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Ralph Irizarry and Timbalaye: Best Kept Secret

A reviewer on NPR declared a new release by an African singer performing Cuban music to be “like nothing else out there.” Well, I suppose metaphysically speaking, that is true. But to me, it sounded like a lot of things I had heard before.

I am afraid to report, the same holds true for me with Best Kept Secret. Some will love this record. Ralph Irizarry is unquestionably an accomplished timbal player. I have enjoyed tremendously his playing with Ruben Blades and Ray Barretto among others. The energy he adds to Blades’ Buscando America, one of the best salsa records ever, is exemplary. And his sidemen here are not to be faulted; there is some very serious playing, particularly the hard-driving tunes with guest conguero Giovanni Hidalgo, and some of the horn interplay is clearly the work of solid craftsmen.

It’s just that, overall, this is not “like nothing else out there.” I can imagine that live Irizarry and Timbalaye put on an exciting show. I would love to see them on stage pushing this material to the limits. But Secret offers little that hasn’t been said before.

In a genre full of great technicians and decades of superb recordings, the trick, it seems to me, is to search for a new vocabulary, to search for a way to become “like nothing else out there.” It’s a challenge, to be sure, but one this group doubtlessly has the chops to meet.

Originally Published