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Various Artists: Cuba: I Am Time

BOX SET NEWS: The coffee table conversation piece of the month award goes to the new four-CD box set Cuba-I Am Time (Blue Jackel 5010). The CDs are set into a package resembling a box of Cuban cigars, and the enclosed booklet features a crisp color photograph of said smokables. It’s a kitschy touch for an impressive chronicle of a great musical culture, in close proximity to the United States yet a world away.

Like Blue Jackel’s earlier box set Brasil-A Century of Song, the Cuban album is an ambitious undertaking. Over the course of 57 tracks, organized the compilation seeks to trace the musical development of music in Cuba, from the folkloric focus of the of the first disc to the cross-current of influence between Cuban music and jazz. The package ends with a one-two punch: virtuosic Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s version of “Woody’n You” by that honorary Cuban, Dizzy Gillespie; and the cerebral, collaborative rush of Steve Coleman and AfroCuba de Matanzas’ “Montuno.” In between, we hear music on discs subtitled “Cantar en Cuba (Song in Cuba)” and “Bailar Con Cuba (Dance with Cuba).” All in all, the album doesn’t pretend to be a consummate collection, but rather is a generous and wide-eared appreciation. It follows the evolution of one of the most significant musical cultures in the western hemisphere.

Originally Published