Everyone likes a challenge, right? Well I know I do, sometimes. So when El Bicho asked if I wanted to do the review for this Cuban jazz disk, I said, “What the hey? Why not?” Trying my hand at something a little different is just what I needed to expand my listening pleasure and knowledge. Right from the start, the title of this disk had been sitting on my mind like a bullfrog, “Bacalao Con Pan.” What it means I have no idea except that it’s something “with bread,” but there it sat and mutated into my new favorite word. I know it’s more of a phrase, but I began using it like I used to do with “Wang Chung,” something similar to the way the Smurfs use the word “smurf” in many tones and for just about any situation. I was only cured of this after my highly annoyed girlfriend smacked it out of me, god bless her.
After playing the CD in the car and at home, I began to feel like I should be shouting things such as “Mira. Que conllo” or listening to more Miami Sound Macheen and calling for Castro to step down, ‘cause he’s been in power way too long, man. Killing Che and making himself dictator. Todos las personas all they want is to live free and drink Coca and buy new Che-vys, conllo. IS THAT SO WRONG, SENOR CASTRO…LARGARSE CABRON!!! Sorry I digress; it’s been a long day, and I’ve had too much cough syrup, on with the review.
Irakere is a group of Cuban jazz veterans who formed to develop musical ideas with total freedom. The band is known for getting folks up and dancing and that’s the way they like it. According to the liner notes, “The word Irakere means both vegetation and whip in the African Yoruba language.” That’s not much of an explanation for me as to why the band chose the name but I guess it sounds cooler on the island. Who knows, maybe it has to do with the “taming” of unkept vegetation? Any way you take it the sound of this band is infectious. One can see why people can’t help but dance. I should pass this disk on to Ladron de Tebeos; he might get a kick out of it.
The opening track “Valle De Picadura” is a mellow mid-tempo number that sounds very 1970s, the guitar playing is kind of funky yet reserved and the sax opens like something from a cop show from that era, somewhat heavy yet smooth, then moves into a “Harlem Nocturne” knock-off. Halfway through the song, we get the lyric chant common to Cuban jazz. This vocal approach appears regularly on this disk in almost all the up-tempo tunes. Not bad but it can get a little tiring; then again I’m sure at the time these dudes were pioneering this sound.
On track three “Aguanile Bonko” is where we get a better feel for this band. The sound is “tuff,” the vocals gruff, and the horns are blaring in solid swing fashion. We even get a cracked sax solo that honks like masters such as Joe Houston or Big Jay McNeely. The guitar gets funky here as well, cutting in and out nicely, this is definitely Fantasma’s kind of jump.
We get this same kind of jump effort on most of the other up-tempo tracks for the remainder of this disk. “Siete Tazas De Café” and “Rucu Rucu A Santa Clara” are where one can see clearly the influence these Cuban jazz masters had on the aforementioned Miami Sound Machine. The background in “Siete Tazas De Café”, the percussion and horn section are a good example of this. While “Rucu Rucu A Santa Clara” sounds very much like a M.S.M. song except for the fact that there is no female lead vocalist.
There are only two slow songs on this disk and they are nice breaks in the action; the first is “Romance (Juegos Prohibidos),” a traditional and pretty tune that reflects the (Forbidden Games) of the title very well. I do very much dig acoustic guitars in that Spanish style. The second is the piano-led “Este Camino Largo.” This song too reflects its title well with its smooth, Dexter Gordon sax solo, bringing to mind images of long roads traversed. These powerful slow tracks stand up strong next to the more prominent up-tempo numbers.
A solid standout track is certainly the Santanaesque “Bacalao Con Pan.” More heavy guitar funk, drums, rhythmic percussion, soaring horns and that awesome chorus of (here it comes, y’all) “Bacalao Con Pan.” This tune is truly the most infectious on this CD. I totally dig the piano break right before the chanting starts and the horns lead the way for more funky drums and guitar work. You can’t help but nod your head and thump your foot. Like its title before it, this jam has gotten under my skin and is a new favorite.
Irakere Bacalao Con Pan is a good look at these pioneers of modern Cuban jazz, a solid band that has its high points and a CD that I wouldn’t mind playing a few more times in the future. The challenge is will I be able to play it all the way through, which is Fantasma’s mark of an exceptionally excellent record. More than likely not, I know I’ll skip to my favorite cuts, but I’ll have a good time listening to the ones I choose to hear over and over again. That itself I’m sure says something for the infectious grooves of this band, BACALAO CON PAN FOR EVERYONE!!!
Written by Fantasma el Rey