Hernandez, trap drums, percussion and vocals; Richie Flores, Paoli Mejias, Giovanni Hidalgo, congas; Ramon Diaz, congas and cajones; Xiomara Lougart, Puntilla Orlando Rios, Haila Monpie, Pedro Martinez, Velibor Pedevski, vocals; Alfredo Triff, violin; Charlie Flores, electric bass; Andy Gonzales, bass, vocals; Abraham Rodriguez, claves; Amadito Valdes, timbales; Kip Hanrahan, vocals, musical director.