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Bill Laswell and Sacred System: Imaginary Cuba: Deconstructing Havana

Jack Bowers By

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This is “piecemeal” music, spliced together in a studio by Bill Laswell to present a sound–picture of modern–day Havana, Cuba. It’s world music, not Jazz, and how well the enterprise succeeds is, we presume, in the ear of the beholder. Laswell has been called (by Billboard magazine) “way ahead of his time.” He may be well ahead of mine too. Laswell painted his Cuban portrait by organizing a series of location recordings in the studios, streets and back rooms of Havana, then using the tapes as a basis for state–of–the–art multi–track mixing and mastering — a method, we are told, that won him wide praise for such earlier endeavors as Apocalypse Across the Sky by the Master Musicians of Jajouka and Night Spirit Masters by the Gnawa Musicians of Marrakesh. If you’ve heard either of them you’ll have an idea of what to expect from Imaginary Cuba. As the Latin motif predominates, it’s rather surprising to hear the brief track 3, which consists of the standard “Stars Fell on Alabama” played on piano. A change of pace? Definitely. But hardly out of place, as Cuban pianists do play American popular songs as well as their own (or did before the advent of Castro). In sum, what we hear is a series of musical vignettes that may (or may not) evoke the spirit of Havana (we’ve never been there) but don’t hang together seamlessly. The common denominator, if indeed there is one, lies in the ever–present and always–captivating Latin rhythms, which must carry the day, as melody and harmony are in rather short supply. Recommended to those with an adventurous disposition who appreciate music that forswears the beaten path.

Track listing: Habana Transmission #1: Avisale a la Vecina; Para Clave Guagunaco; Loungin’ with F.E.; Chacón and Daniel; Déjala en la Puntica; Habana Transmission #2: Cuban Evolution; Los Ibellis; Habana Transmission #3: Shango Sound Scan; Hombre Lobo, No! Hombre Nuevo, Si!; Guerrillero Heróico; Shanga; Pompa at the House; Madre no me Pida; Chaos in the Heat (Last Transmission); Drafting Shadows/Leaving la Habana (57:17).

Personnel:

unlisted.

Title: Imaginary Cuba: Deconstructing Havana | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Wicklow

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