With the nouveau swing revival grabbing so much headline space recently, some may not have noticed that the rhythmically dynamic music of Latin America is more widespread and assertive than ever within the confines of norteamericana. Those who remember fondly its earlier incarnations in this country, spearheaded by bands led by Xavier Cugat, Desi Arnaz, Perez Prado and others, should welcome with open arms and ears this warmhearted tribute by saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera’s ensemble to Havana’s legendary Tropicana nightclub, which was the
place for contemporary Latin / American music before Castro’s communist revolution clamped down on anything beyond the pale of accepted Marxist philosophy and thought. There are times when the spirit of Prado burns brightly, as on the opening “Mambo a la Kenton,” written by Armando Romeu Jr., who served for 25 years as leader of the Tropicana Jazz band; veteran Chico O’Farrill’s “El Coronel y Marina,” or the legendary Mario Bauza’s “Mambo Inn.” Another Cuban legend, Ernesto Lecuona, is represented by his lovely ballad “Siboney” (sung by Brenda Feliciano). Ernesto Duarte wrote “Cicuta Tibia,” “Sustancia” and “Como Fue,” Juanito Marquez contributed “Old Miami Sax,” D’Rivera “Tropicana Nights” and “Chucho” (for the renowned pianist Chucho Valdes), and Jesus Guerra, Wolfe Gilbert, Moises Simon and Marion Sunshine collaborated on “A Mi Que / El Manisero” (sung by Lucrecia, as is “Como Fue”). While Jazz is an ever–present component of the album (with a number of respectable but uncredited solos by D’Rivera and others), the emphasis is on danceable music by the full ensemble that evokes the convivial and forward–looking atmosphere of pre–revolutionary Havana. A pity that has been lost, perhaps forever, but helpful that D’Rivera’s orchestra can at least furnish a glimpse of what it must have been like in the good old days.
Track listing: Mambo a la Kenton; Chucho; Cicuta Tibia; Siboney; Old Miami Sax; Tropicana Nights; Sustancia; Como Fue; El Coronel y Marina; Mambo Inn; A Mi Que / El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor) (49:32).