Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ry Cooder Manuel Galban Mambo Sinuendo 2001

Manuel Galban starred in Buena Vista Social Club 1998, Ry Cooder's movie and recording collaboration with some of the stars of Cuban music's glorious past. I liked Buena Vista Social Club enough, but this 2001 follow-up collaboration is even better. Galban's technique, thick with effects, melodic and sneakily jazz-pop, is unique in all of guitar stylists. He's really like nothing you've ever heard. Lind of like Duane Eddy grew up in Cuba playing in jazz bands. The record is all instrumental except for one song, and the freedom of this small combo allows some of the most beautiful guitar interplay to unfold naturally and gracefully. Cooder is a consummate duet partner, and Galban, well, we're just lucky to have this document of his fascinating approach to the instrument.

Ry Cooder himself probably said it best when he said "Galbán and I felt that there was a sound that had not been explored, a Cuban electric-guitar band that could re-interpret the atmosphere of the 1950s with beauty, agility, and simplicity. We decided on two electrics, two drum sets, congas and bass: a sexteto that could swing like a big band and penetrate the mysteries of the classic tunes. This music is powerful, lyrical, and funny; what more could you ask?"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

George Benson The Other Side Of Abbey Road 1970

There are plenty of reasons you haven't heard this LP, but that doesn't make it a forgettable record. No, far from it. One reason might be that the record came out within a year of Abbey Road itself, which didn't (initially) give one time to appreciate the new perspective Benson brings to this now-classic material. Another reason was that Benson was not yet the household name he would become in the mid-seventies as an early progenitor of smooth jazz. And I suppose the necessity of a jazz interpretation of the songs from Abbey Road seemed every bit as essential then as it does now. But now we have time, history, and perspective to clarify our insight into this rare jewel.

Side one opens with harpsichord-accompanied string quartet on Golden Slumbers/You Never Give Me Your Money, a recurring motif throughout the record, which encompasses big-band arrangements, small combo jazz, and the aforementioned Baroque jazz, with Benson's mellifluous baritone vocal stylings. Because/Come Together is funk all the way from the Hubert Laws flute to Benson's guitar and the magnificent horns, topped by a a fine sax solo. And all bookended by the string quartet. Oh! Darling wraps side one with Benson singing it to the ground, and then ripping a sweet guitar break. Inspired.

The string quartet/piano/vocal combo opens side two with Here Comes The Sun, and it's fine. Then I Want You (She's So Heavy) becomes a sly, funky, riff-rocker until Benson just shreds blues to close it down. Something returns once more with the string quartet, with fine supplemental guitar and flute. The guitar-led big band of Octopus' Garden may be the set's best surprise, and then The End is played as a fast-paced big band arrangement with fiery percussion and smoking guitar.

The horn charts throughout are glorious. The cast of musicians is top drawer, with Hubert Laws, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Bob James, Ron Carter, and many more. It may all be a bit too much "of it's time", but it still sounds fresh today, especially if you happen to be hearing it for the first time (or the first time in a long while).