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Milton Cardona: Cambucha

Derrick A. Smith By

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On numerous projects associated with American Clave, the label founded by New York Svengali and producer Kip Hanrahan, Milton Cardona can be heard maintaining the focus of the rhythm, at the heart of discourses conducted solely by percussion instruments. This paradigm expressed by free-as-wanted percussion communication was given an album-length exposition with the release of the Hanrahan/Cardona-led ensemble Rumba Profunda's Una Noche Se Vuelve Una Rumba more than a year ago. Cardona, onetime member of the Grupo Folklorico y Experimental and a consummate musician with deep ties to both New York and the Caribbean, here continues that exploration and proves amply his skills, wisdom, and humility.

Like many Hanrahan-associated releases, the physical aspect of the recording, its sound and ability to communicate an immediate perception of physical space of the players whose thoughts and emotions are translated as much by the sound as by the music, is unique among the many different production styles in existence now or ever. It's well-suited to Cardona's vision, where no sound is profane but all sounds given honestly and with grace are sacred. It's an African viewpoint that was infused into the New World's music, notably by jazz. The idea of an inter-ensemble musical meta-language also has its African basis, and it is explored beautifully on this album by players such as Papo Vasquez, Michael Brecker, Andy Gonzalez, and Jose Mangual Jr.

The album memorializes Carmen (Cambucha) Cruz Hostos, a departed someone dear to Cardona, and in the notes he thanks his orisha. "Cambucha" is a son with a curious momentum, built around a percussion bed of conga, bata and bongo, and a piano/bass motif. Towards the fadeout, as the performance is at its peak of intensity, Cardona says "Dance with me" to Cambucha. This unsung set of words may be the key to understanding the album, even if mental understanding of it is perhaps too much separated from the deeper and more enjoyable understanding that comes from moving and dancing to grooves such as "Freedom of Expressions" and the choral/drums beauty of "God's Work is Indestructible." Cardona's words to Cambucha can be regarded as an invocation, similar to the invocation of an orisha : the spirit called "down" gives power, sweetness, and light, drives the music and of course the music, much of it based on traditional sources but overlain with Cardona's melodies and words, has its own power on the spirits and orishas. A dear spirit can't be expected to pass up the intricate patterns made on the bata and conga, and the harmony of piano and bass, much less the mixed-sex choral expressions. And the sounds themselves echo the better realities of the world, like kisses, which Cardona sings about (in a patient baritone enriched by his own overdubbed harmonies) on his a cappella doo-wop track: "A kiss is a way of showing how you feel inside / Is a way of showing thrills / You can't describe / Ah, what a feeling / Makes up for the loneliness / Oh, yes / I like that feeling / Because it brings me happiness." Not the most florid poetry, but who's gonna argue with him? This man is beautiful. And he sings later about consulting Webster's to help him define the kiss.

TRACKS: Prelude to Elegba / Cambucha / Goddess of Sweet Waters / Freedom of Expressions / A Kiss / Obatala Macho / God's Work is Indestructible / Playing with Myself (Inner Thoughts) / Rumbera Soledad / Prayer to Eshu / Kabiesi (Thunder/Lightning) / Malas Palabras.

MUSICIANS: Horns: Michael Brecker, Papo Vasquez, James Zollar, Phillipe Vieux / Piano: Bill O'Connell, Prof. Joe Torres / Bass: Joe Santiago, Andy Gonzalez / Percussion: Jose Mangual Jr., Sergio Cardona, Ken Ross / Drums: Robby Ameen / Leader, Lead Vocal: Milton Cardona / Chorus: John (Yomi) Robinson, Carol Robinson, Sandra (Fela) Wiles, Imani Robinson-Falu / Bata Drummers: Theodore (Wooggie) Holliday (Iya), Abi Holliday (Itotele), Jose Fernandez (Okonkolo).


Title: Cambucha | Year Released: 2000


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