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Pablo Menendez & Mezcla: I'll See You in Cuba

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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I'll See You in Cuba is an extraordinary celebration of Cuba's dance and song. It is a fiercely vivid account of a culture infused with the most electrifying elements of Afro-Caribbean heritage. As a musical odyssey it holds its own with the very best of Irakere and the Buena Vista Social Club. Pablo Menéndez and the wonderful musicians of Mezcla set the world alight with a ravishing blend of blues, soul, and jazz idioms that collide with the "son," "guaracha," "guajira," "bolero," and "danzon." These they grind into a fine mixture of pure joy and unforgettable musical ecstasy.

But nothing they do is predictable, nor will any charts conform to what is expected of Cuban music. On the contrary, a surprise appears at every turn. Menéndez puts his large and indelible stamp on the repertoire with burning guitar licks. His opening to "Chicoy's Blues" is a classic example of the raw energy and guttural harmonics that characterize his playing. Although his influence on the repertoire is broad and all-encompassing, there are other wonderful charts throughout the album, which opens with a classic, racy track, "Big Brecker," written and fronted by tenor saxophonist Orlando Sánchez in the style of and in homage to the late Joshua Breakstone.

"¿Quién Tiene Ritmo?" is a clever take on George Gershwin 1930 classic "I Got Rhythm" and introduces the extraordinary voice of flutist Magela Herrera. A technical virtuoso, Herrera plays with a warmth and soul far beyond her years. Her solos impress with their unexpected and joyous twists as she turns harmonic invention inside out. No wonder she is a familiar face on the musical scene in Cuba wherever hot and memorable descarga sessions can be heard. Herrera is also an accomplished pianist and gives a moving account of herself on Mezcla's rendition of Thelonious Monk "'Round Midnight," as she does elsewhere on the album.

Trumpeter Mayquel González is another impressive instrumentalist, who tears up the melodies of "Chucho's Blues" along with its composer, Orlando Sánchez. González is also a constant reminder that there is great depth in the heritage of Cuba's trumpet virtuosos from men such as Félix Chappotín and "Chocolate" Armenteros to "El Guajiro" Mirabal, Jesús Alemañy, Luis Escalante and Chico O'Farrill. As if to drive home the point, González takes another white-hot solo on "'Round Midnight," a track that is turned into a remarkable "bolero." The ensemble also hosts some fine musicians—pianists Alejandro Vargas and José Luis Pacheco, percussionists Samuel Formell and Julio Noroña, and flugelhorn player Roberto Garcia—all from the celebrated Cuban group, Los Van Van, who flavor "Homenaje a Afro Cuba."

This is music that will echo with excitement long after its last notes on "Chicoy's 'Son'" have died down.

Track Listing: Big Brecker; ¿Quién tiene Ritmo?; El Médico de Los Pianos; I'll See You in C.U.B.A.; Chicoy's Blues; Oslo; Chucho's Blues; 'Round Midnight; Homenaje a Afro Cuba; Chicoy's "Son."

Personnel: Pablo Menéndez: guitar, vocals, director: Magela Herrera: flute, vocals, piano (1, 4, 8); Máyquel González: trumpet, flugelhorn; Octavio Rodriguez: percussion; Orlando Sánchez: tenor sax, piano (1, 5, 6, 7); Néstor Rodriguez: tenor sax (3, 9); Ruy Adrián López-Nussa: drums (1, 3, 6); Oliver Valdés: drums (5, 7); Renier Mendoza: drums (4, 8, 9); Ernesto Hermida: bass (1, 2, 3, 5, 7); José Hermida: bass (4, 6, 8, 9). Guests: Alejandro Vargas: piano (9); José Luis Pacheco: piano (7); Roberto Garia: flugelhorn (9); Samuel Formell: timbales (2); Julio Noroña: guiro (2); "Las Elas": vocals (2, 3, 8).

Title: I'll See You In Cuba | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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