Reviewed on this page:
En Busca De Una Nueva Flor - Ancestros - El Hombre Extraño - Ancestros II - Ancestros III
- Habana A Flor De Piel
Sintesis started out as Cuba's first prog-rock band, influenced by
Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but (fortunately)
they quickly mutated into a fusion of rock, jazz and traditional
Cuban music. They're now best known for their Ancestros
albums, which blend traditional santero chants (just vocals and
percussion) with synthesizers and guitars. Most of their records are still very hard to get in the
US - the main reason my discography is not yet complete - but worth the effort.
Carlos Alfonso, bass, vocals; Ele Valdés,
vocals, keyboards; Esteban Puebla, keyboards, Fidel
García, vocals, keyboards; Equis Alfonso,
keyboards; José Bustillo, guitar; Frank
Padilla, drums; Roberto Vincaíno, batá
drum. Lucía Huergo (vocals, flute, sax, keyboards) joined in
1981, left after 1987.
Bustillo and Padilla left after 1992, replaced by Victor Navarrete
and Raúl Pineda.
(There have been a lot of other changes over the
years, most of which I don't have any information on.)
En Busca De Una Nueva Flor (1978)
I'd read that this was full-on prog rock, but I didn't believe it until I heard it for myself:
with endless running times, classical motifs, and tons of ostinato piano, it really could be Emerson, Lake and Palmer (the ponderous if ornate "Nueve Ejemplares, No Tan Raros").
Except that the band is years behind the times, with loads of grating early 70s synth ("Somos La Flor"), and their
instrumental prowess is not overwhelming. And most tracks follow a loose formula of alternating piano-led vamps with mostly a
capella choral sections.
If you can get past that, there are some indicators of the band's future triumphs: the atmospheric chorus of "Primera
Noche"; the controlled tension in the lengthy title suite.
And most importantly, vocals from Ele Valdés, who gives the sound some sorely needed distinctiveness and emotional
force ("Ven A Encontrarnos").
Aquí Estamos (1981)
I've heard two of these tracks: the neo-classical "Variaciones Sobre Un Zapateo," very much along the lines of Nueva Flor,
and "Elogio De La Danza," which is jazz fusion a la Weather Report except for a vocal chant and
handclaps midway through the tune.
Hilo Directo (1984)
Only in Cuba: religious chants and rhythms brought by slaves from
Africa (still widely practiced in the country, defying Catholicism
and Communism alike) interpreted faithfully - but with
synthesizers, guitars and drum machines stacked on top of them.
It's an interesting experiment, but the chants are consistently
more attention-grabbing than the fusion backing, which tends to
sound the same on every track. Santero singer and priest
Lázaro Ros watched over the recording, and also contributes
lead vocals on "Titi-Laye." Half of the tunes are by Carlos
Alfonso, the other half are by Huergo. (DBW)
El Hombre Extraño (1989)
All the lyrics here are by Silvio
Rodriguez, who also drops by to sing the title track, and as
usual for him, they range from totally opaque ("Parte Del Tiempo (Nuevo)")
to very straightforward ("El Día Que No Importaba").
Valdés uses her clear, full voice to excellent effect ("Voy
y No Es Todo"), and the tunes (all written or co-written by Carlos
Alfonso) are effective and cleverly arranged: dreamy synths,
cutting guitars, and plenty of open space. (DBW)
Ancestros II (1990?)
Much like the previous Ancestros release: same Bat-chanting, same Bat-fusion. But there are
some significant differences, such as louder and more distorted guitars ("Asojano Mawe"),
surprisingly funky R&B/jazz piano ("Ogun Mariwo"), and a number of guests (mostly percussionists)
making for a fuller sound. There's even a rap vocal by Charli 2 Ner, which makes one think of
related efforts in African diaspora integrationism by Steve
Coleman. Though some of the tunes aren't particularly exciting ("Oshishe Iwa Ma"), this is
perhaps the best effort of the trilogy from an instrumental perspective. Unfortunately, all the busy
playing detracts from the chanting, which is often reduced to backup vocal status. As only a couple
of tracks ("Ayabba," "So Sa So") manage to reach the spiritually moving heights of the other volumes,
this often sounds like a professional but soulless exercise. Initially released in the States as Orishas.
Ancestros III (1992)
Another volume of santería chants, and the blend is much
better realized, with the sophistication of the arrangements a
match for the gut-level impact of the chants. Recent arrival
Esteban Puebla writes about half of the tracks, and they're tuneful and spacious,
leaving room for the vocalists: Valdés shines on her features (the slow-building "Aguanileo"), and the chant "Obatalá" is as moving
as any music you're likely to hear, religious or secular.
Confusion In Titling II: This disc was originally released in the US by Qbadisc as Ancestros II, and it's also been released as Yoruba Celebration. (DBW)
En Los Limites Del Barrio (1994)
Real World (X Alfonso: 2000)
Equis Alfonso (the son of Carlos Alfonso and Ele Valdés, I believe) struck out on his own as a hip hop artist.
Both parents appear here.
Habana A Flor De Piel (2001)
Essentially the same Ancestros approach - vocal chorus and low-key, tasteful synth fusion - is applied to new band
compositions (though "Iroko Ma Karere" is based, like the Ancestros trilogy, on Yoruba chants).
The more contemplative numbers sound like late 90s Silvio ("Si Yo Fuera..."),
while the seductive "Conmigo En La Clave" (with Chucho Valdés on piano) sounds like
NG La Banda on downers.
Though the band sticks close to its trademark sound - as usual, vocals are split between Ele Valés and
Carlos Alfonso - there are experimental moments: successes include wah-wah guitar battling
Táta Guines's percussion on "Fifty Fifty," while the Manhattan Transfer-style vocals and trumpet on the title track
is a bit on the tacky side.
Other guests include Pablo Milanés ("Un Poco Mas De Fé"), Carlos
Varela and Mayito ("Dilo Como Yo").
X Moré: Homenaje A Beny Moré 1919-1963 (X Alfonso: 2002)
Civilización (X Alfonso: 2005)
Traigo Para Dar (2010)
Voy y no es todo...