Latin Percussion Inc - 2002
LPV109 / label website
Latin Percussion Inc. is the brainchild of Niyawker and mechanical engineer Martin Cohen. 38 years ago, he fell in love with the music of Jose Mangual's Machito Orchestra, Tito Puente and Chino Pozo. The trade embargo with Cuba limited availability of quality instruments. Not one to suffer shortness of vision, Cohen founded LP to turn his engineering expertise to building/selling latin percussion instruments. This soon expanded to sponsoring related artists and recordings. Today, Latin Percussion is recognized as the Rolls Royce of its sector and enjoys 500+ international endorsing artists.

In the '70s, Cohen established a recording studio that launched the famous Puente/Patato/la Fe release LP Jazz Ensemble Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1980 which serves as conceptual precursor for today's release. Other LP recordings over the years captured the artistry of Johnny Rodriguez Jr., Mario 'Papaito" Muñoz, Julio Collazo, Virgilio Marti, Nelson Gonzalez, Steve Berrios and Luis 'Perfico' Ortiz.

Montvale Rumba is the first LP release in over 20 years. On four of its tracks, it incorporates sections of older recording sessions. These are now made up of a core quartet of famous Cuban-style drummers: Little Johnny Rivero of Orquesta Colon and La Sonora Poncena who also played with all the greats from Valentin and Palmieri to Puento and Benitez (quinto, clave, conga, tumbadora, icóncolo, güiro); Luisito Quintero who performend with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela, Grupo Guaco , El Trabuco Venezolano, Oscar D'Leon and India (timbales, bells, cáscara, snare drum, backup vocals); Pedro 'Pedrito' Martínez who played with Yoruba Andabo, Obba Ilu, Tata Guines, Changuito, Anga Diaz, Los Nani and won the Year 2000 hand drum competition of the Thelonious Monk Institute's Afro/Latin Jazz competition (agogo, cajón, itótele, conga, tumbadora, lead vocals); and Román Díaz (quinto, tumbadora, agogo, shekere, iyá, surdo).

Other musicians stand in on different tracks, such as bassist John Benítez, harpist Edmar Cateneda, percussionists Steve Thornton and Jesús Quintero, conguero Tony Rosa and vocalists Ileana Santamaria and Carlos Gonzales.

The liner notes explain that rhythm cognoscenti -- like Indian curry enthusiasts -- sharply distinguish between untold variants to where the most educated even discern the original village of origin. On a larger scale, authentic Cuban Rumba -- to which this recording is obviously dedicated -- breaks down into three base forms: The slower Yambú, the mid-tempo Guaguanco and the heatedly busy Columbia.

Other rhythms here include the guarapachangueo, comparsa, abacua, merengue and picadillo. Then there are those derived from the Yoruba religion with its famed double-membraned Batá drums of which there are three differenty sized version -- Itotele, Icóncolo and Iyá. Depending on which deity is invoked, they're played to prescribed patterns or toques. How 'bout yet further, African-sourced patterns? Congo, Bantu, Macuta, Masé Gerbioso Afrikete. Those are then also associated with distinct religious rites as well as indigenous tongues and elusive dialects partially incorporated into accompanying lyrics.

Armed with such explicit arcana, we're now invited to enter the world of Latin percussion. Incredibly sophisticated rhythms. Complex sub-patterns. Unexpected shifts in emphasis and hence down-beat timing. Not melody or harmony but the pulses of drums are the crucible around which communciation revolves. This is a deeply tribal ritual, with roots that extend way back into time, burrowing into the fertile soil of the Dark Continent. The sophistication and technical wizardy whereby this quartet overlays, meshes and blends Colombian, Venezuelan and Brazilian signatures with Cuban and Afro-Cuban variants surely eludes all but those who live these intricacies, as a matter of culture and more-than-skin-deep exposure.

That clearly leaves your expatriate Teutonic reporter in the cold. Hence, no pretensions that he could comment intelligently and authoritatively on this album - save to insist that the presence of anything authentic and masterful always causes intuitve recognition and appreciation, even in the savagely uninitiated.

From that perspective -- ignorance abetted by opened mind and thirsty ears -- Montvale Rumba is a heady descent into the phenomenon of "talking drums", albeit with a distinctly, er, Latin flavor. Letting go of any preconceptions, one is whisked into an aural world of different laws. Their stange beauty is very hypnotic. However, the primal element -- of purely African parallels with its trance-inducing atavisms -- is raised to a higher power. The hybrid complexity of the multi-colored influences combined here is too refined and advanced, the ongoing pattern transmutations per track too manifold to induce repetitive monotony. Observing for example how, on "Samba Rumba", culturally separated forms are fused to perfection is quite the head trip. Call it symphonic in scope and execution, fiery in the enthusiasm and passion of the accompanying vocals.

Especially at realistic levels, Montvale Rumba exhibits true reference-caliber demonstrator markings. It should be of interest to all lovers of Cuban music, especially those who hope to venture beyond glossy Pop productions into the deeper, more rarefied strata where top technicians experiment with magical formulae purely in the realm of traditional beats - no horns, saxes, multi-tracked vocals required. My thanks to label promotor Miguel Castillo. He took a chance on sending me an unrequested copy. Without that direct introduction, I'd never have found this masterwork. Here's to hoping my limited descriptions will be sufficient to compel your searching it out. I pretty much guarantee you've never heard anything like it. In this case, that's a glorious thing indeed!