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Machito and his Afro-Cubans – Relax and Mambo

LIVING ERA CD AJA 5602 [76:34]



Relax and Mabo
Sopa de Pichon
Tingo Talango
La Paella
No Noise
Mango Mangue
Mambo, Mucho Mambo
Si, si, no, no
Jungle Drums
Asia Minor
Un Poquito de tu Amor
Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite
Feeding the Chickens
Mambo Sentimental
Machito and his Afro-Cubans featuring Charlie Parker and Flip Phillips
Recorded 1942-1954

The nexus between Jazz and Afro-Cuban music reached its apogee in Machito’s band. Already experienced in Latin bands in New York the Florida-born son of a Cuban cigar manufacturer had clearly absorbed swing elements early. The unknown personnel of the first track, Relax and Mambo, features a jump alto player of rhythmic vitality – might he have been Johnny Nieto who was part of the 1942 band which recorded for Decca? Whoever he was he showed the kind of instrumental finesse that members of Machito’s band were expected to display – in contradistinction perhaps to the element of routine evoked by other genre bands. Try the neo-classical introduction to Sopa de Pichon for an example of this kind of elegance.

Machito invariably had eloquent pianists – first Gilberto Ayala and then the even better René Hernández. With bongos and congas to the percussive fore this was a formidably equipped band and one that piqued the interest of jazzmen interested in the broadening base of stylistic influence offered by such an association. Hence Flip Phillips’s frequent collaborations on disc and the even more august pairing with Charlie Parker – though there are less heralded appearances by Sweets Edison, who plays third trumpet in the 1950 recording of the Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.

In truth Phillips’s efforts are somewhat unfocused; with better, more commanding arrangements Parker tears into his material with unabashed virtuosity. Elsewhere he’s matched – if that’s the right word – by the virtuosic sexual insinuations of vocalist Graciela in Sí, sí, no no, a song that certainly wouldn’t have made it onto the BBC playlist in 1949. An example of doubling comes in Asia Minor where I think someone is playing the oboe. The Jazz Suite is only intermittently convincing however; the first of the five movements inclines to conventional light music then anything genuinely creative. It’s when Parker drives the material that the music is elevated beyond its natural realm – and is then brought right back down to earth by the idiotic drumming of Buddy Rich.

Still, there are plenty of interesting developments here and sheer straight ahead fun as well. Rather wearying in one go of course, so to be taken mambo by mambo.

Jonathan Woolf


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