Have you ever heard a salsa version of "Sympathy for the Devil ? With the piano carrying the melody and a myriad of percussion instruments forming the swaggering beat? No matter what preconceptions or feelings you have towards the original, it's hard not to find yourself moving with the opening track on Robby & Negro at the Third World War. And if you weren't swaying, as the song transitions into "el Cielo, the second part of the medley, there is no way to avoid being caught by the rhythmic interplay.
Arrested as a child in Havana for playing Jack Bruce's "Sunshine of Your Love, Horacio "El Negro Hernandez has developed into a master of rhythms, most visibly in America as part of Michel Camillo's regular trio. He marks his debut as a leader in tandem with Robby Ameen, who has gigged with Eddie Palmieri, Ruben Blades, and others on the reissued Robby & Negro at the Third World Warnothing short of a clinic in heart-pounding, awe-inspiring drumming and percussion.
Variation is often the name of the game, with numerous guests like Blades, Brian Lynch, world hip-hop group Zap Mama, a member of the Wu Tang Clan, and a host of others fronting Hernandez and Ameenwhose drumming bridges every measure in every context, keeping things from seeming too disparate. And while Ameen and Hernandez are practically omnipresent, the album never succumbs to monotony or a lack of invention, as no two tracks follow the same logic or rhythm.
For an impressive and blatant example, look no further than the four-minute "Far From Beirut (Lino 5), where Hernandez and Ameen, both on trap sets, are backed by keyboardist John Beasley. The leaders rework and reconstitute rhythms as one, controlling a battery of sound and invention. What is really engaging here, and throughout the album, is hearing how dynamic these two are in tandem, never tripping over one another as most setups with multiple trap drummers end up doing.
Aside from the leaders' monstrous abilities on their instruments, they also reveal a particular maturity in guiding but never dominating their surroundings until called upon to do so. "We Got The Fu*k, with Larry Baeder's barrelhouse guitar runs, is followed by the spacious "La Timba No Es Como Ayer, performed by Ameen and Hernandez with a captivating vocal performance by Pedro Martinez. Featuring the Hioyuki Koike String Quartet and dynamic burnished trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez, "The Moon Shows Red (Tzuki ...) is another highlight. Ameen and Hernandez serve as colorists behind the strings without dominating the sound.
Released on the revitalized American Clave label, which has finally re-secured American distribution, Robby & Negro at the Third World War is one of a handful of albums that are finally available in the US after previously only being found as pricey imports. Anyone interested in hearing these two drummers at the peak of their powers, merging eight limbs into one fluid motion of rhythm and musicality, should investigate this album post haste.
Medley: Sympathy for the Devil/El Cielo; 3 for Africa; Un Golpecito Na
Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Drums, Percussion, Clave, Coro, Vocals; Robby Ameen:
Drums and Percussion, Timpani, Coro, Vocals; John Beasley: Organ, Fender Rhodes;
Ruben Blades: Lead Vocals, Coro; Pedro Martinez: Coro, Lead Vocals; Marie Daulne: Vocals;
Takuma Watanabe: String Direction, Piano; Hiroyuki Koike Quartet: String Quartet; Jerry
Gonzalez: Trumpet; Yosvany Terry: Saxophones; Innersoul: Vocal; Kelley Sae: Chorus;
Bobby Franceschini: Saxophone; Xiomara Laugart: Coro; Richie Flores: Congas; Larry
Baeder: Chorus, Guitar; Charlie Torres: Chorus, Bass; Ann Guichard: Voice; Orlando
Puntilla Rios: Lead Vocal, Coro, Quinto; Essiett Essiet: Acoustic Bass; Lincoln Goines:
Electric Bass; Brian Lynch: Trumpet; Luis Perdomo: Piano; Ruben Rodriguez: Acoustic and
Electric Bass; Fernando Saunders: Chorus; Roman Diaz: Percussion.
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