[Dixielandjazz] For our Central & South American List Mates

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Dec 29 09:31:15 PST 2003

This is not OKOM, but is of interest to our Latin List Mates. And for
you, if you like latin music, and/or afro-cuban jazz, especially vocals.
A Philadelphia jazz muso friend of mine bought the set and I heard some
of it last week for the first time. It was excellent and I'm going to
hear the rest after New Years.

Kash, you might find some of this music adaptable to your band's
presentation in Spain. I think you might enjoy the music also. I'm
pretty sure your audience would.

Steve Barbone

PS. If you got that far, don't you just love the name: "El Banda

December 29, 2003 - NY Times

NEW CD'S  Star of the Cuban Archives


Benny Moré y Su Banda Gigante: Grabaciónes Completas, 1953-1960' Benny

          American popular music in the 1950's had Frank Sinatra's
duality — a late-night morbid depression record followed by a bright
swinging one. At around the same time, Benny Moré, El Barbáro del Ritmo,
the most popular singer in Cuba, was in the practice of releasing
two-sided 78-r.p.m. singles with a dance number on one side (a son
montuno or a guaracha) and a bolero on the other.

After he left Pérez Prado's orchestra in 1952 to return to Havana, his
home, and until he died of cirrhosis in 1963, Moré made his own records
for RCA Victor and established himself as the greatest male singer in

Part of Moré's champion status was that he excelled at both romantic and
rhythmic songs, could improvise handily in the sonero tradition, and
performed with legendary tenacity. But 50 years later, presented with
the remarkable box set "Benny Moré y Su Banda Gigante: Grabaciónes
Completas, 1953-1960," we can contextualize some of the other reasons
for his appeal.

For a branch of popular music that has such broad and deep importance —
not just in the world of Latin music, but the world in general — Cuban
music is still emerging as an archived and marketed entity. Not having
Moré's complete works available on one well-turned-out box set until now
is a bit like not having a satisfactory CD retrospective for Sinatra or
Billie Holiday.

But here it is, from the Spanish label Tumbao, and it is pretty much
what one could hope for, with only a few minor lapses in sound. (The
producers, Jordi Pujol and Tommy Meini, searched for years to find some
of these tracks, and though most are of high audio quality, a few fall

The remastering is clear, with strong bass and drums and vocals; the
slight studio reverb shrouding the latter half of the recordings makes
the music shake sexily. The four-disc set collects Moré's entire output
as a bandleader.

Moré was one of the most expressive singers in popular music. As with
the old James Brown records, Moré's voice nearly burns a hole through
the speakers: it is strong in a remarkably wide pitch range, continually
changing its texture from a hard, percussive chop to a soft coo, adding
bird noises and shouts and improvisations along the way. Rhythmically,
he was in the top echelon of popular singers, the one that Mr. Brown
belongs in beside Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Sinatra: his lines
are remarkable for how casually he peels off a phrasing that turns your
head without your even having taken in the words he has sung.

The material in this set has remarkable consistency: El Banda Gigante
was a 20-piece orchestra, and its arrangements were sparkling, with
creamy saxophone sections grounded by baritone lines, and fierce,
punctuating tattoos from the brass; it had much of the harmonic
complexity of the best American jazz orchestras at the time.

Some canonical music is here, songs that were popular around the entire
Spanish-speaking world. Moré's four tag-team recordings with the Mexican
bolero singer Pedro Vargas from 1954 are here: "Perdón" and "Obsesión,"
written by Pedro Flores; Agustin Lara's "Solamente Una Vez"; and Arsenio
Rodriguez's "Vida Es un Sueño." So is "De la Rumba al Chachachá," a
fabulous joke song that switches back and forth from inflammatory,
exciting, ritual drum music to the slower, lusher Cadillac ride of the
cha-cha, and the incomparable son montunos "Qué Bueno Baila Usted" and

As with Tumbao's last major reissue — a set of the complete recordings
by the Cuban conguero Chano Pozo — this set comes with a lengthy
biographical essay in Spanish and English. And there are lots of
pictures, from publicity photos to snapshots taken at hotels and
backstage, that suggest Moré's magnetism.

If stores fail, try www.descarga .com. But do hear it: this set, which
appeared in the United States just after The New York Times published
its reviews of the year's best CD box sets on Nov. 30, is authoritative,
reasonably priced for an import ($44.98) and contains some of the
strongest, most vivid popular music ever made.

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