April 3, 2018
Orquesta Akokan | Orquesta Akokan
TITLE: Orquesta Akokan
Mambo is the big band sound of Havana’s glory days: the years before Castro’s revolution and the subsequent American embargo of all things Cuban, even (maybe especially) music. It was cutting-edge popular art of its time: bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez was the Cuban Ellington, singer Beny More was as big as Sinatra, and the whole scene made American swingin’ pop sound limp by comparison. Mambo is revived and updated in this wonderful project helmed by two Americans, pianist-arranger Mike Eckroth and tresero Jacob Plasse. They enlisted Pepito Gomez of the timba powerhouse Pupy Y Los Que Son Son to sing and write lyrics to their original tunes, then recorded the set at Havana’s legendary Areito Studio with a handpicked lineup of Cuba’s finest. The result is nothing short of spectacular. There isn’t anything nostalgic about this music – that is, unless you believe that emotive singing, brilliant arrangements, sensitive playing, natural reverb and live-to-tape recording belong exclusively to the past. This project, certainly one of the best albums I expect to hear this year, makes a forceful argument that 2018 music needs a little more 1958 in it.
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