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V/A - Cartagena!: Curro Fuentes & The Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound of Colombia 1962-1972

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Artist: V/A

Album: Cartagena!: Curro Fuentes & The Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound of Colombia 1962-1972

Label: Soundway

Review date: Mar. 1, 2011

African reissues continue to garner a fair amount of ink (if not earnings), but classic Colombian music isn’t that far behind thanks to the efforts of the same circle of European labels behind the bonanza. Even the otherwise Afrocentric Analog Africa imprint got in on the action with last year’s Anibal Velasquez compilation. Cartagena! continues Soundway’s full court press toward circulating the vintage dance music of the region and sustains the level of quality present in past comps. Soundway’s usual crate-digging suspects Will “Quantic” Holland and Miles Cleret joined Roberto Gyemant in cherry-picking the disc’s 19 selections.

At the center of Cartagena’s flowering scene was one Jose Maria “Curro” Fuentes, the youngest sibling in the Discos Fuentes label juggernaut and an impresario in his own right. The set’s detailed booklet describes his bona fides as among the most flamboyant members of the Fuentes family. A wealth of band snapshots and album cover facsimiles augments the text in telling Curro’s story and the numerous all-star musicians he recorded and promoted. Track-by-track annotations also go a long way toward filling in the blanks on what gave Cartagena’s La Costa sound its singular identity.

Much like Cachao’s seminal Cuban jam sessions in miniature from the previous decade, most of the pieces clock within the confines of a 45rpm side. Working within those modest parameters, the bandleaders still manage to pack in a bounty of truncated solos. The rollicking central statements on Puerto Rico y Su Combo’s “La Cumbia Del Pescador” and Los Seven Del Swing’s “Celoso” hearken to the glory days of Cuban piano icon Peruchin, with Curro himself handling the keys on the former cut. Bass serves a similar function in anchoring and accentuating the clave, though in the bulk of these selections electric strings allow for even greater rhythmic mobility and punch. El Gran Romancito y El Super Combo Curro delivers the most expansive example of the instrument’s enhanced role in a full-blown solo on “Honolulu” that balances briskly against a driving piano and percussion vamp.

Larger horn sections allow for expanded ensemble colors. Rosendo Martinez’s “El Alegron” and Luco Bermudez’s “Arroz Con Coco” build from gliding contrapuntal orchestrations with vocalists tossing in vibrant call and response interjections and sound effects. Baritone saxophone takes a surprisingly prominent role in the densely populated vamp at the center of Grecencio Camacho’s “Santana En Salsa.” Orquesta Sonora Curro’s “Patuleco” alternates tight horn explosions with elastic percussion breaks and continuous commentary from leader and band. Clodomiro Montes “Puerto Rico Zumbando” contains a timbales solo that will shake the ceiling via any decent sound system, with beats landing so hard it almost sounds like the bandleader is hitting his skins with hammers. The electric guitar solo that follows is almost as bracing.

Corroborating the polyglot musical culture of the city’s coastal coordinates, several unexpected influences also enter into the avenues of expression. There’s the Calypso underpinnings of Orlando Fortich’s promiscuously pulsating “Yolanda” and the trill-happy, Klezmer-tinted clarinet that snakes through Lucho Bermudez’s “Fiesta De Negritos,” which is flanked by tumbling percussion and lush unison horns. Vestiges of Mexican Mariachi and Argentinian tango bubble up in the hot horns-meet-accordion stew of Rufo Garrido’s “Viejos Tiempos.” These tracks smartly span the decade concurrent with this music’s maturation and affirm that while historical context is edifying, the sounds themselves are more than capable of communicating volumes.

By Derek Taylor

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