Cachao (Israel Lopez) is arguably the most important Cuban musician living outside of Cuba. The 84-year-old Havana-born bassist, composer and bandleader created the mambo with his brother Orestes in the 1930s, and recorded a series of historic descargas in the 1950s. He eventually fled Castro and Cuba in 1962, arriving first in New York and years later settling into the vibrant Cuban music scene in Miami. Actor Andy Garcia's 1994 documentary film, Cachao...Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos, brought the maestro some long-awaited mainstream attention, as did the two-volume Garcia-produced Master Sessions CDs. Garcia continues to pay tribute to his creative mentor by producing the latest CD by the man described as the "Encyclopedia Cubana of music."
As with the Master Sessions, Cuba Linda is a mixed bag of primarily Afro-Cuban rhythms and forms. The compositions, mostly written by Cachao, include the jaunty "Goza Mi Mambo Cubano" and the double-entendre son montuno "A Francisquita le Gusta el Cusube." Cachao's dark, woody acoustic bass rattles the floorboards, especially on "La Danza" and the descarga "Why? Why Not!" He also cleverly turns Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" into a breezy, hip danzon. Elsewhere, his band gets plenty of solo space, with notable contributions from trombonist Jimmy Bosch, trumpeter Feliciano "Pachu" Gomez, violinist Federico Britos and pianist Alfredo Valdes Jr.
Cuba Linda's packaging adheres to a much higher standard than most Latin music releases. The esteemed scholar Cristobal D¡az-Ayala wrote the insightful liner notes, and the lyrics are printed in both Spanish and English. Unfortunately, the font size in the booklet is tiny, and the notes are difficult to read, especially since the text is often laid against a color background. In any case, disregard the superficial graphic design flaws and concentrate on the sumptuous sound of one of the towering figures in Latin music.