Sunday, October 29, 2017

Irakere - 1983 - Irakere & Sinfonica Nacional

Irakere & Sinfonica Nacional

01. Tema De Chaka 19:45
02. Homenaje A Charles Mingus 18:45

Recorded at Teatro Mella Abril 1983

Bass – Carlos Del Puerto
Guitar [Electric] – Carlos E. Morales
Leader – Chucho Valdés
Percussion [Cuban] – Jorge Alfonso
Percussion [Cuban], Vocals – Oscar Valdes
Piano – J. Valdes
Saxophone [Baritone], Flute – Jose L. Cortes
Saxophone [Tenor], Flute – Carlos Averhoff
Saxophone, Clarinet [Tenor] – Velazco
Trumpet – Jorge Varona, Juan Munguia

Two side-long tunes: "Tema De Chaka," recorded with symphony orchestra, and the jazz suite "Homenaje a Charlie Mingus." Ambitious, but a mess, as both sides are packed with half-written themes that go nowhere, interspersed with overlong solos (Averhoff and Valdés, surprisingly, are the main offenders). "Tema De Chaka" sounds like an overture to a lousy Hollywood film score, with lots of fluttering but no evident direction. The Mingus homage comes across a bit better, as at least del Puerto's humongous bass solo is interesting.

Irakere - 1982 - Irakere


01. Variaciones Sobre La Opera "La Molinaria" 9:38
02. Siete Tazas De Café 7:48
03. Que Se Sepa Yo Soy De La Habana 5:26
04. My Reverie 6:18
05. Los Caramelos 6:48

Congas, Percussion – Jorge Alfonso "El Niño"
Drums, Percussion – Enrique Plá
Electric Bass, Vocals – Carlos Del Puerto
Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar – Carlos Emilio Morales
Keyboards – Chucho Valdés
Percussion, Vocals – Oscar Valdés
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Flute – Carlos Averhoff
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Trombone, Vocals – Arturo Sandoval
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals – Jorge Varona

 Classical music is represented by a pallid take on Debussy's "My Reverie" and another shot at Beethoven ("Variaciones Sobre La Opera 'La Molinara'"). Then there's and two band compositions: "Siete Tazas De Café" (in the same midtempo jazz vein as "Las Hijas De Anaco") and the Van Vanesque, good-time "Que Se Sepa, Yo Soy De La Habana." Cortés adds witty solos to several numbers; on the downside, Valdés apparently flipped for a cheesy synthesizer around this time, and its thin, wan tone pervades several cuts (Gregorio Battle's "Los Caramelos"). Trumpeter Juan Munguía had joined the band by this point, though I don't know if he appears on the disc. 

Irakere - 1982 - El Coco

El Coco

01. Las Hijas De Anaco 6:11
02. Zanaith 7:41
03. El Coco 8:40
04. Ese Atrevimiento 10:01
05. Molinaria 7:10

Recorded at Sound Inn Studio, Tokyo, August 3,4,5, 1980
Remixed at Victor Studio, Tokyo, using JVC DAS 90 Digital Audio Mastering System.
Special Thanks to: Mr. Eduardo H. Gispert, Mr. Ramón Calcines

Alto Saxophone – German Velazco Urdeliz
Bass – Carlos Puerto
Drums – Enrique Plá
Guitar – Carlos Emilio Morales
Keyboards – Chucho Valdés
Percussion – Jorge Alfonso, Oscar Valdés
Tenor Saxophone – Carlos Averhoff
Trumpet – Arturo Sandoval, Jorge Varona

Recorded during the same Tokyo sessions where Cuba Libre was recorded, this out-of-print album features the 1980 version of Chucho Valdes' Irakere, a remarkable Cuban band comprised of four horns and a six-piece rhythm section. Paquito D'Rivera had defected, but trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was still a key part of the music, along with trumpeter Jorge Varona, tenorman Carlos Averhoff, altoist German Urdeliz and the stirring percussionists. The heated band performs four obscurities (including two by Valdes) and an adaptation of a Beethoven melody. In addition to the long studio verion of El coco already mentioned, this 5-track vinyl LP has two eclectric tracks not found elsewhere: Las hijas de Anaco, a jazz-samba hybrid, and Zanaith, a jazz ballad. Molinaria, a classical/jazz hybrid, was later re-recorded in Cuba on LD-4018.

Irakere - 1979 - Chekere Son

Chekere Son

01. Chekeré Son
02. Quince Minutos
03. La Semilla (Including Calabazita)
04. La Comparsa
05. Camaguey
06. Cha Cha Cha

Recorded At – Estudios EGREM
Mixed At – Victor Studio, Tokyo

Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute – Paquito D´ Rivera
Bass, Bass Guitar [Guitar Bass], Tuba – Carlos Del Puerto
Congas [Tumbadora], Bata [Tambores Batá], Percussion [En General] – Jorge Alfonso
Congas [Tumbadora], Bata [Tambores Batá], Timbales [Paila], Bongos, Percussion [Engeneral], Lead Vocals [Cantante Del Grupo] – Oscar Valdés
Drums – Enrique Plá
Guitar, Alto Saxophone, Flugelhorn [Fliscorino] – Carlos Emilio Morales
Percussion [Percusión Cubana], Vocals – Armando Cuervo
Piano, Organ, Keyboards [Bajo De Teclas], Leader [Director Del Grupo] – Chucho Valdés
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Flute – Carlos Averoff
Trumpet, Trombone [Trombóne De Pistones], Percussion – Arturo Sandoval, Jorge Varona

Recorded at EGREM Studio in Havana, Cuba, on May 25 ~ June 1, 1979
Mixdown at Victor studio, Tokyo, Japan
Manufactured & distributed by Victor Musical Industries, Inc., Tokyo, Japan

This session was recorded in Cuba for a Japanese company and released on JVC and Milestone, It would be Paquito's last session with Irakere

1) Chéquere-son - This is a different and much long version of the opening song of Irakere's second studio album, LD-3660
2) Quince minutos - This is a very different version of the very non-Cuban sounding easy-listening jazz number that became the title track of LD-4267 in 1986.
3) La semilla & 6) Cha cha cha - Both of these found their way onto LD-4004, EGREM's Selección de éxitos, Vol. II.
4) La comparsa - This is the only known studio version of the opening number of the famous 23 y 12 concert.
5) Camagüey - When EGREM inexplicably re-released LD-3660 as LD 3926, this recording replaced Chéquere-son as the opening track.

Irakere - 1980 - Irakere 2

Irakere 2

01. Gira Gira 5:40
02. Claudia 6:06
03. Ayer Te Conoci 5:15
04. Añunga Añunga 6:10
05. Baila Mi Ritmo 6:10
06. Xiomara 6:12
07. Cien Años De Juventud 7:47
08. Por Romper El Coco 5:23

Jesús "Chucho" Valdés, piano
Oscar Valdés, vocals, percussion
Carlos Emilio Morales, guitar
Carlos del Puerto, bass
Paquito D'Rivera, alto sax & clarinet
Carlos Averhoff, tenor & baritone sax
Arturo Sandoval, trumpet
Jorge Varona, trumpet
Enrique Pla, drums, percussion
Armando Cuervo, percussion
Jorge "El Niño" Alfonso, percussion

Recorded at CBS Recording Studios, New York.
Mixed and edited at Mediasound Studios, New York.
Mastered at CBS Recording Studios, N.Y. on the CBS Discomputer™ System.

There were at least two studio sessions in 1979 -- the last two before Paquito's departure in May of 1980. One in April 1979 in New York and one May 25 to June 1, 1979 for a Japan only release.

April, 1979 - New York Session:

This session produced six odd tracks (Claudia, Ayer te concí, Añung añunga, Gira gira, Baila mi ritmo and Ciento años de juventud) that don't appear to have ever been issued in Cuba and can only be had on compilations. The one on the left is missing Gira gira, and is paired with better sounding transfers of 7 of the 8 studio tracks from LD-3660 (leaving out the studio version of Juana 1600). The one of the right leaves out Ayer te conocí, and is paired with 4 of the 5 live Grammy-award winning tracks from LD-3769, (leaving the live version of Juana 1600!). It's highly ironic that both of these reissuers chose to jetison Juana 1600, which, with its prominent use of batá rhythms and folkloric coros, is much more interesting -- both musically and historically -- than some of the less original studio tracks from these foreign sessions which offer little more than derivative collages of American jazz and fusion.

The seventh track was the first studio version of one of Irakere's main live vehicles of the time, a steaming dance track called Por romper el coco. The New York version comes in at 5:22 and features a trombone solo by Sandoval. An 8:40 studio version (titled simply El coco) was recorded in August of 1980 in Japan. There's also a live version on the 1978 23 y 12 concert.

If you are looking to have te complete session in digital format you will need these:

Irakere ‎
The Best Of Irakere

01. Gira Gira 5:43
02. Claudia 6:02
03. Ilya 9:17
04. Añunga Ñunga 6:02
05. Ciento Años De Juventud 7:47
06. Aguanile 4:57
07. Misa Negra (The Black Mass) 17:37
08. Adagio On A Mozart Theme 5:44
09. Xiomara 6:13
10. Por Romper El Coco 5:22

Chekere-Son - Best Of Irakere 1978/80

01. Chekere-Son 6:49
02. 38 1/2 5:12
03. Moja El Pan 3:53
04. Xiomara 5:33
05. Iya 5:35
06. Ayer Te Conoci 5:15
07. Añung Añunga 6:10
08. Baila Mi Ritmo 5:12
09. Por Romper El Coco 5:23

As an extra bonus I will leave you with this steaming hot 46 minutes set of Irakere opening for Stephen Stills in Passaic New Jersey on March 23, 1979 (It's in Black and White... but well worth the wach!):

March 23, 1979
Capitol Theatre
Passaic, NJ

01. Juana 1600
02. Mozart Concerto un D for Flute
03. Adagio
04. Aguanile
05. La Danza de los Nanigos
06. 100 Años De Juventud
07. Bacalao Con Pan

Audiences fortunate enough to experience a live IRAKERE performance when the group exploded out of Cuba in the late 1970s witnessed the group's rapid ascension to the exalted realm of the musically extraordinary. During the all-too-brief period when they were still performing as a unit, IRAKERE earned its rightful place alongside American jazz geniuses Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and other innovators and expanders of progressive musical horizons who heard something a little different and devoted their talent to the search for it.

IRAKERE pushed the jazz frontier deeper into the African heart of Cuba. Instead of using Cuban percussion patterns to enhance jazz compositions, they made their country's traditional music an equal partner or featured player in their work.

The members, Carlos del Puerto (bass), Carlos Emilio Morales (electric guitar), Jorge "El Nino" Alfonso (congas), Enrique Pla’ (drums), Oscar Valdés (vocals and percussion), Armando Cuervo (also on vocals and percussion), Jorge Varona (trumpet and flugelhorn), Arturo Sandoval (trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone and vocals), Paquito D'Rivera (soprano/baritone/alto sax), Carlos Averhoff (soprano/tenor sox, piccolo and flute), and Jesus Chucho Valdés (arranger, composer and all keyboards), were all formally trained, student of jazz, and world (lass soloists, (as Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D'Rivera, woodwind magicians, continue to demonstrate). Their contribution to the evolution of jazz as a gracious musical form that can accommodate and celebrate all cultures is rooted in the group's deliberate intent to cross-pollinate jazz instrumentation with traditional Cuban/African inspired music that weaved Batá drums (two sided Afro-Cuban drums associated with rituals instead of conga drums and timbales) and chekeres into their arrangements.

From a percussion perspective, it's still very polyrhythmic, but the layers often have an earthy, spiritual aura to them and the group's dense musical background allows them to leave few musical stones unturned.

The vibrant "Gira Gira" showcases the interplay between drum set, congas, and chekere using a Congo rhythm with Chucho on Fender Rhodes, the keyboard instrument of choice for Herbie Hancock and other progressive jazz musicians during that period. There's a smooth segue into a bass guitar and bass drum driven disco downbeat, a steady cadence that pauses for a sorrowful flute phrase bathed in distortion to give it almost a rock sound and a bluesy guitar riff. The song is lively and complex but also political With its message about workers whose suffering in obeying the commands of the foreman or overseer echoes the pain of their slave ancestors. In that context, the drum/bass beat embodies the sound of a long march, the forced footsteps of workers being led into an endless day of pain, toil, and indignity, the flute and guitar solos sound like a lament, a momentary, solitary wail
in the wilderness.

It's got a good beat and you can dance to it, but the full power in this modern day ode to mistreated workers lies in its connection to a historical necessity to hide or take refuge inside the music of one's homeland.

American slave owners prohibited the use of African dialects among their slaves, often punishing them severely for practicing traditional musical rituals honoring births, deaths, marriages, etc. Drumming in particular was deemed as subversive with its potential for communicating in yet another language the slave owner did not understand, but where the drumming, (often achieved with spoons, wooden boxes, beating on porch rails or anything handy) was allowed to follow, particularly in Cuba, it become the heartbeat, the pulse, the unifying force of a strong willed people who set their music free in a hostile land even while they lived in bondage.

Having imported their own musical heritage through dance and the voice of stringed instruments (the forerunners of today's guitar), Spanish slave masters in Cuba were more tolerant of the African passion for drumming. (Their influence was enduring-there's a Spanish high-society danzón feel to "Ciento Años De Juventud" included in this collection, but it starts with a Fats Domino/Jerry Lee Lewis kind of piano tinkling.) Under the guise of celebrating sacred Catholic rites, slaves in Cuba were able to preserve their Yoruba language and music and honor its African deities, or orishas. Music became the Cuban slaves' weapon of resistance and a barrier against complete assimilation, eventually infiltrating the fabric of village life all over the island.

It was the merging of what was available at the time to a musical people: the intricate patterns of Spanish stringed instruments and the propulsive, rhythmic, multi-layered drum/dance/voice triad of African celebratory or religious music, that formed the foundation for Afro-Cuban jazz.

Though separated by language and geography (and ultimately politics), there have always been jazz musicians in Cuba who played as well as anyone anywhere and admirers on both sides of the water. Years before the embargo, Swing Era big band leaders borrowed heavily from Cuban musicians who migrated to New York. American audiences easily accepted contemporary Afro-Cuban dances, La Rhumba, La Cha Cha Cha, La Congo, and El Mambo, embracing Desi Arnaz as a musician more readily than as the husband of its beloved Lucy

Through their collaborations (depending on who you talk to), Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, Charlie Parker, Stan Kenton, Machito, and Mario Bauzá are credited with contributing a hybrid strain to that genre, and naming their offspring Cu-Bop. They left the ground fertile for a new Afro/Cuban/American musical discovery.

But until IRAKERE's successful experiments with blending both traditional jazz and traditionally Cuban elements and the political maneuvering that one assumes had to take place allowing the group to bring it off the island during the Cuban embargo-they were the first Castro-era group to record and tour abroad – the merge was incomplete.

The group's finesse in calling all historical and musical forces into play (along with the inspiración style of improvisational singing) gave them a potent arsenal from which to create. No song is without several well conceived and interestingly placed influences, particularly the three movements of the 17-plus-minutes-long "Misa Negra (The Black Mass)" which stretches across a galaxy of sound using chimes, cymbals, bird whistles, a haunting background vocal melody, call and response singing. Almost a suite but definitely a masterpiece of composing and arranging, "Misa Negra" establishes a cosmic aura, featuring Chucho's brilliant keyboard strategy, and breakneck arranging for the brass section. Tempo and mood change along the way.

Introduced by cowbell, the song "Ilya" demonstrates the power of call and response not only between the primary vocalist and background vocalists but among the singers and drummers. Pushed by a 6/8 rhythm into a religious/Yoruba direction, the chorus (or coro) inspires the singer in a kind of intense conversation with each "speaker" responding to the passion of the others. (Sandoval shines in this selection named after one of the bata drums.)

Unless the planets align themselves again to produce a reunion of these exemplary musicians, fans of their music can only experience IRAKERE through old records, IRAKERE, IRAKERE 2, the Havana Jam LPs, etc. But the advances in recording technology since the group disbanded present old fans and new audiences with the chance to hear them on CD which provides this music with the sound quality it so richly deserves.

Irakere was an amazing band. Something like this does not happen very often. Musicians so uniquely talented together in one band. I had read about them being one of the premier Cuban bands, and I got this compilation. The first time I heard it, I couldn't believe it. These guys know their Latin roots to a T, yet they mix that with a lot of different styles. Disco/Funk style grooves, complete with psychedelic synthesizer give way to the deepest Latin groove, capped with monstruos solos by the great Arturo Sandoval or Paquito D'Rivera. Dark, African tribal-like melodies interspersed with spoken-word phrases. Even classical music, Cubanized! I never get tired of it. I can never get tired of fearlessly made music. Music made with the sole purpose of exploring possibilities. Yet, one can feel the sense of humor. You feel they are having fun, they enjoy the creative process, they enjoy the off-beat combinations that seem to work like magic. One can only join in the enjoyment. If you like Latin music at all, and you also enjoy music that combines seemingly disparate elements, Irakere should be on your list of bands to consider. 

Irakere - 1978 - Irakere


01. Juana 1600
02. Ilyá
03. Adagio On A Mozart Theme
04. Misa Negra (Black Mass)
05. Aguanile Bonkó

Jesús "Chucho" Valdés, piano
Oscar Valdés, vocals, percussion
Carlos Emilio Morales, guitar
Carlos del Puerto, bass
Paquito D'Rivera, alto sax & clarinet
Carlos Averhoff, tenor & baritone sax
Arturo Sandoval, trumpet
Jorge Varona, trumpet
Enrique Pla, drums, percussion
Armando Cuervo, percussion
Jorge "El Niño" Alfonso, percussion

Recorded live at the Newport Festival, New York and  at Montreux Jazz Festival by Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland during the group’s tour through the United States and Switzerland during June/July, 1978

North American Latin jazz audiences were knocked out when this LP came out, for it was the first idea many of us had of the explosive power of this Cuban jazz/rock band, which had been let briefly out of Cuba to tour. Columbia taped them live at New York's Newport Festival and Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival, and the result was a noisy, ambitious, frenzied, tremendously exciting mixture of everything but the kitchen sink. Co-founder, keyboardist and arranger Chucho Valdes was as thoroughly attuned to the thumping electric bass, the careening buzz of a synthesizer and bell-like electric piano as he was to his homeland's complex rhythms and his own classical training -- and despite the cultural embargo, the 11-piece group was in touch with then-current developments in American jazz/rock. "Juana Mil Ciento," curiously the only track not available on CD, comes roaring out of the box with an incendiary mix of battering Cuban drumming, Arturo Sandoval's wild trumpet and Paquito D'Rivera's wailing alto. Paquito also contributes a free-floating, sometimes slapstick fantasy on themes of Mozart. The most audacious number is the 17 1/2-minute "Black Mass," which unleashes Valdes' staggering classical piano technique, knockabout rock guitar, Cuban chanting, high-wire brass, and lots of drums without somehow losing its train of thought. All but one of these tracks were reissued on CD as part of The Best of Irakere; admittedly, the LP's raucous sound is a bit more exciting than the cleaned-up CD. 

Around 1972, some of the members of the Cuban Modern Music Orchestra decided to form their own group, and by 1973 it had been organized into what is now known as IRAKERE.  When these musicians, all impeccable soloists, left the best orchestra in the country, they had but one purpose in mind: to put all their efforts into what could be called 'experimenting,' joining a trend begun by others who were trying to renovate popular music.

Chucho Valdés (piano) and Paquito D'Rivera (alto sax & clarinet), both composers and arrangers, were, from the beginning, the main inspirers of IRAKERE. Oscar Valdés would be in charge of giving a different personality to the percussion section, adding to it his knowledge of ancesteral songs in African language, one of the most important and least known forms of music of the Afro-Cuban musical heritage. Other members of the group also come from Cuban Modern Music Orchestra: Emilio Morales (guitar), Carlos del Puerto (bass), Enrique Pla' (drums) and Arturo Sandoval and Jorge Varona (trumpets. Later additions were Carlos Averhoff (tenor & baritone sax) Jorge Alfonso and Armando Cuervo (percussion) to complete the group as it is today.

IRAKERE has two advantages over all the other groups who have a similar musical approach: the virtuosity of its soloists, who are excellent improvisers, and then, the cohesion which comes after playing together for many years. Chucho, Paquito and Carlos Emilio have been associated almost since the beginning of their professional careers: first in the Havana Musical Theatre Orchestra and later on in a group that was led by Chucho, which had as a vocalist Amado Borcela (Guapacha'), who has since died, and with whom they made a number of records for EGREM, earning quite a lot of popularity in the sixties. Later on they formed different quartets and quintets (with Pla', Oscar and sometimes with Sandoval or Varona) to play at sporadic concerts and festivals in Cuba and abroad. Their most outstanding performance outside of Cuba was during the 1970 Polish Jazz Festival, where the Cubans were heard and praised for the first time by renowned jazz artists like Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan.

But let us leave IRAKERE's past history and come to present times. After having become the most brilliant and solid group within the new stream in Cuban music, they met, during the (one and only) Jazz Cruise's stay in Havana in 1977, (such luminaries as) Stan Getz, who had come to Cuba often during the fifties, and Dizzy Gillespie, who strangely had never visited the country of his collaborator, Chano Pozo. The interest and enthusiasm that IRAKERE stirred up among the members of the Cruise  - including musicians, jazz critics and producers - was like a preview of what would happen during the group's tour through the United States and Switzerland during June/July, 1978, and outstanding performances at the Newport and Montreux Jazz Festivals.

Japanese Edition

The press reviews that appeared in The New York Times, and San Francisco Examiner and Billboard, were very enthusiastic about IRAKERE, but a few questions arose that showed that there was some confusion. Is it really jazz that IRAKERE plays? Has it anything to do with "salsa"? Can the group be classified as "Latin-jazz-rock'' or as ''Latin-fusion'' or ''salsa-fusion"?

The truth is that although the majority of the IRAKERE musicians have played jazz for many years, they have more experience and more solid roots in Cuban music. And the presence of Cuba in IRAKERE is not only in its percussion, it is also in its way of playing: in the phrasing, in the attack and sense of rhythm of the soloists, as well as in whole passages.

Our novelist, Alejo Carpentier, who is also a renowned authority on music, has said that Cuban popular music is "the only music that can be compared with 'Jazz in the 20th century.' Is it not strange that these two musical forms have been compared so frequently. Their affinity comes from before the existence of jazz as such. We know all about the history of the beginnings of jazz, but we don't always associate it with the ending of slavery in Cuba, between 1880 and 1889, and the massive immigration of black Cubans, free but jobless, to places like New Orleans. Neither is it unusual that along with French and English names, one finds among the first jazz musicians names that show their Spanish roots (Lorenzo Tio, Luis Tio, Manuel Perez, Willy Marrero, Paul Dominguez), nor that Jelly Roll Morton, when asked about where jazz came from, included Cuba among its places of origin.

More well known are the international influences of the habanera and the rumba, until we come to the 1940s and 1950s, the Cubop era. During this period, the impact caused by the meeting between Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie can be added to the influences of Machito, Perez Prado, Mario Bauzá, Mongo Santamaria, Chico O'Farrill and many others. The "fusion'' between elements of jazz and Cuban music has a long history having nothing to do with the more recent merging of jazz and rock, which sometimes adds certain so-called ''Latin'' elements which are in reality, Afro Cuban or Afro-Caribbean. As far as salsa is concerned, it is 99 percent Cuban music of the '40s and '50s. This is why if IRAKERE are jazz musicians, they are so in a very substantially Cuban way. 
If Chucho Valdés was familiar with the piano styles of Horace Silver or Bill Evans more than ten years ago, he also knew the peculiarities of the son, the contradanza and the danzón. At times we here reminiscences of Art Tatum in some passages, yet the other side of Chucho's style is given by his mastery of Cuban classical piano: Cervantes and Samuell in the 19th century and Lecuona in the 20th, and in a more popular vein, Antonio Maria Romeu. Going down this road, who knows if, with the coming of IRAKERE onto the musical scene, we are getting to the roots and to the redevelopment, with a newer viewpoint, of practically inexhaustible materials.

Chucho's compositions, as well as those of other members of the group, reflect a receptiveness; to what is going on internationally, including free jazz and the so-called European musical vanguard. They put these to work as a form of personal expression, underlined by the knowledgeable use of rhythms that have African origins and which are mixed and renovated with great originality. One of the contributions has been to incorporate, into a musical context that once only accepted Congo and Dahomeyan elements, the intricate and vigorous Yoruba and Carabali rhythms which have been well known in Cuba but which had not been "integrated'' into the mainstream of our music. Another characteristic of these compositions are the frequent changes in time and atmosphere, a typical element in Yoruba music. "Misa Negra" ("Black Mass"), is perhaps the best example of this, although it can also be heard in "Ilya,'' "Aguanile'' and others.

As to the individual contribution by each soloist, we must let them speak for themselves. You can't deny Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval owe a lot to Parker and Gillespie, but can there be a more logical debt?

In Paquito's explosive sense of humor, the fierce intensity of Arturo, and Chucho's controlled lyricism, we find very personal facets in their playing. Like IRAKERE, there are many other young Cuban musicians who also play jazz in a style deeply rooted in Afro-Caribbean music and who at the same time have definite personal styles. IRAKERE is an outstanding example within a real musical 'explosion.' Which is saying a lot.

Leo Brouwer - Irakere - 1978 - Concierto / Teatro Karl Marx / Septiembre 1978

Leo Brouwer - Irakere 
Concierto / Teatro Karl Marx / Septiembre 1978

01. Ragtime (El Animador)
02. Misa Negra
03. Concierto De Aranjuéz
04. Adagio
05. Romance (Juego Prohibidos)
06. Preludio No. 3

Chucho Valdés: Piano
Leo Brouwer: Guitar

Paquito d'Rivera: Alto Sax
Carlos del Puerto: Acoustic and Electric Bass
Enrique Plá: Drums
Jorge “El Niño” Alfonso: Congas
Juan Munguía: Trumpet
Arturo Sandoval: Trumpet
Jorge Varona: Trumpet
Germán Velazco: Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute
Carlos Averoff: Tenor Sax, Flute
José Luis “El Tosco” Cortés: Flute
Carlos Emilio Morales: Electric Guitar
Oscar Valdés: Vocals, Percussion
Ele Valdés & Carlos Alfonso: Vocals on Misa Negra

"Leo Brouwer-Irakere" Documents An Exceptional Concert That Sought To Break The Barrier Between Classical And Popular Music (Havana, 1978). Thus, It Brought Together For The First Time Leo Brouwer -Considered At The Time One Of The World´S Most Important Guitar Soloists - And The Afro-Cuban Jazz Group IRAKERE. The Group, Winner Of A GRAMMY In 1978, And The # 1 Ranking Latin Jazz Band

Alternate Cover

One of my favorite albums of all times, mind blowing stuff... Do yourself a favor and get a copy before you die.

Irakere - 1981 - Seleccion De Exitos 1973-1978 Volumen 1

Seleccion De Exitos 1973-1978 Volumen 1

01 La Comparsa 6:03
02 Los Ojos De Pepa 5:13
03 Aguanile Bonko 4:57
04 Por Romper El Coco 4:51
05 Iya 5:52
06 Quindiambo 8:10

Recorded live at the 23 y 12 Cinema in Havana on July 28, 1978

Issued as:
Irakere en vivo » , LP. Areito 173215
Selección de éxitos 73-78 » , LP. Areito 4003
Selección de éxitos 73-79 . Irakere, Vol IV » Egrem 148.
Toda Cuba baila con Irakere », West Wind 2238.
Irakere. Música Cubana Contemporanea  », Areito 3726
Cine 12 y 23  ». Spotify
and more...

Bass – Carlos del Puerto
Congas – Jorge "El Niño" Alfonso
Drums – Enrique Plá
Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone – Paquito D'Rivera
Guitar – Carlos Emilio Morales
Keyboards, Arranged By – Chucho Valdés
Percussion, Vocals – Oscar Valdés
Piccolo Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Carlos Averhoff
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Jorge Varona
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Valve Trombone – Arturo Sandoval
Vocals, Percussion – Armando Cuervo

Continuing chronologically, we arrive at the extremely busy and fruitful summer of 1978. First came Irakere's famous tour of US and Europe. Recordings from early June at the Newport and Montreux jazz festivals were combined for a Grammy-winning release on the Columbia label that really put Irakere the map. This was also released by EGREM as LD-3769.

The next month, on July 28, 1978, Irakere recorded another searing concert, this time in Cuba at the Teatro 23 y 12 for the occasion of the Festival de la Juventud y los Estudiantes.

This material was released on many foreign compilations, and by EGREM as Volume 4 of La colección. Like Volume 3, it was also recorded before Volume 2 -- probably because it was re-released on LP in Cuba several years later, as Areíto-4003, Selección de éxitos, 1973-1978, Volumen 1. It was also released, with "creative" edits, and incorrect track names, by the Habanacán label. Volume 2 of Selección de éxitos, LD-4004, with the same cover, was a collection of studio reissues.

A terrific live disc consisting largely of new material; by now, the blend of Afro-Cuban and European elements is smoother, more organic: On "La Comparsa," a driving funk riff provides the basis for a wild, almost free-jazz Sandoval solo. "Aguanile Bonkó" grows from santería origins to a bewilderingly complex Latin jazz arrangement. "Los Ojos De Pepa" features a yummy electric piano solo from Valdés, though the main theme isn't particularly interesting - throughout, he and Morales are both better heard than on most live recordings from the period. There's also an extended spin through "Quindiambo," a fine version of "Iyá," and the concert favorite "Por Romper El Coco" (sometimes known simply as "El Coco").

Irakere - 1976 - Grupo Irakere

Grupo Irakere

01. Chequeré-Son 6:52
02. 38 1/2 5:16
03. En Nosotros 4:27
04. Juana 1600 5:58
05. Moja El Pan 3:55
06. Este Camino Largo 6:49
07. Xiomara 5:36
08. Iya 5:42
09. Camaguey 5:34

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

Using multiple covers for the same album is one of EGREM's favorite tricks, but in this case they outdid themselves, releasing two albums, at least 2 years apart, with different numbers (LD-3660 and LD-3926), the same covers, and different tracklists. 

It's hard to say why this happened, but when EGREM issued the egregiously under-documented 11-CD La colección, they very unfortunately used LD-3926, calling it Vol. 3, even though most or all of its tracks were recorded and released before the album they called Vol. 2. To further complicate matters, this same series of tracks was released time and time again on a variety of foreign labels, with conflicting dates of course, and many of the tracks are also released on live albums from the same time period, (as well as on studio albums entitled "En vivo"!).

In any case, the song in question, Chékere-son, is an extremely interesting one. It's based on a legendary 1945 Charlie Parker be-bop composition called Billie's Bounce. Almost every phrase of the Parker song can be found in Chekere-son but it's all jumbled together in a very clever and compelling way. David Peñalosa (author of the soon-to-be-released Unlocking Clave) sees the track as a pivotal one - perhaps the first really satisfying fusion of clave and bebop horn lines, a central element of the style of NG La Banda in the early days of timba. The easiest way to obtain Chéquere-son is on the compilation CD of the same name. It also has the rest of the tracks from 3660 except, unfortunately, Juana 1600, another of Irakere's more successful fusions - grafting the batá rhythm Babalú ayé onto another aggressive up-tempo dance grooove.

Italian Issue

So much of what I've read about this band focuses on their Grammy-winning North American breakthrough, as if the first time North Americans heard this music was the first time it was really vital and worth listening to. And I do understand that distribution was a different beast in the '70s, but still, it's a little rich to tell everyone that the first album Columbia released by this band is their "best."
Anyway, I bring this up because, in searching for their North American debut, I found, instead, this gem, their second release. (Their North American debut was either their 4th or their 7th, depending on which discography you consult.) And...well, what can I say? This is awesome stuff.
I recently listened to Azymuth, a Brazilian band doing a similar thing (combining local music with contemporary jazz) and was sorely disappointed. Maybe it's me, but this music is far more alive, more more alive and far more "jazz" than that. (I don't mean to spend this whole thing bashing Azymuth, I just think of them as a useful comparison, given their fame.)
This music combines traditional music and Latin Jazz with a healthy dose of James Brown plus Jazz Fusion and other strains of jazz (such as Cool). The sound varies, sometimes drastically, from track to track, with the composer. And it seems like their collective nature has a lot to do with the diversity of this record.
But anyway, the vitality of this stuff is incredible. This is a band that can seemingly do anything and which brings a sense of fun missing from a lot of contemporary jazz.
Just fantastic stuff.

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!