By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
Likely more influential than any other conguero in the annals of salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz, Carlos "Patato" Valdes pushed his instruments' presence to the forefront of the music. As a teenager, he had already earned a reputation as one of the rising conga players in Cuba. But it was his move to New York -- the place he still calls home at a zippy 74 years of age -- that sparked a revolution in the sounds coming out of that city. A much-in-demand session man, he played with some of the legendary innovators of Afro-Cuban jazz, Dizzy Gillespie and Machito among them, before settling into a residency in Herbie Mann's groundbreaking Afro-Cuban sextet. In 1995 and 1996, he recorded the Ritmo y Candelatwo-album series with an intergenerational crew that included fellow percussionists Orestes Vilató (who plays this Sunday night at the Yerba Buena Center) and Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana, saxophonist Enrique Fernandez, pianist Rebeca Mauleón, and many others. Despite Grammy nods, both albums lapsed out of print.
The Legend brings together those albums' best parts, with the purpose of deifying Patato in the pantheon of jazz greats. Even as Patato's fierce sonrhythms dominate, the album crosses decades and continents, making happy bedfellows of swing and West African music. "Señor Blues/Mbulu Enoka" riffs on oft-underappreciated pianist/composer Horace Silver's standard, interspersed with Congolese vocalist Samba Mapangala's exuberant voice, Abdou M'Boup's work on the African xalam (a five-stringed cousin of the guitar) and tama (talking drum), and Patato's multitonal beats. Musical and cultural bloodlines are further explored on the rollicking salsa "Sangre de Africa," as Mapangala catalogs the African nations that have contributed their part to Afro-Cuban music.
British DJ-cum-bandleader Snowboy, aka Mark Cotgrove, deliciously explores a few later chapters in the instrument's history on his latest release. While some of the conguero's fingered rhythms haven't changed, the music they've inflected has taken a number of detours -- some of the more interesting of which took place during the '70s, a decade that Snowboy wears on this album like a clubhopper's ubiquitous sunglasses. Snowboy sets a fiery pace with authentically soulful Cuban beats, backed by a solid three-piece horn section, two percussionists, and bass, but what sets the atmosphere for the album is Neil Angilley's inspired turns on the Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ. The result is an endlessly grooving Afro-Latin-esque trip through a funkadelic past, with a couple of brief stopovers in the land of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat. As a vinyl-trained clubsetter, Snowboy's well versed in what gets an audience moving, and with this disc he's clearly conscious of creating a groove that'll move the masses off their asses.
For the most part instrumental (a good thing, because the singing on more than one track might be the record's only fault), Afro-Cuban Jazz weaves together explosive descarga tunes, slightly less frantic mambos, and new-school beats for the break dance set. The explosive "Blues Para T" has Snowboy and his percussionists Davide Giovannini and Dave Pittman trading beats, as Angilley sweats serious funk from his organ. Picking up steam throughout, the album's finest track is the 10-minute closer, a tune destined to earn the disc's double-vinyl pressing a rightful place in many a DJ's overnight shoulder bag. From its first hooks, which fade into psychedelic waves of distorted keys before launching into full-tilt boogie, "Descarga Angixi" is proof positive that Cuban soul has truly gone worldwide.