Recommended CD of Cuban music

Many of you probably saw the documentary on Cuban music (or heard the CD) done by Ry Cooder about 5 years ago titled "Buena Vista Social Club". It was a marvellous film about the oldest members of a generation of Cuban musicians who were about to pass from the scene, and the film attracted international attention that led to concerts in the U.S. and Europe. (For those who never saw the film, and who like Cuban / Latin music, I urge you to rent the DVD or videotape. It's a splendid and moving piece of film.)

One of the musicians featured in Cooder's documentary was a marvellous pianist named Ruben Gonzalez, who was 75 years old at the time the film was made. At the end of the two week period when the filming was done, Gonzalez also made a CD recording with many of the musicians involved in the film.

For various reasons, I never got around until a week ago to buying the Gonzalez CD, titled "Introducing Ruben Gonzalez" (World Circuit / Nonesuch 79477-2). Well, I found the CD on a sale table and bought it, and WOW! what a great recording!

Not only is the music terrific, but the sound is audiophile demo quality. There are real instruments in a real space that has excellent acoustics, and the recording is good enough that it puts you in the room with the performers (as opposed to putting the performers in your room). This is not one of those "down the throat" closely miked recordings, nor is it distant in any way.

When I played the CD for my wife last night (she rarely gets excited about the audio properties of recorded music), she said she felt like she was in a moderately large night club, sitting about halfway back in the audience. She specifically commented on the warm yet clear ambience, the spacing of the musicians on the stage (both across and front-to-bck), and noted that she could even tell that the piano that Gonzalez was playing needed to have the felt pads on the keys replaced (they are a little hard, and there are subtle "tinkly" overtones -- rather like the keys on the piano that Duke Ellington played on the recording he did with Ray Brown on the LP titled "This One's For Blanton").

Anyway, not to belabor the point: if you like this style of music (son, dancon, cha cha cha, bolero, and guaracha), you should add this CD to your library before it goes out of print. I know I will listen to it many times in the coming months and years.
Another Ruben Gonzalez CD you guys might enjoy is Chancullo.
Also, I cannot recommend highly enough the Estrellas del Areito recordings.
Try try the two disc Los Heroes compilation. Ruben Gonzalez, Nino Rivera, Pio Leyva, and tons more (27 more, actually) just getting together to "descargar."

Please check in that CD if it was recorded at Egrem Studio in Habana Cuba. If that is the case, 6 or 7 years ago they redid the studios entirely, including all-tube electronics. If my memory does not fail, when Stereophile reviewed Buena Vista Social club CD or was during an interview to Ry Cooder, they mentioned some of the mods done to Egrem Studios. I have other CD's recorded at Egrem and they are excellent. Egrem studios seem to be a world class facilty.

Check out Ibrahim Ferrer's CD...
Enjoy, Cesar Vega-Lassalle (aka Goodwine59)
Yes, the CD that I mentioned above, "Introducing Ruben Gonzalez", was recorded at Egrem Studios.
Was in Paris 3 years ago when my wife and I stumbled on Ruben Gonzalez recodings.. not risking not being able to find then in NA ( you just never know if they are readily available here) we decided to grab all we can find.. simply marvellous. Cuban jazz is incredible ...when done right..

Nothing like slapping in Chancullo on a saturday afternoon..never fails to put a smile on our faces.. incredible musicians and music !!

Do you want recording quality or music? I 'll give you music...

But first, salsa is a Latin Caribbean phenomenom--started when mainly the Cubans and P/Ricans got together in NYC. It's hard to make a clear cut distinction, unless you *really* know the styles (Chicago salsa, Colombian salsa, etc.) In any instance, unless the music is straight from Cuba (due to their US-backed isolation) you'll usually find musicians from several countries in one group.

Celia Cruz is the "Queen of salsa". A good starter is her album with Wille Colón ("Only They Could Have Made This Album", Fania label). Machito has really good music with P/Rican singer Lalo Rodríguez). If you like Rubén González and Michel Camilo wait till you hear Eddie & Charlie Palmieri.

Straight Cuban, Adalberto Alvarez ("Una mulata en La Habana). Very intense. As for oldies, Cuarteto D'Aida. On RCA Classics.

For anyone who likes the songs of BVSC, La Corporación Latina blows them away by far, but none of their albums is on CD...

Try Willie Colón/Héctor Lavoe "Lo mato si no compra este disco." Van Alstine didn't like it played in his demo at the Chicago Audio Society--he cut me off, but that's another story! Maybe the music was too high energy for his equipment...salsa is extremely demanding on an audio rig. I use salsa albums to audition upgrades, tweaks and tuning.

Oscar de León is *the* best Venezuelan salsa man and his greatest hits album is a masterpiece...

The Cuban Nueva Trova genre is awesome but unless one knows Spanish it won't make sense. Try the latest of Liuba María Hevia ("Del verso a la mar."). Liuba María is a great singer and troubadour. Also Pablo Milanés (Cancionero). I saw Pablo live in San Juan and the show was nothing short of spectacular.

Well, this is a good starting point for you guys--I second Cachao and orquesta Aragón.

I want to add some Merengue--Olga Tañón's albums are very high energy and masterfully produced in Dominican Republic. She's from PR and transformed the genre by heavily emphasizing Spanish Gypsy elements. Her live album (Olga viva, viva Olga) won the US Grammy for best live album. I would recommend her greatest hits for starters...

OK, if you have a nearby Latin music store just go with list in hand and you'll be treated right. Otherwise look in the web...

I forgot this one---if you want a class act, get Gilberto Santa Rosa's "Live in Carnegie Hall."
If you like the older stuff, you should give Trio Matamoros , Beny More, and Conjunto Casino a listen.
For newer recordings of tradional son, try Quarteto Patria/Eliades Ochao.
For oh-so-silky, Estudinatina Invasora is quite an expererience.

If you like Celia Cruz, check out Celina Gonzalez and Omara Portuondo. Same level of vocals, but playing much better music with much better supporting cast (actually, not fair to call the folks they play with "supporting").
Get your act together--Celia has played with just about every musician who's somebody in this business: Fania All Stars, Tito Puente, Willie Colón, Pete Rodríguez, Justo Betancourt, Luis Perico Ortiz--what's "much better music with much better supporting cast", then?

NOBODY can reach Celia Cruz's *same* level--her track record speaks for herself. Not even India, Celia's beloved apprentice, can get close.

There's not that many female salsa singers out there. I've only heard only one other female singer that can successfully sing those deep African harmonics: Yolanda Rivera of La Sonora Ponceña. Omara Portuondo sings cabaret music (like La Lupe)--she's not a "sonera". That's what the bulk of BVSC is, after all...cabaret music.

Street salsa rules.
That's your opinion, buddy.
The stuff she's done sith Tito is very good. Her earler stuff can be very good at times.

Salsa is a popified verion of "el son", it's Cuban-based music for top 40 radio. Don't care for it a whole lot. Not enough soul.

To each his own.

Quote: "Salsa is a popified verion of "el son", it's Cuban-based music for top 40 radio." ABSOLUTELY FALSE.

Wonder what Eddie Palmieri would think of your 'truth'...

Anyone who wants to find out the truth can buy Larry Harlows's CD (La Raza Latina, Fania label). It is a musical cronology of the evolution of Salsa from ancestral Africa to NYC. Harlow is a Jewish piano man from NYC who decided to have his own salsa orchestra--one of the best.

I wrote a paper about tracing this musical evolution in a college musicology class...the Cuban SON has no jazz elements--salsa does. Some call the son 'pure', I call it a classical form. These NYC raised P/Ricans and Cubans *did* get conservatory training in the Jazz forms--and that's what slingshotted the music into another realm. Salsa developed as a cultural phenomenom resulting from Hispanics migrating to NYC and playing--not as a media industry conspiracy.

BTW, that's why today we have Latin Jazz...Gato Barbieri and Eumir Deodato couldn't have done it by themselves.
Psychanimal, Peace!

Salsa appeals to my feet and my ears; the son hits me in the heart and spirit.

Now, you may want to define "jazz elements", the son has had what is usually refered to as Jazz since the 19th century. As in New Orleans, this is the sound of French instruments played by Creolles. They were brough over by French colonials fleeing the slave rebellion in Haiti. My great gradparents on my father's side are from this batch.
Latin Jazz is the fusion between Cuban brass and American brass (Jazz).

As an aside, listen for the Chinese coronet, introduced by Chinese workeres brought in when slavery was outlawed to work the cane fields, and others that migrated after building the RR's in the US.

Listen to Matamoros or Estudinatina Invasora, you will hear brass in the son, altough you are correct in that the 'classic' son does not use them. The classic son (which dates to the mid 18th century) is the tres and the clave, but it has many, many facets including brass and piano (predominantly montuno beats are piano).

Btw, Salsa is indeed a spinoff of the Son (mostly of the Son Montuno). Celia will tell you that herself (she even says she's still a sonera).
Do a bit of reseach and you will see. This is indeed a wonderful genre of music and I think you will be pleasently surprised in that you (and myself, for that matter) have only begun to scrach the surface.

here's a nice brief article (in Spanish):
and one in English:

I have enjoyed this discussion, and I am very interested in specific recordings you might suggest re:Celia Cruz. I have loved her stuff with Tito, but not her 'solo' albums or what she's done with Colon.

In turn, I would be more than happy to suggest some great son recordings.

Salsa is full of energy and life, but... el son es lo mas sublime para el alma divertir.

me voy... me voy...

I stumbled on Ruben Gonzalez's 'Chanchullo' CD this past weekend.

It was the first CD I played on my new EarmaxPro tube headphone amp and new Sennheiser HD-600s. What a lucky accident! The sound is absolutely fabulous, fabulous!

And I'm raving about Gonzalez to anyone who will listen. Its when you listen to the greats that you realize how much of modern popular music is trite, silly, junk. And badly recorded too.
And Cuban music embraces more than the afore-mentioned rhythmic genres. Take a listen to Gonzalo Rubalcaba's Antigua.

Incredible musicianship, defies strict genre pigeon-holing as Rubalcaba embraces polyrhythmic, odd-meter, progressive, bop, Cuban and tribal elements.

FWIW, also one of Jimmy Haslip's current favorites.

I am a little apprehensive about posting here, given the rather intense debate above and not really knowing a lot about Cuban music, but... My wife and I really enjoy the Charlie Haden album "Nocturne", which is really a collaboration between him and Gonzalo Rubacalba. It's essentially a collection of slow-paced ballads (mainly 'boleros' I think). Really gorgeous stuff.

We attended a concert by Rubacalba and Haden, with David Sanchez on sax, last summer during the Montreal Jazz Festival. What a display of feeling and musicianship. They were so cohesive and yet relaxed in their presentation. It must be quite a challenge to sustain a fairly low-key (in terms of pace) musical event for close to two hours. Incredible.

Other Cuban-flavoured jazz of note would be the last two or three CDs from Jane Bunnett. She's a Canadian soprano sax player who has visited Cuba frequently and recruited numerous Cuban jazz musicians, young and old, to record with her. Quite a revelation.
Have you guys listened to the Estrellas the Areito -which I think I mentioned a bit back on this thread bust since this is an old thread you may have missed it- recordings, a compilation of which can be found as a double cd "Los Heroes," give it a listen. It's a huge "all star" collection of "son" jams, from late 79, 30 musicians, 3 generations, 5 day session. It brought authentic Cuban back to the world, after it had been cut off by the revolution.

Ruben Gonzalez and Jesus Rubalcaba on piano, Niño Rivera on the tres, Pio Leiva, Tata Guïnes, Teresa Garcia Caturla, Miguelito Cuní, Paquito D'Rivera, and man so many others.

For some very elegant music, try danzon (tango is the Argentine version of danzon, so think happy tango) like Antonio Maria Romeu.

And you if you've never listened to the great septetos, Septeto Nacional, Septeto Habanero, Estudiantina Invasora, give them a shot. These bands have been around for 70 to 80 years.

i would recomend two recordings made in the seventies in new york to promote latin percussion instruments by carlos"patato"valdez and a percussion ensemble where they play good rumba and every song was improvised on the spot.
You might also consider the non-Cuban, but Cuban-style LP "Afro-Cuban" by Kenny Dorham. It was recorded in 1955 and is available on Blue Note.
If you're feeling a little daring, pick up Marc Ribot (American electric guitar player). He did two albums with a Cuban band, Los Cubanos Postizos.

One is self titled and a tribute to the great late blind band leader and tres player, Arsenio Rodriguez; the second is Muy Divertido.

It might be too electric for some, but I found it made a wonderful change of pace and the tunes are all played with feeling and respect.