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Mezcla: Akimba

Because of the ongoing embargo, Americans have a limited and somewhat distorted view of Cuban music. Other than the Cubans signed to Blue Note, it seems that the only recent music to get through to consumers here are older stylists, like the soneros associated with the Buena Vista Social Club cottage industry, the various dance groups like Los Van Van and field recordings of Yoruban chants and rumba percussion. All the more reason why I was anxious to hear the latest from Mezcla, an octet led by the guitarist Pablo Menendez. This is a group that will never be accused of being subtle or lethargic. On ­Akimba! (Khaeon), a live performance from Havana, Mezcla presents catchy, high-energy fusion arrangements that recall 1970s Weather Report and the Brecker Brothers. In fact, tenor saxophonist Orlando Sanchez sounds inspired by Michael Brecker every time he solos on “Isaias 12” and “2124 Derby.” Best jazz playing on this is trumpeter Mayquel Gonzalez’s burning solo on the Chucho Valdes 12-bar blues “Mambo Influenciado.” There’s also a tribute to Woody Shaw, who visited Cuba in 1978, and a danzon arrangement of “Donna Lee.” The title track features an unusual falsetto vocal sung in Bant£ by trap drummer David Pimienta and strong percussion support from conguero Octavio Rodr¡guez. The recording quality is only fair, and the balance is occasionally off due to the poor mix, but one listen to the leader’s guitar solo on “Hijos de la Mezcla” shows why this is one of Carlos Santana’s favorite groups.

Originally Published