Caravana Cubana Late Night Sessions (Rhino)
Reviewed by Jeff Mccord, Fri., Feb. 18, 2000
Late Night Sessions (Rhino)The one-of-a-kind, all-star musical gathering for respected public radio broadcaster Emilio Vandenenes' memorial service spawned the Caravana Cubana sessions, which quickly attracted not only L.A.-based Cuban expats, but many visiting natives. The back story here, of course, is the million-plus selling Buena Vista Social Club CD, and the "what about me?" response its success has solicited. The assembled old-timers made enchanting music for the BVSC sessions, yet it was colored with the same nostalgic hues seen in ethnic restaurants in the United States. Purity is hyped, while authentic and messy modern influences are ignored. Contemporary Cuban music is actually a remarkable fusion of son, rumba, salsa, hip-hop, rock & roll, and yet most Western ears seem to long for a simpler time, one that may or may not have ever existed. Such musicians as bassist Al McKibbon, who pioneered the Afro-Cuban movement with Dizzy Gillespie back in the Forties, and pianist Chucho Valdes, whose work with Irakere has transcended all genres, understand the shrinking global village. Their presence here, along with percussionist Francisco Aguabella (Tito Puente, Gillespie), trombonist Jimmy Bosch, and younger wizards such as percussionist Miguel "Anga" Diaz, make it perplexing that Late Night Sessions has its feet so firmly planted in traditionalism. If the plan was to one-up the BVSC, the album does have an equal share of Latin fire, and is driven with a decidedly jazzier edge. And there's little doubt it will fill the dance floor; the rhythmic bombardment is relentless. Musical director Jose Caridad "Perico" Hernandez deserves much of the credit, and the blame, for his sublime vision, and a tight reign that never lets the band completely cut loose. This assemblage may not add up to the Cuban equivalent of reuniting the Beatles, but it's damn close. And for those seduced by the BVSC, this slightly more uppity cousin makes a perfect bookend.