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Calle 54 by Various Artists

The soundtrack to the Fernando Trueba film, "Calle 54," is like a fantasy twelve course feast in which each of the courses are served up one after the other. The luxurious servings are brought in correct intervals, each of which are delicious and astounding on their own terms and each bring the thought of how could it get much better. It is a banquet that no one gets full; the palate is ready for more. The affair is hardly stuffy. The conversation is brilliant, the place is hopping, the music swings.

Paquito Rivera provides a vibrant appetizer that is swirl of different Latin flavors. The concoction is played incredibly tight through evolving melodies and rhythms. ‘Panamericana" is an explosive start. Eliane Elias, a classically trained pianist, who in the film is dressed formally in black but is barefoot. She is both elegant and swinging. This portion, ‘Samba Triste,’ is the blending of two seemingly contradictory spices, classical precision with passionate emotion. The result is an entree bringing out unimagined flavors.

The waiters then serve up another plate. This one is named ‘Oye Como Viene.’ Chano Dominguez acknowledged as a "bilingual musician" juxtaposes the flash and precision of flamenco dance with the looseness of jazz improvisation. It is startling in its dissonance. The vocals are raspy. The footwork is sharp. The piano dances.

The next plate is Jerry Gonzales, the "last of the Caribbean pirates," The Fort Apache Band who dish out the triumphant ‘Earth Dance,’ a piece that bursts with exuberance and passion. Michel Camilo’s ‘From Within’ sizzles with gorgeous intensity. His lightning fast fingers rock in a piano solo that is simply ecstatic. The meal could have ended right here and one could leave satisfied without any regrets.

The next two pieces do not nearly reach the apogee of Camilo’s serving; Gato Barbieri’s hauntingly heroic ‘Introccion, Llaamerito Y Tango/Bolivia’ and Tito Puente’s wildly percussive ‘New Arrival.’ This pleasing interlude simply sets the stage for Chucho Valdes who neatly tops Camilo. His ‘Caridad Amaro’ is played with supreme confidence. Valdes has a sweet touch to an extravagantly complex piano solo. Valdes performs as if he were a magician. This entrée is astounding.

Chico O’Farrill then conducts the beautiful, graceful ‘Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.’ He and his band have a difficult act to follow, but this piece is laced with strong streaks of humanity and wit. The next two courses are desserts. The full-bodied courses are over. Bebo Valdes and Cachao perform ‘Lagrimas Negras’ followed by Puntilla & Nueva Generacion’s ‘Compa Galletano.’ As the banquet concludes and the satiated patrons begin to drift away, there is a quiet reprise of father and son, Bebo and Chucho Valdes. Their duet is like a sweet glass of port, an elegant and touching coda to one hearty and satisfying Latin feast.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
  • CD Title: Calle 54
  • Genre: Latin Jazz / Latin Funk
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Blue Note
  • Tracks: Panamericana, Samba Triste, Oye Como Viene, Earth Dance, From Within, Introccion, Llamerito y Tango/Bolivia, New Arrival, Caridad Amaro, Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, Lagrimas Negras, Compa Gayetano, La Comparsa
  • Musicians: Paquito D’Rivera (alto saxophone and clarinet), Eliane Elias (piano), Chano Dominguez (piano), Jerry Gonzalez (flugelhorn and congas), Michel Camilo (piano), Gato Barbieri (tenor saxophone), Tito Puente (timbales and vibraphone), Chucho Valdes (piano), Chico O’Farrill (conductor), Israel Lopez “Cachao” (double bass), Orlando “Puntilla” Rios (congas and vocals), Carlos “Patato” Valdes (congas), Bebo Valdes (piano), and many others
  • Rating: Five Stars
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