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Francisco Aguabella: H2O

A few years ago documentarian Les Blank profiled this legendary conga drummer in his film Sworn to Drum. A drum priest of Santeria, it highlighted Aguabella’s spiritual connection and knowledge of Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms that brought him to the attention of American dance diva Katherine Dunham in the 1950s and he joined her troupe. Leaving in 1959, he landed in New York City where he joined Tito Puente’s band for a minute before relocating to Oakland, Calif., where he became an important part of the West Coast jazz scene as well as touring with pop stars like Peggy Lee.

Now thanks to Cubop Records, this drum master is enjoying an overdue revival with h2o. Having moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, Aguabella draws from potent Angelino talent here, like pianist Joe Rotondi Jr., saxman Charles Owens and vocalist-timbalero Nengue Hernandez. With a raw brass-heavy sound fueled by driving drums, thick harmonic colors and hard-bop melodies, the accent is on the groove as tunes like Kenny Dorham’s “Short Story,” Aguabella’s “Quien Eres Tu” and “Nena” cruise at 80-mph L.A. freeway frenzy. With a hard hands style that makes your fingers blister just listening to him, h2o is well worth hearing but push the couch aside because this will inspire some serious dance action!

Originally Published