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First of all, let me admit a bias. As a trombonist, there are few sounds more beautiful to my ears than an ensemble of trombones. Combine this with another passion, the seductive throbbing of cuban percussion, and you have a combination that's tough to beat. Manny Oquendo and Libre live up to this potential on their latest Milestone outing, Ahora. Most of the program is spirited yet polished. While it's not the most extroverted Cuban dance or party music you'll hear, it's still right in the groove and quite satisfying. My only quibble is that with most songs in the six- to eight-minute range, occasionally the rhythmic repetition starts to wear thin; shaving a minute or two off here and there might have been preferable.
Of particular note is the passionate ballad, "Sabor a Mi," which features the Spanish vocals of Herman Oliveira and the English vocals of pianist Willie Rodriguez. Both men display near-perfect tone quality, pitch, enunciation, and most important, sincerity. It's sheer beauty and Latin romance at its best. (Milestone MCD-9288)
Tracks:Tu Me Perteneces; El Son; Asia Minor (a musical tribute to Frank "Machito" Grillo and Mario Bauza); Drogas Fatal; Obsession; Sabor a Mi; Concierto de Oquendo. (51:32)
Manny Oquendo, leader, timbales, bongo, timbalitos, guiro, maracas, coro; Andy Gonzalez, bass, claves, coro; Willie Rodriguez, piano, English vocal on "Sabor a Mi"; George Delgado, congas, bata; Jimmy Bosch, Angel "Papo" Vasquez, Norman Hogue, Leonardo Pollara, trombones; Herman Oliveira, lead vocals, coro. Guests: Joe Locke, vibes, synthesizer strings; Steve Turre, trombone (plunger-mute solo on "Sabor a Mi"); Milton Cardona, coros.