Imagine the ups and downs of Cuban professional musicianship through the decades since the Second World War: radio broadcasts and idolization in the 1940's, Dizzy Gillespie's discovery of the music in the 1940's, the spread of Cuban rhythms to the U.S. public in the 1950's, the crackdown on the dissemination of information and culture beyond the island from the start of the Castro regime in 1958, the struggle to maintain instruments and to export the music beyond Cuba in the 1960's through the 1990's, the surreptitious religious references in the music in spite of an agnostic government, America's rediscovery of Cuban music in the late 1990's, the loosening of visa requirements for Cuban musicians, and finally the subsequent release of Cuban recordings on major labels throughout the world again.
It's been a long journey, and Frank Emilio has been at the center of it all. Revered by his fellow musicians in a country where the study of music is a sacred calling, Emilio finally is re-recording some of his long-overlooked compositions and creating new music in the Cuban traditions on "Ancestral Reflections".
The title "Ancestral Reflections" could be taken two ways: as a reference to the complex history of the island's music and as a number of allusions to the culture of Cuban society. Emilio merges both reflections into a single image within a length of 54 or so seconds.
Incorporating several of the traditional Cuban genres such as danzon, conga, rhumba or Afro-Cuban, Emilio emerges on "Ancestral Reflections" more as an equal participant in the music than as an ever-present soloist with accompaniment. As a result, his arrangements present the music with the involvement of flutes and violins, instead of the expected brass instruments of Cuban jazz. A more genteel, reflective and intellectual music, Emilio's on "Ancestral Reflections" involves decades of assured knowledge and experience in portraying scenes and situations that Emilio has lived.
"El Arroyo Que Murmura" is a case in point. Using a lute for the one time on the CD, the song alludes to the music of the Cuban countryside in ¾ with a sound very similar to that of a gypsy mandolin. "Juventud de Pueblo Neuvo" recalls the carefree nature of Emilio's boyhood in danzon form, as always controlled and rich in texture. "La Conga Se Va" sets up the conga line of a passing carnival parade through the streets of the city.
Beyond the visual portraits that Emilio's music paints, some of the tunes extend some of the established formats, such as the mannered mambo of "Rico Melao", as conventional in its first chorus as a royal European dance. "Guerra de Flautas" sets up a mock battle of the flutes as notes are engaged and ideas are launched. And finally, the song "Reflejos Ancestrales" allows Emilio to express a richness and elegance in his introduction that are subsumed throughout the rest of the CD as he emphasizes instead the talents of his group, Los Amigos. Even on "Reflejos Ancestrales", however, Emilio backs off the allow the tune's real excitement, the dialog between percussionists Tata Guines and Changuito, to thrill.
A natural for Jane Bunnett's and Larry Cramer's vision because of his inclusion of flutes and the lighter approach to Cuban music, Emilio at the age of 79 finally gets his due on "Ancestral Reflections." Obviously modest and a gentleman giving his fellow musicians the opportunity to shine, Frank Emilio, a compendium of Cuban music, once again is there, steady as a rock, to pursue his profession and passion as the wheel turns once more.
Guerra de Flautas; Rico Melao; La Mulata Rumbera; La Conga Se Va; Rumba Elegante; Bilongo; El Arroyo Que Murmura; Juventud de Pueblo Luevo; Reflejos Ancestrales
Frank Emilio Flynn, piano; William Rubalcaba, bass; Joaquin Olivero Gavalan, Orlando "Maraca" Valle, flute; Barbaro Torres Delgado, lute; Lazaro Jesus Ordonez Enriquez, Pablo A. Mesa Suarez, violin; Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana, timbales; Federico Aristides "Tata Guines" Soto, congas; Enrique Lazaga Varona, guiro, claves, tom-tom; Juan Crespo Masa, Enrique Contreras Orama, chorus