Led by percussionist Bobby Sanabria, the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra delivers a worthy tribute to one of the greatest AfroCuban jazz recordings ever made: Machito's Kenya. Recorded in 1957, Kenya exists for many as one of the essential albums of its kind.
It's absolutely appropriate that, more than half a century later, someone should honor its legacy with a live performance. The Afro-Cuban Orchestra proves to be worthy of tackling such a massive endeavor. The elite ensemble matches the boisterous intensity heard on the original album in each of its 12 selections. And Sanabria and company make it clear from the onset that they don't plan on handing in a shot-for-shot remake. They begin with "Frenzy," which is actually Kenya's third selection. The rest of the program contains similar liberties.
This shouldn't bother Kenya purists too much, but they should definitely be prepared for many rhythmic and melodic departures that Sanabria no doubt took in order to showcase the virtuosic talents of his soloists. Some songs are sped up, others slowed down. Some, like "Congo Mulence" for instance, are stretched from the album's original three-minute running time to well over ten!
The entire concert boasts top-notch musicianship, especially from the percussion section, which includes the legendary Candido Camero (who played on the original album) as a guest on three pieces. One of few complaints about the album lies in Sanabria's insistence on naming most of the personnel (not just the soloists) after almost every song. It kind of slows down the proceedings, but maybe the musicians needed a break after playing such fiery music.
The live audience emerges as the real winner here. Rarely today do you hear such a wildly enthusiastic crowd at a jazz show. Most of the time people wait until the end of the song and politely applaud. This group, however, hoots, hollers and whistles at will, lending the recording an energy that puts the listener in the moment.
Sanabria pays loving tribute to Kenya with this electric performance, definitely one of the year's best live offerings. However, don't start here if you don't already own Machito's original album; it's an absolute classic that every jazz fan should enjoy before checking out this companion piece.
Track Listing: Intro; Frenzy; Congo Mulence; Kenya; Oyeme; Holiday Holiday; Cannonology; Wild Jungle; Blues A La Machito; Conversation; Theme and Variations On Tin Tin Deo; Tin Tin Deo; Minor Rama; Tururato.