Sunday, August 28, 2011

hurricane irene | descargas in miniature

The last I looked, Manhattan was Joe Bataaning down the hatches in preparation for the worst. All along the financial district, while the last revelers refused to vacate Times Square even as the tourists were being flushed north. Within an inch of Harlem.

Irene, Irene. Turbulent of eye. The calculating stare of a catatonic in heat.

Cruelly inflicting Category 3 destruction in the Caribbean where she first dabbled in tearing down the house, horrifying astronauts in perpetual orbit; truck drivers from Carolina through Virginia.

A raffia skirt whipping. Foam from the chops of a slavering dog.

Born in Havana in 1918, the universe of Israel 'Cachao' López was shaped - moved - by waves from the outset. Schooled at home by classically trained parents, indulged by a burgeoning extended family of professional musicians, López stepped in on contra bass for the Orquesta Filarmónica de La Habana before he turned thirteen.

Credited with devising the mambo, circa 1937, his role in popularizing African rhythms - integrating them seamlessly into mainstream Cuban culture as an immediately identifiable motif - is impossible to overestimate.

"He played the acoustic bass with his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes López. The brothers composed literally thousands of songs together and were heavily influential on Cuban music from the 1930s to the 1950s. They introduced the nuevo ritmo ("new rhythm") in the late 1930s, which transformed the danzón by introducing African rhythms into Cuban music, which led to mambo. They co-wrote the danzon "Mambo" which was called the "Mother of all Mambos" by Cuban writer G. Cabrera Infante."

More crucially still, in the thick of Batista era corruption, Havana's love affair with the tourist dollar - those government sanctioned rackets catering to Meyer Lansky's junkie cronies at the Hotel Nacional - Cachao was able to cement Afro-Cuban music as something beyond the disposable; a hoodoo preamble to louche excess.

A pastel coloured zoot suit. A lonely valise parked under the bed. An airline ticket. Prophylactics.

The exhausted platinum bleach job wilting at the table; the priapic used car salesman with his face melting like a French pastry on the beach.

In 1957, in those neon early hours staggered on from one paid set to the next, Cachao allegedly assembled a posse of musicians in a Havana recording studio to kick out the jams. To give vent to those emotions festering behind an endless circuit trotting out the same tired staple for vacationing guests.

The result was an outpouring of improvisation on a par with Miles.

Locked down in New Jersey with Pete Rugolo; Gil Evans. Hatching his birth of the cool. Plotting, maybe, some rudimentary sketches of Spain.

Israel López dropped the needle straight on the groove.

Delighted with what he knew lurked in the can, Cachao immediately set about touting the reel to Panart, Havana's leading independent record label, situated on San Miguel 410, between Campanario and Lealtad, founded 14 years earlier by musician and engineer, Ramón Sabat.

Panart, allegedly, did not share his enthusiasm. Nonetheless releasing his 'descargas'. Under the title, "Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions In Miniature", issue # 2092.

The world pricked its ears. Fidel proved not so generous.

Whatever seeds of disquiet were sown in vinyl, the Revolution of 1959 turned at a different rate. Havana's reign at centre of a profligate storm was finished, felled with a rifle shot straight between the eyes.

Cachao himself, walking wounded.

Departing for Miles' Spain with Ernesto Duarte's Orchestra in 1962 - while he could, or as directed - Israel López threw on the yoke of self imposed exile, trading the Egypt of his fathers for New York City, then Vegas. A dead red sea.

Faux pyramids; pharaohs; jazz and jism.

The hurricane, when it arrived, was all but spent. Spitting pennies onto the carpeted forecourt of a jangling casa. Front of house. An affront. Clasping hands, laundering old favours with those CIA pension cheques stacked up in chips.

Irene, Irene. She'll give you a slap, still.

All the way from her sulking retreat in a Latin safe harbour, those tortured silk knickers.

An acquaintance of an acquaintance - several times removed - is said to have alighted here. Arriving by cab, these past 48 hours.

"I don't get it," he is said to have said. "Is it real ? Pretense ? It reads like shit."

What's to get ? You're either on, or off the bleachers. Puckered in, or nudged between the benches on a trombone's sliding fart. Breaking wind in the dark.

Everything else is circumstantial.

CACHAO Y SU RITMO CALIENTE: DESCARGA CUBANA from "Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature" LP (Penart) 1957 (Cuba)
CACHAO Y SU RITMO CALIENTE: TROMBON CRIOLLO from "Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature" LP (Penart) 1957 (Cuba)




What's to get indeed.

"Is it real ? Pretense ? It reads like shit."

'Faux pyramids; pharaohs; jazz and jism.'

More like manna from heaven than fecal fallings. Write on, McDuff.

Brushback said...

Yeah, Cachao. I watched a documentary on him once. It was pretty riveting, and it takes a lot to hold my attention.

Irene played hell with New Jersey and into the coast of Connecticut but was pretty well downgraded by the time it got up to where I am. I've golfed in worse weather.

Holly said...

AWESOME lp - and post. Thank you, ib!

Irene gave us here in Durham NC a petulant toddler size wee smack - and a half-hearted one at that. Not that I am complaining. My water cache dates back to hurricane Fran...probably not so potable.

That would be 1996, btw ;-)

Anyway, my hometown in Connecticut looks like it got a good strafing. Very glad you're further inland, Dave!

ib said...

I have not seen the documentary yet, produced - I believe - by Andy Garcia (?) - but I'd like to remedy that. It was only a persistent itch to uncover more on the Panart release which led me to Flabbergasted Vibes. Until this point, my only previous exposure to Cachao had been through his collaboration with Bebo and Patato Valdés; a pinch of those Havana master sessions produced by Emilio Estafen a few years before Cahao's demise.

Heir to the Miami Sound Machine. Gloria.

I had not heard anything of these early Descargas beyond mere rumour. It seems criminally absurd that the original release has fallen once again out of print.

Well. So you've "golfed in worse weather", eh ?

Any reference to pedigree and handicap will only serve to make me jealous. My driving has not improved.

I'm glad both you and Holly have escaped anything worse than a slap with a wet towel.

Cape Fear, Right ? Hurricane Fran ?

It would not surprise me to learn that Bob Mitchum had stepped out once or twice on the dance floor of the Hotel Nacional. Partaken of a little Latin toot.



ib said...


I'm not certain, but I suspect those later 'Master Sessions', produced between 1994-5, were in fact recorded in Miami; despite the ensemble cast.

I don't think Cachao revisited Havana. After his exit in 1962.

What do I know ? I haven't seen the documentary.

Brushback said...

Yes, it's the documentary by Andy Garcia. Garcia tries his best to ruin it by 'sitting in' with the band (on bongos) during the live music segments, but otherwise the whole thing is top-notch.

Not only is it great music, but the guy is so fascinating. When you watch him on the screen, he brings amazing presence for his age and what he's lived through.

ib said...

"Garcia tries his best to ruin it by 'sitting in' with the band (on bongos) during the live music segments..."

I see from the sleeve notes that he also appears on 'Master Sessions Vol. II'; on bongos and congas. Either he is incredibly good, or he the faders dropped on the final mix.

I definitely ought to make a point of watching this sometime, if in fact I haven't previously. My memory is not always entirely intact, but I have no recollection of seeing it.

I made all manner of assumptions when I sat down to write this piece, with those material facts I was able to gather online. It would be interesting to see just how far reality deviates from my leaping to conclusions.

Brushback said...

I probably shouldn't knock Garcia so much, I'm pretty sure it was his involvement (and Emilo Estefan's) that brought Cachao back into the light again and finally got him some due credit / real money before it was all over...

After all, it's nice to see people giving a hand up to their inspirations once they're in a solid position to do so.