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From Exhilarating Highs to Whiny Lows From Cuba

January 04, 1998|Ernesto Lechner | Ernesto Lechner writes about pop music for Calendar

Four very different recordings of Cuban music that showcase the island's disparate influences and vibrant energy are the focus of this month's Latin Pulse, a look at some recordings in the field of Latin pop.

*** Pablo Milanes, "Despertar," Universal. Together with Silvio Rodriguez, Milanes created the '60s "new song" movement, using pop songs as revolutionary anthems and catalysts for personal exploration. Their combined discographies include some of the most exciting moments in contemporary world pop. Tuneful and refined, their music employs unusual instrumentation to create a strong emotional impact.

"Despertar" (Awakening) is one of those rare albums in which the singer's surprise and exhilaration at falling in love are palpable throughout. Milanes seems more confident than ever with a new, young love, and his new album an extended love letter.

Musically, these poems rely heavily on string orchestrations, creating moods that are at times abstract but always soothing. Although "Despertar" lacks the tension and urgency of the singer's other works, it is still a good introduction to his craftsmanship.

Los Angeles Times Sunday January 11, 1998 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Miami band--A review in last Sunday's Latin Pulse column incorrectly identified the band Fulano de Tal as a group of Cuban youngsters who migrated to Miami. Only one member of the band is a Cuban immigrant.

* 1/2 Fulano de Tal, "Normal," BMG. You would expect much more from a group of Cuban youngsters who migrated to Miami and picked up rock 'n' roll in order to express their frustrations and discontent. Maybe a cross between Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms and electric guitars. Or a few pop anthems with clever political messages.

What you get instead is a collection of sketchy songs with whiny lyrics. Fulano de Tal seem to be under the impression that their presence in the U.S. is a right that cannot be questioned. And they fight back with inane statements such as "I am not a Gringo / I am very proud / Of my Latino color," or "They call me illegal / And if I wanna stay / I have to pay." Such comments should at least be supported by a couple of good tunes or some angry energy. But "Normal" sounds like the demo of a lukewarm rock band that would never have been signed on its musical merits alone.

*** 1/2 David Calzado & la Charanga Habanera, "Tremendo Delirio," Universal. Unlike Fulano de Tal, Calzado has the combination of irreverent pizazz and positive vibrations that makes him an instantly likable character. Add a band that appears immersed in the quest for the perfect syncopated beat and you get a superlative record of "new wave" Cuban salsa.

Of the new artists responsible for the metamorphosis of the genre into a new hybrid, Calzado is the one who has so far managed the most graceful transition. As in previous recordings, he is aided by phenomenal pianist and arranger Juan Carlos Gonzalez, whose ferocious playing pushes this large ensemble into a faster, sharper brand of salsa.

**** Various artists, "Cuban Gold 4: Fuego, Candela," Qbadisc. The fourth volume in the excellent compilation series "Cuban Gold" is devoted to the '70s, with 19 cuts from the era's most renowned orchestras of charanga and Cuban son.

But contrary to what the title of the disc indicates, this music is not all fire and frantic energy. The warm authenticity of these tunes goes directly to the heart, and not always the feet.

There's a welcome naivete here that has helped turn names such as Orquesta Aragon and Chappottin y sus Estrellas into endearing legends. While spice is anything but absent, the overall feeling is of a lazy, rainy afternoon in La Havana, watching the day go by amid the colonial buildings.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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