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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Cachao' an Infectious, Graceful Concert Film

September 15, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There could be dancing in the aisles tonight at the Nuart when Andy Garcia's "Cachao" premieres as part of the L.A. Festival--and stays on for a weeklong engagement. That's because it's a celebration of legendary Cuban bassist and composer Israel Lopez Cachao, inventor of the mambo and exiled maestro of Afro-Cuban music. It's hard to sit still for nearly two hours while Cachao and his colleagues, many as celebrated as he, play one infectious number after the other.

On July 31, 1992, the Cuban-born Garcia produced in Miami "Cachao Mambo y Descarga," a historic concert that was part of a Cuban music series. Garcia had several 16mm cameras running not only throughout the concert but also during rehearsals. (At one point you can glimpse Robert Duvall doing the mambo.)

As the film's director, Garcia has been able to assemble a tribute to Cachao that is the very model of a successful concert film. Garcia has achieved variety through overlapping sound and image, a flurry of vintage stills, astute editing and via conversation with Cachao, a serene, heavyset man of 74, and noted London-based Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante. "Cachao" has the sensual, seductive flow of the music itself. It may seem a bit long, but Garcia was absolutely right in preserving the film's 13 mainly lengthy numbers in their entirety.

As host of the concert, Garcia opens the evening with an impassioned recitation (in Spanish) of Federico Garcia Lorca's "Son de Negros en Cuba," and later on plays the conga drums and also sings ("They let me sing because I brought the sandwiches," he jokes). But the evening belongs to Cachao and a glorious mix of musicians old (trumpeter Chocholate Armentiros, saxophonist Chombo Silva) and young (flutist Nestor Torres, conga drummer Ritchito Flores, great Latin jazz saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, who was 12 when he met Cachao). At one point Gloria Estefan comes on stage to join in the fun. There's no question that this film will be a special delight for the aficionado familiar with all these names, but you don't have to be one to enjoy the film and its music.

What we novices learn is that Cachao pioneered the descarga --or Cuban jam session--in the late '50s, and how the mambo and later the cha-cha-cha are derived from the danzon , a Cuban dance music that fuses African rhythms with the melodies of formal Spanish and French dances. We also are reminded of the impact of Cuban music on Copland, Gershwin and Stravinsky. While the film's familiar Latin beat seems incessant, Cachao and his orchestra bring to it an infinite variety, ranging from a conga to an especially plaintive number, "Maria Cervantes," performed in honor of the Puerto Ricans in the audience, who are described as loving Cuban music more than the Cubans themselves.

What you won't learn from the film is that until very recently Cachao reportedly had been surviving the last decade in Miami by playing birthday parties and restaurant lounges. Doubtless, last year's concert and the fine film Andy Garcia has made of it will aid his rediscovery. As for Cachao himself, he says, "All I ask is that the youth maintain the tradition."

'Cachao'

A CineSon presentation. Director Andy Garcia. Producers Garcia & Fausto Sanchez. Cinematographer Al (Tiko) Pavoni. Editor Alan Geik. Musical director Israel Lopez Cachao. Sound Mark Webber. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

Times-rated: Family (suitable for all ages).

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