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September 2003

Asante
Bringing the Flame Home: From Havana to Africa
Mapleshade Productions

Questionable claims from the liner notes aside, such as the unproven notion that the Cuban guaguanco can be directly traced to the Ghanaian agbadza, that rumba-which is a family of rhythms rather than just one-has some demonstrated connection to "the more ancient ashod," or that the Dominican merengue of relatively recent origin "is actually the traditional kpalongo rhythm of the Ga tribe," this CD of Afro-Latin music has a virally emotive, simple-yet-tight-groove.

Most of its charm derives from its live-to-two-track analog, endearingly dated feel and organic sound. At times, however, the immediacy and vivacity of such recording and miking techniques overshadows much. In "Koftown Vibe," for example, a shaker is so loud that moments of finesse from pianist Benito Gonzales, arousing saxings from Joe Ford and tantalizing marches and pluckings from bassist Gavin Fallow are either lost or seriously intruded upon. The latter suffers the most throughout the album, though his mark is left and felt nonetheless. Ford's stellar playing, however, makes him the torchbearer of the session. He's energetic enough to carry the band alone, obliging enough not to do so, wise enough to vary the lingo of his fare, and a concocter of phrasings with contemporary interest in a wide stylistic and sonic range. Gonzales features his encyclopedic chops with particular strength in "Regards From Two Friends."

Asante and his fellow percussionists are basic Afro-Cuban drummers of impeccable taste, shining best when playing closer to Africa than to Havana, New York, San Juan or even L.A.

Originally published in September 2003
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