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Luis Mario Ochoa & Friends: Cimarron

Eric J. Iannelli By

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Cimarrón (meaning "free spirit") is the nonet that Havana-born guitarist and composer Luis Mario Ochoa assembled shortly after moving to Canada back in 1990. This eponymous release is not just the ensemble's third album, but also a celebration of its fifteen years of happy existence. Musical guests such as Paquito D'Rivera, Guido Basso, and Ochoa's father, Luis Ochoa, Sr., were invited to take part in the fiesta.

And what a free spirited celebration it is. "Como Penélope," a song about a woman awaiting her lover's return (the title acknowledges the page it takes from Homer's Odyssey), sets things in motion with a spicy son tempo and bright, sharp horns. In an equally bright tenor, Ochoa himself relates the tale of the faithful woman he sees every day in the same café, and in keeping with the jazz-inspired nature of Ochoa's brand of Latin music, Alexis Baró dishes up a fiery trumpet solo in between soothing coro harmonies. D'Rivera's self-penned "To Brenda with Love" maintains the pace, featuring his swinging clarinet and Ochoa's guitar atop a light, limber samba complete with cuica. Its effortless energy and grace make it one of the standout tracks.

Ochoa's soulful rearrangement of Eliseo Grenet's classic Cuban tune "Lamento Cubano" slows the party down to a medium tempo. It's followed by a truly cross-cultural rearrangement of Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses" as a swaying guaguancó, an exercise reminiscent of Joe Craven's outstanding Latin reinterpretations of Django Reinhardt charts.

But by this point it's become apparent that the majority of the solos, however accomplished, come from both major and minor musical guests, which seems odd given that this album is ostensibly highlighting the core nonet that is Cimmarón. This doesn't have any audible effect the fluidity and cohesion of the group as a whole, but the regular Cimarrón performers should, I think, have more than a supporting role after titling an album in the ensemble's honor, and particularly in light of such commanding solos from Cimmarón tenor saxman Jeff King (on "Bacuranao") and trombonist Russ Little (on "Old Devil Moon," which, incidentally, doesn't quite gel with Ochoa's admittedly "spanglish" vocals).

Cimmarón is, at any rate, a surprisingly varied and entertaining album that will continue to engage listeners with its appealing arrangements and infectious Latin rhythms. D'Rivera, Basso, and Ochoa Sr. (the latter two on the same track, no less) are excellent additions to a somewhat overabundant rotating cast of guest artists. And while the regular Cimmarón players deserve more consistently prominent places, Ochoa certainly proves himself multifariously gifted in original composition, fresh arrangements, and performance on both vocals and guitar.


Track Listing: Como Pen

Personnel: Luis Mario Ochoa: lead vocals, guitarist, arranger, composer and producer; Paquito D'Rivera: clarinet; Hilario Dur

Title: Cimarron | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Cuban Music Productions


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