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Francisco Aguabella: Cubacan

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Listening to these discs more than once took a tremendous amount of discipline, but for the sake of fairness and justice I gave them each several spins. And after repeated listenings I learned something I knew all along: first instincts are usually correct.

Boring is the recurring word here. Neither of these discs goes anywhere we have not been before, and this journey to nowhere is one tedious bus ride.

Aguabella is a name long-respected in Latin music circles, having played with Tito Puente for decades and later with Carlos Santana’s ’80s band. He has written and recorded some amazing music in his long career and I strongly urge you to search for some of his classic recordings where his Afro-Cuban stylings have been better showcased. What we have on Cubacan is a series of cliched charts, lackluster playing by some very competent musicians and a less-than-energetic performance by Aguabella. I so wanted to like this, but I found little substance in the phoned-in session work and rehashed arrangements of ideas heard before on countless Fania, Panart and Tico LPs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s-only then they were fresh.

Oddly, the British renaissance man Snowboy has produced a much more fiery set of tunes with Para Puente, but none of them breaks new ground or explores much beyond what might turn on a crowd of kids on a dance floor, which, I suppose, is the point of this release. True to his personal roots as a DJ, Snowboy offers some great dance grooves. The playing is, if not exactly hot, at least a bit more inspiring than the lax blowing on Cubacan. Though there is certainly more heat on Para Puente, the overall result is still just a bit past a simmer and, beyond its use as dance floor filler, hardly worth working through.