The distance between New Orleans (Louisiana, USA) and Havana (Cuba) is almost exactly 670 miles, about a two-hour flight. But it takes only one listen to Putumayo Records' anthology New Orleans Mambo: Cuba to NOLA to bridge the distance between the two.
With such a wide and colorful net to cast, assembling this collection must have been a lot of fun. This includes the companion booklet, which contextualizes the cross- cultural dance between New Orleans and Cuba by quoting New Orleans jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton on the Latin influence in jazz: "If you can't manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning for jazz."
Cuba to NOLA starts with Poncho Sanchez's Afro-Cuban joyride through "Going Back to New Orleans," using harmonica to underline the blues sound in the horn chart, and congas to slip that Afro-Cuban headbob into its New Orleans swing. ("Going Back" was Joe Liggins & The Honeydrippers' breakout 1952 single on New Orleans' hometown label Specialty Records.) It ends with the groaning New Orleans horns and Afro-Cuban rhythms of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's "Kreyol" song, the ensemble's compositional keepsake from their 2015 journey to Cuba.
There are wonderful sights and sounds from Cuba to NOLA in between. You'd be hard pressed to find three minutes that represent New Orleans better than "Mos' Scocious," with piano and vocals by Dr. John and The Meters as his rhythm section, produced by Allen Toussaint. Bass thumps out a rhythm line that a tuba would have played in earlier jazz generations, but doesn't lose one single precious drop of thick New Orleans funk in the instrumental transition.
One of the first families of New Orleans musical royalty, the Neville Brothers shimmer through the title track of Yellow Moon, haunted by brother Aaron's desperately emotive vocalthe panic of a man who just realized the woman he loves might already be gone.
But this update on "Jive Samba" by Los Po-Boy-Citos, whose very name Latin-izes a famous New Orleans sandwich, delivers this collection's biggest musical surprise and smiles. Their yummy triple-decker sandwiches the verses of Cannonball Adderley's original "Samba" into the gospel classic "Wade in the Water" and its chorus into Mongo Santamaria's "Watermelon Man." It's a lot of fun.
Going Back To New Orleans (Poncho Sanchez); Mos' Scocious (Dr. John); Jive Samba (Los Po-Boy-Citos); Coconut
Milk (Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolias); Jambalaya (New Orleans Heartbreakers with Big Al Carson); Man?anita
(Zazou City); Panama Tones / Nuevo Boogaloo (The Iguanas); Yellow Moon (The Neville Brothers); Nature Boy
(Otra); Kreyol (Preservation Hall Jazz Band).
Poncho Sanchez (Going Back To New Orleans); Dr. John (Mos' Scocious); Los Po-Boy-Citos (Jive Samba); Bo Dollis
& The Wild Magnolias (Coconut Milk); New Orleans Heartbreakers with Big Al Carson (Jambalaya); Zazou City
(Man?anita); The Iguanas (Panama Tones / Nuevo Boogaloo); The Neville Brothers (Yellow Moon); Otra (Nature
Boy); Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Kreyol).