Alexander Abreu y Havana D'Primera
Reviewed on this page:
Haciendo Historia - Pasaporte - La Vuelta Al Mundo - NEW STUFF! - Haciendo Historia Live - Cantor Del Pueblo
Abreu had been a well-regarded trumpeter for first-generation Cuban timba acts like Paulito FG and Issac Delgado, but he only stepped to the forefront after that scene had taken a backseat, popularity-wise, to imports like reggaeton. By the mid-00's he was living in Europe, and somehow he was convinced to write a few songs for Danish son revivalists Grupo Danson and sing them - the result was the surprise hit album Mi Música.
In late 2007 - inspired by all-star salsa revivalists Spanish Harlem Orchestra -
he put together a lineup of top instrumental talent, wrote a pile of songs and soon hit the studio. The notoriously difficult-to-impress Cuban audience took to them right away, and they've been in the first rank of timba groups since their inception.
I saw the band in 2014 and reviewed the show.
Haciendo Historia (2009)
Abreu revived a couple of the tunes he'd recorded with Danson ("Historia Verdadera") but the first single was "Resumen De Los 90," a stirring defense/recap of the genre's innovations. And though I've been less than impressed by much timba from that era, when it's delivered as powerfully, precisely and passionately as this set is, there's nothing better.
As you'd expect, Abreu's focus is largely on dance tracks (including a merengue, "Historia Verdadera"), but the handful of lighter romantic tracks are just as carefully constructed and tuneful ("Vivencias," with a lovely Rhodes-backed trumpet solo; the moving "Cuando El Río Suena" may be the album's best track).
And as you'd hope, there are plenty of curveballs and sophisticated arrangements: the deceptively slow-rolling "Qué Buscas"; "Niña Bonita," with plucked strings and touches of calypso.
A couple of tunes are ordinary ("Oni Oni") but almost everything else is in the stratosphere ("Mi Música," the same basic arrangement he'd used with Grupo Danson but far more exciting here).
I don't know whether Abreu started composing relatively late in his career or he'd been sitting on this material for a while, but it's hard to imagine writing something like the adrenaline overdose "Pa' Mi Gente" and not wanting people to hear it.
"Al Final De La Vida" is a sterling example of the alchemy this band can perform - an ordinary salsa romantica verse becomes the launching pad for sly horn breaks, captivating bass fills, and a bewildering series of coros and vocal improvisations from the leader. On the other hand, Abreu leaves the monster bass/piano hook of "El Paso Del Bailerina" room to breathe, with glorious, hypnotic results.
Though U.S. salsa musicians generally prefer to record a whole ensemble rather than overdubbing, Cubans don't particularly, and here Abreu multi-tracked the entire trumpet section in addition to his lead vocals, while Guillermo del Toro is virtually a one-man percussion section.
Issac Delgado adds vocals to "Donde Estemos Tú Y Yo," which serves only to highlight how magnetic a singer Abreu himself is.
Some configurations of the album may have "La Figura" rather than "Bailarina" - I wouldn't want to be without either one, personally.
In 2013, Havana D'Primera backed Angel Yos on a couple of tracks ("La Moda Cubana") and also released two tracks which would later appear on La Vuelta Al Mundo ("La Peligrosa" is the burner; "Me Dicen Cuba" is tender); Abreu also released a gorgeous, mellow single under his own name ("Las Verdades Hablan"). (DBW)
In 2014 the band backed F-Clan on at least one track and Abreu put out another solo single, "Prohibido" - the only release of his I recommend less than highly.
La Vuelta Al Mundo (2015)
After definitively establishing HDP as the top Cuban band, Abreu has set his sights on the global market, bringing his fearsome songwriting talent to a variety of Latin styles while (also tipping his hat to classic son on "Venenosa"). And like Juan Luis Guerra (quoted briefly in the merengue "La Mitad") before him, Abreu retains his individual flair even as he smoothly captures the essence of each genre (the title cumbia, with Luis Enrique). Meanwhile, the arrangements are arguably more intricate and the production more polished than ever ("Me Dicen Cuba").
The downside for a timba fan is, despite surefire winners like "El Juego De La Vida" and its boundless series of singalong coros, there's relatively little of the pulse-pounding dance music that made us la gente que son de Primera in the first place. But if you're immune to an exquisite salsa like "Regalito De Dios" I don't know what to tell you.
NEW STUFF! (2016)
This odds and sods compilation was briefly available online for 99 cents, so maybe I shouldn't be reviewing it. If you grabbed it, though, I'm sure you're not complaining: Even though "La Figura" isn't exactly new, some of the tracks are more guest appearances than true HDP material (Qve Libre's "La Cosquillita"), and apart from "Las Verdades Hablan" nothing is a jaw-dropping classic ("Siempre Sí"), it's still great to have all these tracks in one place.
Also, liberated from the sky-high expectations of an official release, Abreu and the band sound like they're more carefree than usual ("Yo Vengo De Cuba" with Fclan). And as far as I can tell, some of this material is otherwise unavailable ("Nena").
Haciendo Historia Live (2016)
Though recorded in April 2015 in a studio, this is a careful attempt to recreate the band's live sound right around the time of their debut - no songs from Pasaporte or later. (I happen to know there were terrific live recordings made in 2009 and 2010, but maybe the sound quality wasn't up to Abreu's standard - I hope he will something similar for Pasaporte, which was not documented in concert nearly as well.)
But it's not a remake, as a few Danson songs are included ("Solo Para Tí") and more importantly the band stretches out just the right amount ("Resumen").
In 2017, Havana D'Primera released an EP's worth of new tracks: "Amor En Secreto," a cover of Los Van Van's "Qué Sorpresa" and three killer collaborations: "Belleza Latina" featuring JG, "Estoy Pegao" with Marvin Freddy and Kayaco, and "Yo Represento" with Los 4.
Cantor Del Pueblo (2018)
HDP seems to be into the mature phase of the band life cycle: Instead of the flurry of new styles on Vuelta Al Mundo, there's a return to what Abreu always did best: un poco de la clave ("#Dprimera," despite the title gimmick), otro poco de romantico ("Energyías Oscuras"), usually in the same song ("Manantiales," with a sudden, stunning heavy guitar riff). So I'll pull out my go-to metric for albums by mature artists - how many songs would make their Greatest Hits? - and the answer is four of the ten tracks, which is quite high. (Having so few prior records helps, but the fact that they were uniformly excellent cancels that out. And yes, like Giuliani I can't distinguish between fact and opinion.)
As before, Abreu remembers where he came from and won't let you forget it: in addition to covering Giraldo Piloto's "La Mujer Piropo," he quotes the bass line of Los Van Van's "Que Palo Es Ese" in "Tres Días" and references "Cántalo Pero Báilalo" by Silvo Rodríguez (via Adalberto Álvarez) - not to mention "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)" - in "Pastilla De Mente."
Earlier in 2018 Abreu released a stand-alone single, "Entre Lo Bueno Y Lo Malo," which doesn't appear on the album.
Cuidado con la conga...