NG La Banda
Reviewed on this page:
Siglo I A.N.E. - Siglo II NG, N.E. - Abriendo El Ciclo - A Través Del Ciclo - No Te Compliques - En La Calle (1989) - No Puede Tapar El Sol - Salseando - En La Calle Otra Vez -
En Cuerpo Y Alma -
De NG Para Curaçao - Cabaret Panorámico - Lo Que Manda - La Bruja -
En Directo Desde El Patio De Mi Casa - La Cachimba - Nuestro Hombre En
La Habana - Tony Calá Canta A Benny Moré - De Allá Pa' Acá - Top Secret - Best Of NG La Banda - Latin Fever -
Veneno - La Culebra - Baila Conmigo -
Afrosalsa - Mi Armonía - Oye Siiii -
Bailemos - Recordar Es Vivir - Mis 22 Años -
Ryu's Cuban Night 20th Anniversary Live! - En La Calle Una Vez Más
Phenomenal Cuban band formed in 1986 and led by flautist José
Luis Cortés; this is the most proficient set of musicians you're
likely to find outside of the major symphony orchestras. I can
almost guarantee you've never heard great dance music this jazzy,
or great jazz this danceable. When I listen to them I frequently get so carried away my glasses come flying off my face,
which has never happened while listening to any other artist.
Cortés' lyrics are frequently sexist, indicating that the Cuban government's crusade against machismo has so far produced mixed results,
and this may be one band where you're better off if you don't speak Spanish.
Partly because of the US embargo against Cuba, their discography is chaotic, and their music is hard to find unless you live in a major urban area. It's worth searching out.
NG finally made it to play in the US in 1997, and I reviewed their show on our renowned concert reviews page.
Special thanks to Kevin Moore for discographic information - he has a terrific article on the band at www.timba.com.
Nueva Generación (1985-1986):
José Luis Cortés, flute/producer/arranger; Anabell López, vocals; Diego Valdés, bass; Miguel Angel de Armas, Miguel Nuñez, keyboards; Juan Nogueras Jordan, congas;
Raúl Oviedo, Conrado García, Osmany Sánchez, percussion; Juan Munguía, trumpet;
Germán Velazco, alto sax; Carlos Averhoff, flute, sax; Angel Sánchez, Carlos Morales, guitar; Dagoberto González, violin. López left 1986, replaced by
Aymee Nuviola. Valdés replaced by Feliciano Arango Noa, 1986.
NG La Banda (1986 forward):
Cortés, Arango, Nuñez, Oviedo, Osmany and Angel Sánchez, Nogueras, Munguía, Velazco, Averhoff and Morales, plus Raúl Santoys, Orestes "Puchungo" Roque, Luis Tellez, vocals;
Hernán López-Nussa, keys; José Oriol, Calixto Oviedo Mulens and Eduardo Lavoy, percussion.
In 1987, Tellez replaced by Tony Calá; López-Mussa replaced by Miguel Armas; Oriol replaced by Jorge Alfonso; Morales left; Lázaro González added on trombone.
In 1988, Issac Delgado and Victor Valdés joined on vocals, replacing Santoys and Roque; Giraldo Piloto joined on percussion.
Around this time Rodolfo "Peruchín" Argudín Justiz replaced Nuñez and José Miguel "El Greco" Crego joined on trumpet.
In 1989, Averhoff and Munguía left, replaced by Elpido Chappotín Delgado and Rolando Pérez Pérez; Valdés left, not replaced.
In 1991, Delgado and Piloto left; Mariano Mena Pérez replaced Delgado.
Somewhere in here Guillermo Amores Silveiras took over on güiro and Pablo Cortés on bongos, replacing Oriol and Lavoy. Rafael "Jimmy" Jenks Jiménez, tenor sax, came and went.
In the late 90s, Pérez Pérez left, replaced by Ernesto Varona; Argudin left, replaced by Emilio Morales; Crego left, replaced by Adalberto Laras; Calixto Oviedo left, replaced by Jimmy Branly;
Nogueras left, replaced successively by Humberto Sosa, former Van Van member Raúl Cardenas and Pablo Cortés. In 1998, Yeni Valdés joined on vocals, subsequently leaving to join Van Van. At some point after that, Arango left to form Los Hermanos Arango.
By 2003, the band was Cortés, Calá and Chappotín plus Edgar Haedo, piano; José Luis Hernández, sax; Orlando Jesús Vázquez, trumpet; José Alan, drums; Pablo Cortés, congas; José Lázaro Cortés, bongos; Arlenis Rodriguez, Dyanelis Alfonso Cartaya and Mónica Mesa, vocals.
Haedo later replaced by Ernesto "Prida" Reinaldo Puentes.
Siglo I A.N.E. (Nueva Generación: 1985)
After leaving Irakere but before forming NG La Banda, Cortés led a Latin jazz ensemble. This disc, their first, features many of the NG players, though Feliciano Arango is notably absent and Cortés rarely plays (he did write all the tunes).
There is heavy use of African percussion and references to Santería - Cuba's main religion,
a mix of Yoruba traditions and Catholicism - ("Elegua Soyu," with a Pat Metheny-ish guitar solo).
It's somewhat comparable to what Sintesis was doing around this time, but
the tunes are less structured - just a bass/percussion groove with solos on top - and there are almost no vocals. "Yemaya Asesu" most clearly foreshadows NG's later advances, mixing up a santería invocation (by Anabell López), programmed funk drums, a piano montuno, and a succession of horn solos. Otherwise, the disc mostly lives or dies with the quality of the solos, which is mixed.
All six tracks were collected on the 1998 release Toda Cuba Baila Con....
Siglo II NG, N.E. (Nueva Generación: 1986)
Hard to find and not really worth the effort. Mostly Irakere-style jazz - the swinging "Guaracha Para Los Dedos"; the ballad "Canción De José Lázaro" - and while the soloists are impressive (e.g. whoever's playing guitar on "Montuno De Monte Afuera") the compositions and arrangements don't show the flair that would emerge during NG's prime.
Velazco's fusion-y, bass-heavy "Punto Neutro" is probably the best of the bunch; "Siglo II De Nuestra Era" is a good old-fashioned free-for-all descarga.
All instrumental apart from Aymee Nuviola's vocals on the riff tune "Changó Changó."
Abriendo El Ciclo (Todos Estrellas: 1986)
A significant stylistic shift from the two Siglo discs: The opening almost-title track is still mostly instrumental and based on a jazzy progression, but with the prominent horn lines, percussive groove and vocal chants that would define their late 80s/early 90s sound.
"Si No Sabes Bailar El Son No Te Metas" is farther in the same direction, with standard salsa song structure and an emphasis on horn charts over solos.
The group's ballads are generally overlooked, but they were part of Tosco's conception from early on: "Sí Miro El Reloj," complete with an extended sax interlude, is as carefully rendered and stylishly presented as any of the uptempo tunes.
That said, most of Cortés's rapid evolution as arranger and bandleader was still to come: "Ponle El Biburón" and "Se Terminó El Carnival" are perfectly respectable here, but the 1988 re-recordings puof each are much more forceful and distinctive.
A Través del Ciclo (Todos Estrellas: 1987)
Unusual both in terms of personnel - Gonzalo Rubalcalba is the pianist, Pedro Calvo adds vocals, strings are prominent ("Suspende Los Comentarios Que Yo Soy Lo Ma´s Chevere"), and Arango doesn't appear - and approach, as nearly everything is mellow: the bolero "Facilidades O Dificultades"; "Pa' Fuera Mi Compay"; "Interprete Mi Silencio." Tosco's flute solo on "Recoge El Bulto Y Vete" is the only giveaway that you're listening to one of his projects, and I can't imagine that any listeners at the time guessed that he was about to set Cuban music on its ear.
Apparently Cortés composed two more albums - to be called Siglo III and Cerrando El Ciclo respectively - but never got to record them.
No Te Compliques (1988)
From the start Cortés and his band of merry men were impressively polished - many members
had played together for years in Irakere and Los Van Van, while Tony Calá had written and sung most of Ritmo Oriental's 80s hits - but it's here that the group started to find the formula that would put timba on the map: "Se Terminó El Carnival" and "Ponle El Biburón," with one of Arango's unforgettable bass lines, have the combination of deft arrangement, streetwise lyrics and virtuosic ensemble playing that changed the course of Cuban music.
The title track is just as unusual, a full-blown funk epic, but the results weren't as successful and the experiment wasn't repeated.
Then there are some revved-up traditional forms: "Cha Cortés" is probably the hardest-hitting chachachá you'll ever hear, with blazing horn lines, some incongruous-sounding electronic drums, and a magnificent solo from the leader; "Conga Orientadora" is in Latin jazz territory - more or less just a blowing vehicle though a good one.
Just so there's a little bit of everything, "Generaciones" is fusion in a Sintesis vein.
After being nearly impossible to find for twenty-five years, the album was released digitally in 2014 but confusingly titled Nueva Generacíon and credited to La Nueva Generacíon.
En La Calle (1989)
Another strong step forward, as every track is memorable and many are groundbreaking: The ferocious version of Celina Gonzalez's "Qué Viva Chango"
marked their first full incorporation of santería - to this day, no one can match NG's ability to combine sacred and secular, jazz and dance music, without weakening or compromising any of those elements.
The classic "La Expresiva" (one of the few NG hits Cortés didn't write - it's by Fidel Morales) contains a solid bass groove and catchphrases about various Havana neighborhoods; "La Protesta De Los Chivos" has a humorous story (and goat impression) but the rhythm section and horns are all business.
"To' El Mundo E' Bueno Camará" - don't ask me why Cortés puts "Camará" at the end of so many song titles, because I don't know - virtually invents the "slow burn" which became critical to later timba.
There's also their NY Sound ballad "Necesito Una Amiga," which was the first from the band that most of us heard in the US.
Most of this record and half of the following disc were collected onto a Qbadisc compilation also titled En La Calle - since it's readily available, it's a fine introduction to the band's early period.
Intentalo (Pedrito Calvo y el Group Nueva Generación: 1989)
After making their initial mark as innovators, the band next backed the well known Los Van Van singer on an album of boleros. Cortés produced, wrote half the tunes, and split arranging duties with Velazco). Includes one Van Van song, "Marilú," which was not originally sung by Calvo though I believe he did sing lead in live performances. I have not been able to find this; in Havana in 2014 I asked around and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Which, well, fair enough.
No Puede Tapar El Sol (1990)
The frantic "Los Sitios Entero" is another exploration of santería themes and probably their most irresistable early groove; the dramatic title track was also a hit, and "Por Que Te Sufres Con Lo Que Yo Gozo" is a terrific example of the bite NG could bring to romantic salsa.
Three ballads this time: "Tu Y Yo Somos El Mismo" (pleasant, but probably among the band's least interesting tunes); Piloto's lovely "Te Confunde Ser Esa Mujer"; and the sly, gradually building "Un Tipo Como Yo."
Salseando (Malena Burke y NG La Banda: 1990)
Along the same lines as Intentalo, a disc of Cuban oldies sung by Malena Burke, perhaps best known as Elena Burke's daughter though she does have strong, clear voice. Songs include Arsenio Rodríguez's "Bruca Manigua," Mercedes Valdés' "Me Voy Pa'l Pueblo," and two fine slow chachachás (here called "bolero-chás"), "De Noche" and "Que Bella Es Cuba." The mix of different traditional rhythms (from guajira to guaguancó) keeps things interesting, and the arrangements are dead-on, but it's still not a great introduction to the band: they're trying so hard to stay out of Burke's way that they never stretch out and really show their stuff. Also known as De Noche Con Malena Burke y NG La Banda. (DBW)
En Cuerpo Y Alma (rec. 1991 or 1992, rel. 1997)
A live two-CD set - the first disc was recorded in Japan, the second in Italy - and it gives you a decent idea how they sound in concert,
but it's nowhere near the level of their best studio releases.
The Japan disc focuses on the band's jazz side, with an amusing performance of "All Of Me" and
a piano interpolation of Gershwin's "Summertime" into "Por Qué Tú Sufres Con Lo
Que Yo Gozo?" Cortés even injects an extended quote from Monk's "Straight No Chaser" into an endless
unaccompanied flute solo during "Cha-Cha-Cha Cortés." The soloing goes overboard, particularly on the closing "No Se Puede Tapar
El Sol," and the band sounds a bit unsteady throughout (though part of that may be a mixing issue: there seems to be a hole in the middle
of the sound). The band is in markedly better form on the Italy disc, with the horns and rhythm section knitting together into an unstoppable
whole, focusing on dance music either fast ("La Expresiva") or midtempo ("Me Voy Pa'l Pueblo").
The two new songs, "Asesina" and "Señorita Italiana" (starting with a riff later incorporated into "Picadillo De Soya"), aren't exactly
lost gems, but they're fun.
En La Calle Otra Vez (1992)
Impossible to find until a 2014 digital re-release, though several tracks had surfaced one place or another: the formidable "Yo Soy Un Hombre," which as John W. Campbell or Samuel Goldwyn said "starts with an earthquake and builds from there to a climax"; Giraldo Piloto's fine love song "Llegará A Tí."
Though he'd long used spoken interludes, Cortés incorporates actual rapping for the first time: "Rap De La Muerte" meets but does not exceed standards, while "Rap Se La Aplicaron Todo" is a monster. Some of the slow material is forgettable ("Largo Fin De Semana") but because complilations have generally overlooked this disc it's well worth having.
De N.G. Para Curaçao (1993)
Recorded during a brief visit to the Caribbean island of Curaçao,
this record sounds like a rush job; there are several covers of
Cuban standards ("Guantanamera," anyone?) and the Cortés
originals lack his usual compositional flair and razor-sharp horn
arrangements. There's an earlier version of "La Bruja," not nearly as precise or engaging as the later hit version, but they do a fine job on "Me Voy Pa'l Pueblo," with a slower, more stately arrangement than they used with Burke.
Cabaret Panorámico (1993)
Maybe Cortés was saving his best songs for this album, a tour de
force of all original numbers, each in a different traditional
rhythm. The band goes from conga to mambo to chachachá to
danzón to guaguancó, and that's just Side One. Every song here is
terrific, one of maybe five records I would say that about; "Echale Limón" (with a dizzyingly detailed arrangement), "Murakami Mambo" and "Santa Palabra" (more santería) are the best known, though the relatively laid-back "Como Pantera" is my personal favorite.
An excellent introduction to modern Cuban dance music.
Échale Limón (1993)
A compilation, but since it was released only in Cuba you're unlikely to come across it - contains two tunes from Panorámico plus several extras, ranging from the traditional "Vuela La Paloma" to the salsa ballad "Amor Entre Tres" and the unexceptional (though topical) dance number "¿Jinetero?"
Lo Que Manda (1994)
I could be wrong, but I think the Cuban government's post-Soviet cash crisis
was creating pressure on its most marketable musicians to release
as much product as possible. That's the best explanation I can
think of for this record, which has some great songs ("¿Qué Es
Esto?," "Hice Mi Papel") but also a lot of filler ("El Saxofón," the endless "Búscate Un Congelador"); the
arrangements are competent but don't show the same loving care as
the band's best work. (DBW)
La Bruja (1994)
The band is in peak form here, with the horn section (known as "los metales
de terror") sounding better than ever ("Te Pongo Mal," title track), the arrangements full of
surprises ("La Pelicula Del Sabado"), the tunes solid. Sometimes, though, the band's
pyrotechnics interfere with the groove; I like this record better
for listening, and Cabaret Panorámico better for dancing,
though they're both nearly perfect. (DBW)
Llegó N.G., Camará (1994)
A compilation of hard-to-find tracks, with one song each
from No Te Compliques, No Puede Tapar El Sol, En La Calle and La Bruja, and two each from Otra Vez ("Yo Soy Un Hombre") and Échale Limón ("Amor Entre Tres").
Then there are a couple I haven't seen anywhere else: the Silvio Rodríguez cover "Por Quien Merece Amor" is interesting if a touch too long; the salsa ballad "Me Va A Extrañar" swings. (DBW)
En Directo Desde El Patio De Mi Casa (1995)
A live album of all new compositions (like Los Van Van's Lo Ultimo En Vivo). It's another enjoyable but rushed, lackluster effort:
they reuse many arranging ideas ("Banquera Del Amor") and there are too many tunes that sound overfamiliar.
But there are a couple of standout dance tracks ("Ternura Impacientes" and "El Baile Chino" despite its silly stereotyping)
and another NY Sound ballad ("Hasta Que Me Olvides," written by Juan Luis Guerra and originally a hit for Luis Miguel). (DBW)
Nuestro Hombre En La Habana (1995)
When you see the four-song track listing with one-word titles, you immediately suspect a rambling jam session.
And indeed, the 28-minute "Portal" is an exercise in frustration, with one horn player after another soloing over an unchanging chord and
rhythm pattern. But things get better: "Sala," at only fifteen minutes, has a pleasant, slippery groove that forms the foundation of a
blistering extended Cortés solo - the most impressive flute solo I've ever heard. The slower "Cuarto" is more carefully arranged
than the others, and Arango slips in a few funky bass licks; "Cocina" brings things to an energetic conclusion.
With no lyrics, no classic NG horn climaxes, and no brilliant riffs, it's clearly a minor work,
but the group's fanatics will be glad to hear them get a chance to stretch out. (DBW)
Tony Calá Canta A Benny Moré (Tony Calá: 1995)
With Calá singing, arrangements by Cortés, and nearly all of the band performing, it's basically an NG album. All the tunes are Moré standards - "Cienfuegos" (with a rare extended Arango solo); "Me Voy Pa'l Pueblo" (yes, again). Compared to the Malena Burke project, the interpretations are jazzed up and stretched out, which may be a drag for traditionalists but suits me fine, especially with NG in such good form ("Camarera Del Amor"). A couple of tunes are less than overwhelming (the non-unforgettable ballad "Mi Amor Fugaz"), but when they lock into a good groove, there's nothing better ("Santa Isabel De Las Lajas"). Calá himself is in his usual relaxed zone, switching styles at will with no apparent effort. Weirdly, though, the disc falls apart on the last cut, an endless, self-indulgent space jam ("Mata Siguaraya"), but it won't bother you - much - if you think of it as a bonus track.
La Cachimba (1996)
An improvement over En Directo, with heavy propulsive rhythms on "No Capito" (incorporating elements from house music) and "La Medecina" hinting that Cortés still has a few tricks
up his sleeve. But as good as they are, "Qué Dificil" and "De La Parte De Afuera" are the sort of jazzy syncopated salsa he arranges in his sleep. You can't blame Cortés for sticking with a
winning formula, but with such a talented band he could've taken more risks. (DBW)
De Allá Pa' Acá (Orquesta Todos Estrellas: 1996)
A sort of tribute album, recorded after the Puerto Rico All-Stars performed Cuban songs under the title De Aqui Pa' Alla. To return the favor, Cortés arranged a set of tunes by Puerto Rican composers, performed by a band drawn primarily from NG but also including Van Van stars Changuito and Samuel Formell, and Issac Delgado pianist Melón González. The singers from all three of those bands are present: Delgado, Calá, Pedro Calvo, Mario Rivera and Mariano Mena.
I'm not familiar with the songs or composers (apart from Tite Curet Alonzo, and the bracketing tunes by Cortés), but it hardly matters: with the bass/brass unison riffing, shocking dynamics changes and absurdly dense horn charts behind the vocalists, the mark of Cortés is so strong the compositions might as well be his ("Swing Sabroso"). Even with so much talent on hand, he never falls into the "parade of solos" trap; though many of the tracks are long (more than six minutes on average) the players serve the arrangements, not the other way around.
Top Secret (José Miguel Crego: 1996)
The NG trumpeter's side project is backed by bandmates Arango, Oviedo and Miguel Angel de Armas, but if you're expecting Latin jazz you're in for an unpleasant surprise. Written by Crego and keyboardist Pucho Lopez, it's synth-heavy instrumental pop with lots of morose trumpet bleating. Some of the tracks are heavily programmed ("A Wolfman In Scotland," with synth bagpipes), and most push Arango so far into the background he's inaudible ("Travel To Nowhere" - no kidding).
In other words, it's very much like a late 80s Miles Davis album, and I didn't rate those very highly either. There are a few nice moments, though: the 12-bar "The Spirit Of The Town" is overly mechanical but rather tasty, and the fade of "Aruba Romances" boasts lilting jazz changes, a clearly stated melody, and a modicum of enthusiasm.
Best of NG La Banda (1997)
Though a couple of high-energy tunes are included ("Santa Palabra"; "¿Jinetero?"),
this is mostly a ballads compilation. Which isn't a bad thing: quality tunes
like "Tu Y Yo Somos Uno Mismo" and Giraldo Piloto's
fine "Llegará A Tí" weren't easy to get in the States at the time. In fact, precisely because it's so lacking in hits ("Largo Fin De Semana"), it's still a good companion to the many compilations which really do contain the "Best of NG La Banda." (DBW)
Latin Fever (José Luis Cortés: 1997)
More Latin jazz along the lines of Nuestro Hombre, but with only a rhythm section and
an occasional guest horn backing Cortés. The format leaves maximal room for his flute
solos, and he's as awesome as ever ("Cadencias De Miguelon"), but he also makes way for
Manuel Angel de Armas's piano and Arango's bass ("Conga Superes Te Pe Faciente"). Unfortunately, Arango focuses mostly on
upper register noodling rather than the rhythmic invention at which he excels.
Cortés also wrote all ten tunes, and they cover a variety of styles including a bolero ("Bolero Oculto") and a brief waltz
("Valse Inocuo"), but with a couple of exceptions (the gorgeous "Intenciones Alborotadas") they're
just simple progressions to set up the soloists ("Guaracha Estupefacta").
With so many Cuban bands covering the same sophisticated-yet-swinging,
modern-yet-traditional territory, it's hard to stay ahead of the pack.
But NG maintains its superiority: Cortés's compositions are
irresistable, and the arrangements and performances are riveting:
"Verano Habanero" is one of the best dance tracks I've heard in years.
Cortés also takes up more solo space this time out, and his
playing is vigorous, intelligent and inspired. The biggest change is the
presence of female vocalist Yeni Valdés on three slower numbers ("Estoy Muerto
Contigo," "Acorralada," title track), where she's more than competent. There are also
backing vocals on "Pregón De Mandarina" that sound just like 440, with a melody to match. I'm not sure this
stacks up against their very best records, but it blows away the rest of
the island's current product - which is saying something. (DBW)
La Culebra (Osdalgia: 1999)
Cortés produced and arranged the debut of this young female singer, wrote three tunes with her, and brought most of
NG (including Arango) along to perform.
The material ranges from the slow ballad "Corazón Rebelde" to the songo-rap "Beribe" (with guest vocals from
Trío Amenaza) to NG's usual timba ("De Cuba"), ending with three Benny Moré standards: "Rumberos De Ayer,"
"Dolor Y Perdón" and "No Te Atrevas."
Though there are no obvious hits, the arrangements and performances are uniformly sharp ("Así Es La Humanidad").
But there's a hollowness at the record's center, because although Osdalgia's voice is powerful and well trained,
she doesn't show much personality: her version of the standard
"Trátame Como Soy" is rote compared to Nora's.
Baila Conmigo (2000)
An unusual outing, mostly written by outsider Alberto Cárdenas, with keyboards and bass
by Fernando Soria. The title track (by Cortés) is Gipsy Kings-like with
synth guitars, lead vocals from Yeni Valdés imitating La India,
and backing vocals in Revé's "voz de vieja"
style. "Para Un Amigo" is quite good Latin jazz - again by Cortés - in the vein of
Latin Fever but more of a structured composition.
There are a couple of weak ballads ("Empece A Dudar"; "Ya No Oigo Tu Voz," the
better of the two thanks to Valdés's vocals). There are two gimmicky electrodance numbers
("Entre Nubes," "Tirando Piedras").
But there's not much of NG's trademark driving timba, though the salsas "El Regreso De Lola" and "Quimica Perfecta" are reasonably close.
Valdés's last album with the group before she joined Van Van.
Afrosalsa (Afrosalsa: 2000)
Cortés and friends do for Africa what De Allá Pa' Acá had done for Puerto Rico: hits by
African pop artists are reinterpreted in typical NG style.
In fact, I'm not sure why this isn't listed as an NG release: Cortés produced and arranged, Valdes
does most of the singing, and the only outside artist credited is guitarist Briscard.
I'm not familiar with the original versions of the tunes, but most of them are based in soukous, a high energy dance music
from Zaire, and most are by 90s artists like Boy Marone ("Yow Mi"), Meiway ("Appolo," "200% Zoblado"),
and Oliver N’Goma ("Adia"), though previous generations are represented by Ramiro Mendes's "Angola"
and legendary figure Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata," a worldwide hit in 1967.
But by the time Cortés is through with the tune, the source is almost irrelevant: though he leaves in some Afro-pop
guitars (the intro to "Appolo") and rhythms ("200% Zoblado"), the NG stamp is all over the place, from horn charts and
instrumental breaks to the harmony vocal chants (not to mention that all the lyrics are translated into Spanish).
The result is neither tofu nor tempeh: you don't get the flavor of the original compositions, but you don't get the full
force, jazzy changes or explosive buildups of the band's own songs. Pleasant and danceable but never attention-grabbing.
Mi Armonía (Osdalgia: 2001)
Again, Cortés arranged most of the tunes, produced, and brought the band along to perform, though his only composition
is "Cuentame," with spirited lead guitar that either parodies or copies Santana's
"Smooth." I'm guessing the latter, judging from the lack of originality displayed elsewhere:
the title track is a bachata that clearly infringes on Juan Luis Guerra's patent; "Que Calor!"
is a tacky party record a la "Bang Bang" that borrows its melody from "Oye Como Va."
Osdalgia wrote most of the material herself, though that's a dubious honor on such a derivative disc; the one outstanding
track is a tempo-shifting, genre-jumping remake of Gershwin's "Summertime."
Meanwhile, her singing is as facile and empty as before, and she's added an annoying fake laugh ("Que Se Me Caigan Los
Oye Siiii (José Luis Cortés y NG La Banda: 2003)
Recorded in Italy, with practically a whole new band. Fortunately, the sound is similar, perhaps because the old band was so influential there's no shortage of Cuban players trained in NG style.
Like Baila Conmigo or Cabaret Panorámico, Cortés tackles as many styles as possible - bolero ("Un Bolero"), Latin jazz ("Ave Maria") and even samba ("Samba De Amalphi") in addition to NG's typical timba ("El Papi")
- though thankfully he avoids electronica. As always, his flute technique is impeccable ("Y Si Mañana") and there are terrific arrangement details ("Si Yo Tuviera 20"), though some of the compositions lack luster ("Camarón").
More distressingly, several tracks are remakes: "Santa Palabra," "El Cumbanchero," "Baila Conmigo." You'd think he'd have more in the tank after so many years without recording an album.
There's also a cover of the Celine Dion weeper "My Heart Will Go On." As with his fabled (and apparently unreleased) version of "Hotel California," it's hard to tell whether El Tosco is indulging his sense of humor, or if he really likes the tune: the arrangement is tight, but the lead vocal is almost absurdly over the top.
All songs by Cuban vice president Juan Almeida on the occasion of his 80th birthday. If that sounds weird to you, well, it sounds weird to me too, but I will
point out that other Cuban acts had recorded Almeida tunes from as far back as the Irakere's 1979 version of "Este Camino
Largo." What's even weirder is, Cortés wrote out horn arrangements but didn't hire any horn players, instead falling back on incredibly cheesy synth
tones ("Carolina"). Then he brings in an array of guest vocalists: Calá sings two tunes ("Son Rumba"); Mónica Mesa, Dyanelis Alfonso and Arlenys
Rodríguez get one each; and half the disc is turned over to the somewhat over-the-top stylings of Yoel Espinosa ("Cuando Pase El Tiempo"). There are
as many musical styles as there are singers, so the disc never settles into a groove while the individual compositions don't stand out either (the zippy
"José Suavecito" is the exception).
The frustrating part is, El Tosco's flute virtuosity is undimmed: he tosses off intriguing melodies and note cascades ("Tú Te Mereces") without
showing off, and slips in sly quotes (beginning his solo on "Por Tí" with "Never On A Sunday," for example). If he's not going to write songs or
work with actual horn players, I wish he'd cut another straight jazz album like Latin Fever so he can just focus on his extraordinary soloing. Also in 2007, some version of NG appeared on Son Cuba Y Puerto Rico.
Recordar Es Vivir (José Luis Cortés: 2009)
Guests include Calá and Valdés; Soria plays keys and bass but at least the horns are real. The biggest problem is that the tunes - two by Cortés ("Cangrejo"), the rest by outsiders like Ñico Saquito - are completely ordinary salsa, without any memorable hooks (the kitschy "El Pollo De Caridad").
Second biggest problem: the arrangements are perfunctory, lacking any clever details, instrumental prowess, or even a routine-but-satisfying multi-gear timba breakdown - the closest is probably "Vecina Préstame El Cubo." Problem number three, not enough flute from the leader, and what there is isn't worth much. Nothing about the disc sounds up-to-date, but it doesn't have the playful spirit of intentional anachronism either.
El Tosco has let me down in a variety of ways over the last ten years, but this way is the least intriguing yet.
Mis 22 Años (2011)
Improbably, after a tortuous hiatus, Cortés reconstituted the band - horns and all - plus A-list guests (Chucho Valdés on "Danza De Fuego"; Pedro Calvo, César Pedroso and Changüito on "El Abuso") for a generous two-CD set.
More improbably, the top cuts match anything the band has ever done (the impossibly rollicking "El Indio"; "5ta Avenida" with a stunning piano line from Ernesto Reinaldo) while the more ordinary numbers are still enjoyable ("Con Qué Tú Cuentas").
The record's a hodgepodge, but not in a bad way: Several songs seem to be exhumed from the vaults (suspiciously featuring long-absent sidemen like Feliciano Arango) while "Rap De La Muerte," at least, has been featured in live performance lo these many years (though others swear by it, it's always left me unmoved).
Nearly everything's in a dance vein with a spirit of fun (as the cheeky quotes in "Lang" attest), largely straightforward timba though the jazz influence pokes through ("Para Un Amigo," with one of several stirring flute solos).
Heartening as this set is, there are shortcomings: Most of the tracks run at least seven minutes, and for every cut that earns its running time ("Alan Tocando Bungalow," featuring Haila Mompié), there's another that could have been reined in at four or five ("Obsesión").
The potpourri of vocalists includes stalwarts like Calé and Valdés, plus Coco Freeman, Miladis César, Arlenis Rodríguez and more.
Ryu's Cuban Night 20th Anniversary Live! (Mayito Rivera, Tania Pantoja, Tony Calá with Cuban All Stars: 2013)
I don't know how this happened, but Ryu Murakami brought together the core of 90s NG La Banda for one performance in Japan: Cortés, Calá, Velazco, Arango, Peruchín, Chappottin and Hernandez are present - Oviedo is notably absent - plus Rivera and Tania Pantoja (featured on the ancient ballad "Amapola"). They mostly stick to the band's early 90s ("Los Sitios Entero") and mid-90s periods ("La Cachimba"), though they recreate only two of the tunes originally recorded in Japan with Murakami's support ("Échale Limón"). The songs aren't reimagined but the band is enthusiastic and on point, so it's neither perfunctory nor revelatory.
There are a few tunes I'm not familiar with ("Negrito Bailador"), and the 2-disc set concludes with two studio tracks, "Himno A Amor" and "Nunca En Domingo" - yes, the 1960 hit originally known as "Ta Paidiá Tou Peiraiá" - with Mompié.
En La Calle Una Vez Más (2014)
Like 22 Años, a mix of styles - merengue ("Cocinero"); instrumental jazz ("Santa María Saccorso"); even a bachata ("El Pasmao")
- plus the usual timba ("Maletero"). I can't find a listing of musicians, but the vocalists are Gisselle Ferrer, Damián Serrano and Marino Calzado, with guest appearances from former members Calá, Freeman and Mónica Mesa.
Though none of the material is prime NG, and nothing is groundbreaking or innovative, lots of it is enjoyable ("Un Besito Na Má"; the flute showpiece "Resbalando").
Wilson en directo desde el sótano de mis padres.