Sunday, October 29, 2017

Irakere - 1974 - Grupo Irakere

Grupo Irakere

01. Bacalao Con Pan 3:45
02. Danza De Los Nañigos 4:58
03. Valle Picadura 4:52
04. Taka Taka Ta 3:11
05. La Verdad 3:52
06. Luisa 4:13
07. Quindiambo 3:55
08. Misaluba 4:51

Alto Saxophone – Carlos Emilio Morales, Paquito D'Rivera
Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet – Paquito D'Rivera
Bass, Tuba – Carlos del Puerto
Congas [Tumba] – Jorge Alfonso, Oscar Valdés
Piano, Organ – Chucho Valdés
Drums – Bernardo García
Flute – Carlos Averhoff, Paquito D'Rivera
Guiro, Shekere, Tambourine – Carlos Barbón
Guitar – Carlos Emilio Morales
Percussion – Bernardo García, Carlos Barbón, Jorge Alfonso, Jorge Varona, Oscar Valdés
Soprano Saxophone – Carlos Averhoff, Paquito D'Rivera
Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Carlos Averhoff
Timbales [Paila], Bongos, Vocals – Oscar Valdés
Trumpet, Valve Trombone – Jorge Varona

Estudios De Grabación: EGREM, Habana, Cuba.
Barcode and Other Identifiers
Matrix / Runout (Runout side A): LDS-3420-A
Matrix / Runout (Runout side B): LDS-3420-B

Led by ace pianist Jesús "Chucho" Valdés, Irakere plays traditional Cuban rhythms and jazz with equal proficiency, throwing in pinches of everything from rock to disco to Mozart. Irakere has gone through innumerable horn and wind players - including world-famous soloists like Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval and José Luis Cortés - since their first big hit, 1974's guitar-driven "Bacalao Con Pan" (though their rhythm section has remained admirably stable) and continued to perform all over the world through the 90s. (Since then, Valdés has focused on solo work.) For all the accolades the group and its members have received, I think Valdés's sense of humor has been overlooked: as serious as he takes his music, there's always a playful spirit at work, as heard in tunes like "Rucu Rucu A Santa Clara" or 1998's cover of "Feliz Cumpleaños."

Chucho Valdés had been playing jazz with various future members of Irakere throughout the 60s, but it wasn't until 1973 that they began to play under the name Irakere. By 1974 Valdés had assembled a crack dance band that ranged easily into fusion and pop: Most of Irakere's core was on hand, though Sandoval had not yet joined and Bernardo García was on drums rather than Plá. The band's first hit was the uptempo fusion number "Bacalao Con Pan" (by Raúl Valdés), driven by wah-wah guitar and a vocal chant; "Taka Taka-Ta" is similar - from the chord progression up - and arguably better, thanks to a wild organ solo from Valdés. 

According to UC Irvine musicologist and Irakere expert Raúl A. Fernández:

“Irakere was not really a formal group yet when "Bacalao con pan" was recorded. The Orquesta Nacional de Música Moderna was on a tour of Oriente Province, and had spent a few days in Santiago de Cuba. Some of the members, who had been rehearsing some ideas, stayed behind. In Santiago, a local music producer, composer and musician, Rodulfo Vaillant gave them a local studio to do a couple of recordings. One of those was "Bacalao con pan." The boys could not have recorded the tune in Havana, they were fairly controlled by the Orquesta de Música Moderna there. But somehow the tune made it from Santiago to radio stations in Havana where it became a hit; Irakere was formally organized a little bit later.”

Pablo Menéndez (currently the leader of Mezcla) recalls the first time he heard Bacalao con pan:

"Irakere were jazz musicians who played stuff like "Bacalao con pan" with a bit of a tongue in cheek attitude -- 'for the masses'. I remember Paquito d'Rivera bringing a tape of the first four songs of Irakere over to the ICAIC, where he sometimes played with our group. He thought it was pretty funny stuff (as opposed to 'serious' stuff)."

What's most striking to me is the sophisticated way the band worked with the unsophisticated recording equipment at their disposal: Ernesto Lecuona's "Danza De Los Ñañigos" is arranged with fuzz guitar opposite trumpet, sky-high wordless vocals from Ele Valdés, and echoey plucked bass under everything, and somehow emerges as an unbearably gorgeous pop song. "Quindiambo" confronts the same limitations with the sort of exuberant excess I adore: enough hooks to power five songs are condensed into one, including one of the best breaks I've ever heard.

While it's still an issue of some controversy, Chucho himself said, in the Latin Jazz Founders documentary, that 4 musicians generally considered to be founding members of Irakere did not record on the first official Irakere album, Areíto LD-3420, (La colección, Vol. 1), due to mandatory military service. Instead of Enrique Pla on drums, it was Bernardo García. The conguero was not El Niño, but his older brother, Lázaro "El Tato" Alfonso. And the horn section consisted only of Varona and Averhoff, with Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval still marching to the beat of military drums.

The first album was released in early 1974 as Areíto LD-3420. EGREM released the same 8 tracks, with the same catalog number, with at least three different covers!

The text "Teatro Amadeo Roldán - Recital" has led the incorrect conclusion that the album was recorded live. Even more subversively confusing is the back cover of the second LP above. Perhaps EGREM was inspired by the Beatles' "Paul is dead" cover art chicanery.

The three guys at the top are trumpeter Jorge Varona, Chucho, and saxophonist Carlos Averhoff. So far, so good, but below them, from left to right, we have four musicians who, according to Chucho himself, didn't play on the album: Enrique Pla (according to Chucho the drummer was Bernardo García), a very svelte Arturo Sandoval (holding Paquito's saxophone to further confuse us), Paquito D'Rivera (holding Arturo's trumpet), and El Niño, who hadn't yet joined when the tracks were recorded. To the right are guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales, bassist Carlos del Puerto, and singer/percussionist Oscar Valdés.

The 8 tracks were reissued on the CD La colección, Vol. 1, and on multiple compilations and foreign vinyl reissues. In our Roots of Timba section we review our two favorite tracks: Bacalao con pan and Quindiambo. The latter, paired with La verdad, appears on one of the few 45s we've been able to find by Irakere. Oddly, another, 6902, pairs the La verdad with Valle de la picadura. the only other single we know of was 7529, from about 1982, with Los caramelos and Que se sepa yo soy de la Habana. There must be more singles and EPs out there, and if you know of one, please send an email! We're also very interested in confirming that the 45s have the same recordings as the LP. We think the do, but around that time, Los Van Van made a habit or doing separate recording sessions for their singles and albums

Confused enough yet? Just wait!

When I started listening to the band in the early80s it was nearly impossible to figure out their discography; now, thanks to resources like Spotify, and Patrick Dalmace's excellent Chucho Valdés discography, it's much easier. Though I'm still unaware of the original sources of a few things... So all help, corrections and extra information is more than welcome!

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