The Voice of Xtabay
Sumac is one of the most fascinating characters in popular music
history. Her legend is as wild as her four-octave range. The vision
of her "talking with the birds, the beasts, the winds, the
sounds of life and nature" in the Peruvian village of Ichocan
and the rumor that her real name is Amy Camus (from New Jersey,
no less) are both intriguing. Ultimately they don't matter because
the music is an intoxicating blend of camp, exotica, Latin rhythms
and vocal acrobatics. The best songs invoke images of eagles flying
over the Peruvian mountains circling a small village. The camera
pans in on a scene of either bloodthirsty Jivaro Indians or a maiden
combing her tresses in the morning light with a bone comb.
of Yma's catalogue has been out-of-print since the era of the compact
disc. There was a brief release of Voice of Xtabay in 1988
and a sloppy compilation called The Spell of Yma Sumac (Pair
PCD-1172). Eventually a performance from Russia was released (Live
in Concert 1961, Elect CD 2116) a pair of French imports but
the real story was yet to be retold.
label The Right Stuff has done a wonderful thing in releasing five
great Capitol titles. There are no bonus tracks or additional liner
notes but the albums are complete and the sound is fine. Who could
ask for anything more?
of Xtabay (The Right Stuff 0777-7-1 921217) is a major work
with arrangements by Les Baxter and Yma's then husband Moises Vivanco.
It's probably considered the "one" to get if you're on
a limited budget (but whoever heard of a budget for music?). The
Vivanco numbers have a more folk feel but the whole thing is compelling.
Legend of the Sun Virgin (The Right Stuff 0777-7-91250-2-9)
features Vivanco all the way through. It covers some of the same
ground as Voice of Xtabay but there are several tracks with great
hooks that shouldn't be missed, the opener Karibe Taki, in
particular. We can't tell you why, but we think this must be our
favorite. It might be our imagination but she seems most in control
of her voice here and Vivanco is most sensitive to his wife's needs.
Musically, we mean.
it's not typical of an Yma Sumac recording, Mambo! (The Right
Stuff 077-7-80863) seems to be everyone's favorite. As authentic
as cheese nachos at a ballpark, it's got Billy May arrangements
and Yma camping her way through 11 mostly peppy numbers that are
almost impossible to dance to, let alone do the mambo. The wildest
number that uses most of her four octaves, is Malambo No.1.
We had the pleasure of seeing her do this number live in the late
1980s and the audience went nuts, especially when Yma announced
that singing Malambo No.1 took a lot out of her.
of the Jivaro (Right Stuff 7243-8-36355) is a tribute to the
headhunting Indians that supposedly lived only one hundred miles
from where Yma was raised. It's hard to gauge how accurately Vivanco
captured the native melodies and dialect but it's a dark, slick
study. We tend to play this disc the least. The cover is classic,
with Yma staring intently at a shrunken head.
Fuego del Ande (The Right Stuff 7243-8-32681-2-2) takes a
completely different turn and gives us a light breezy version of
Peruvian folk music. Instead of a big orchestra, Fuego del Ande
features mostly smaller combo settings, sounding either authentic
or with an odd but pleasant "rock" beat. Some of the tracks
sound as if they were arranged by whoever did The Munsters
TV theme. Especially at the start of the record, Yma sings in a
more relaxed (though no less eccentric) manner. By Virgenes del
Sol she's pretty whacked out. The whole affair is infectious,
especially the various waltzes.
Sumac is not for everyone but if you like her, you'll really want
to get all five volumes on The Right Stuff. If you're dubious, there's
a sampler CD available. The next release to watch for is her early
'70s title with Les Baxter, Miracles. This was the first
place where we heard Yma (a student teacher we admired showed us
the light) and it's beyond description except to say that it tries
to cash in on the acid rock trend and Yma somehow still manages
to sound musical. Hopefully this release will make it to CD before
Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars
Contemporary CCD-14077-2 Jazz
have perhaps an irrational love for this album. It sends us back
to backyard barbecues where we (at the tender age of nine or so)
would make dry martinis for the adults while pater grilled thick
steaks and abalone on the grill. Mater would empty the ashtrays
that were nothing more than the discarded abalone shells that Dad
had dove for earlier in the day. All the while, swinging West Coast
Jazz was blaring from the console hi-fi. It also brings back that
disgusting but intriguing smell of the morning after with old gin,
steak fat and cigarette butts. How often this actually happened
is up for debate but it made a firm impression on our pre-adolescent
brain. Urban sprawl in the 1960s surely had its downside but there
really was a California Culture that was a lot of fun.
10 tracks on Mexican Passport are from various other Lighthouse
All-Star dates but their common thread is the groovy beatnik beat
which has less to do with Africa, Cuba or Mexico than San Francisco's
North Beach. The beat is somehow Latin in origin but the Mexican
connection has more to do with a Tijuana weekend jam session than
culture from south of the border.
track features an upbeat jam that will have you snapping your fingers,
rolling your head to and fro with eyes closed and moaning "Crazy,
Hannibal HNCD 1390 Latin
We forgot to tell you about this winner when it came out earlier
this year. Jesus Alemany is from Cuba's seminal Sierra Maestra band
and his solo effort is an interesting blend of jazz and folkloric
Cuban music, unlike anything else. Alemany very cleverly revives
a few old numbers by tres master Arsenio Rodriguez, among others,
and adds jazzy horn arrangements to the country feeling.
isn't for straight ahead dancing but the hips will sway. The recording
is incredibly clean and the mix of vibrant jazz and relaxed Cuban
son works very well.
Concord Records CCD-4714 Jazz/Vocals
Freelon's first two discs on Columbia were not our favorites. Freelon
had trouble shaking the influence of Abbe Lincoln and there was
an overly precious assumption of importance to the albums. They
weren't bad but we found them overstylized and not worth a second
nice it is to find this new Concord Jazz album! Freelon is in great
voice and the relaxed Concord atmosphere that can make Rosemary
Clooney sound a bit lazy actually seems to inspire Freelon.
by a trio and a few guest artists, Shaking Free is an easy-going
session recorded over two days. The musicians are given plenty of
the spotlight and the no-nonsense arrangements are perfect.
the mass of new women jazz singers on the horizon, mostly failing
on some key level, it's a treat to be able to say we look forward
to what she comes up with next.
Descarga Boricua II: Abrazate
RMM Records RMD282020 Salsa
years ago just about the most exciting new salsa release was the
debut double set by Descarga Boricua. It was well-done without sounding
slick and they juggled salsa, Afro and jazz in a particularly compelling
way. Descarga Boricua is now on the widely distributed RMM
label, known for its flashes of brilliance and sometimes for its
commercial dribble aimed at teens. While not quite as compelling
as their debut release, Abrazate is solid salsa mixed with
not unpleasant light jazz. We probably could have whittled this
double CD down to one, but there are many great moments and we really
like the strong vocals.
all of the mediocre salsa available these days, we say Descarga
Boricua is the one to watch.
Rykodisc/hifi RCD 50364
easy story to tell is that Arthur Lyman played with the seminal
Martin Denny group that produced the Lps Exotica and Exotica
II and the hit Quiet Village. He later branched off on
his own and achieved great success playing similar Afro-Polynesian
music. Some regarded him as a second-rate Denny and it's true he
did produce his share of pleasant but mediocre Exotica. The more
difficult concept to grasp is how the two groups played similar
music but sound altogether different.
personal version of his Taboo Lp has so many scratches that
we never regarded it as one of the classics. This beautifully remastered
CD is like hearing a whole new album. It works perfectly for a subdued
evening of cocktails and poo poo platters but it also warrants a
real listening because the real treat of Taboo is the Lyman
knack for arrangements.
sound of Taboo is rich and full but you really have to stop
at times and realize that there are sometimes only two or three
instruments playing together. Lyman never really swings the way
Denny could but he's completely in control. The sparse arrangements
are very clever and often evoke a sense of pleasant melancholy.
You're stranded on this desert island but you might as well make
the best of it.
original 12 tracks work perfectly together. We sometimes think the
biggest curse of the modern compact disc is the length. The extra
bonus tracks (especially the song from Bridge on the River Kwai)
break the mood or guild the lily, depending on how you see it. Still,
it's better to have too much than to exclude.
PDU (EMI) CD 30045 Italy
of you are aware of our rather passionate appreciation of the Italian
pop songstress, Mina. Perhaps her songs were the soundtrack for
our coming of age in Italy in the early 1980s or maybe her voice
is really as good as we think it is. Either way, you can learn the
language, drink espresso, use "ciao" as a greeting or
make your own pasta, but until you "get" Mina, you don't
"get" modern Italy.
started out with a bang in the very late 1950s as one of the new
breed of singers called "Gli Urlatori" (The Screamers).
These artistes sound rather tame now but when they came on
the scene in Italy, it was a revolution after the traditional Italian
sound so tied to the opera-lirica. Mina went on to record hundreds
of records following the styles of the day. She worked briefly with
the prolific Ennio Morricone, among other top arrangers, and in
many ways represented the Italian jet set. She was banned from the
state television networks because she brazenly had a child out of
wedlock and shocked and delighted when she made her triumphant return
to TV in a mini-gonna (mini skirt) singing the folk-pop ballads
of the Italian Bob Dylan, Lucio Battisti.
for her voice, Sarah Vaughan once said, "If I didn't have my
voice, I'd want hers!" She's a big belter with great taste
but she's strictly pop music with few pretensions.
continued to record albums throughout the 1970s, often with weirder
and weirder album art. In 1978, she gave her last concert and then
quit performing live, gained a huge amount of weight and released
an annual double album each October, always with the first disc
being what we call standards and the Italians call "evergreens".
The second disc always featured contemporary songs, mostly produced
by her talented son Massimiliano Pani. Usually the indulgent double
discs could have been whittled down to a solid single disc, but
sales have always been strong and there seemed no reason to deviate
from the successful formula. We openly admit, the last few years
have produced little of interest, mostly because the quality of
songwriting in Italy, as most everywhere, has deteriorated.
our friend Michael at All Music Services called us (as he does frequently,
knowing how to feed our little CD habit) to let us know there was
a new Mina called Napoli, we thought maybe it was a compilation
of older recordings, but we took a chance and ordered it. We were
in for a shock.
off, La Mina has shed at least two thirds of her weight and poses
openly full figure on the cover for the first time since 1978. She
looks pretty good, but the real surprise was the music. Instead
of the overproduced but competent pop music we've come to except,
Napoli is a collection of live studio recordings made with
her regular core musicians. While Mina is not a jazz singer, the
musicians obviously are of the jazz school and the mostly simple
arrangements are refreshing. The playing of her long time pianist
Danilo Rea is particularly subtle and fine. The songs are a combination
of old chestnuts like Passione and Maruzezlea and
newer compositions by younger folks like the talented Pino Danielle.
The pace is lethargic to moderate but it's a wonderful relaxed set
that just grows and grows on one. The big notes are featured here
and there but there's a mighty large amount of restraint from a
woman who previously was known as "the girl with an orchestra
in her throat".
think it's incredibly clever of the old gal to record an album of
her musical roots instead of trying again to unsuccessfully re-invent
pop music. Mina's from Cremona in the north but the influence of
this Southern music was felt over the entire country, thanks to
popular folk songs and the great singer Claudio Villa. It's not
unlike Natalie Cole cashing in on her father's legacy except here
the music works.
a companion disc, Cremona, but it's the standard fare with
slick, bland songs, one or two good cuts and an amazing note or
The Grand Encounter
Blue Note CDO 724383826827 Vocals/Jazz
first exposure to Dianne Reeves was on Lou Rawls' album At Last,
where she raised the roof on a couple of duets with Rawls. This
was followed up with her great solo album, I Remember. Here
was a near-perfect collection of songs, tempos and moods, all featuring
what we consider just about the best voice around. In concert, she
has a commanding presence and her voice is even more spectacular
than on record. Since then, her output has been either mediocre
or just plain awful.
top-flight musicians and many standard songs, The Grand Encounter
has the elements to make it as solid as I Remember, but it
just doesn't do the singer justice. The opening track, Old Country,
shows promise, even though we've always found the lyrics rather
mean-spirited and irrationally harsh. This is followed by an OK
version of Cherokee. So far so good, but not for long. Besame
Mucho has been done about 200 times too many, and the addition
of a harmonica adds to the irritation factor. This is followed up
with Let Me Love You, a nice little throw-away ditty and
then a lethargic duet with Joe Williams, who is in fine voice. About
now, the disc needs a real flag-waver but the pace is brought down
even more with a bland ballad called After Hours. Ha!
is a cute Lambert Hendricks & Ross-inspired song, but not enough
to save our sinking ship. Some Other Spring worked as a Billie
Holiday number because Holiday sang it, not because it was a great
melody. Reeves unwisely takes it at a slow pace and you can just
feel the boredom set in. Side by Side, with Germaine Bazzle,
sounds as if it belongs on a TV variety show with its pedestrian
arrangement. The album closes with I'm Okay, which works
despite another dirge pace but after all the other tracks on The
Grand Encounter, our tendency is to rush to take off the disc.
recording is pristine and the arrangements, while mostly bland,
we like Reeve's voice but we've come to the conclusion that she
should avoid the trappings of jazz and just go for being a vocalist.
Her tendency to take songs at their slowest pace and try to wring
every nuance out of a melody is usually fatal and ends up making
her sound rather sour. Live, she's rather joyous and perhaps her
producers should focus on this strength.