The Best of Irakere

by: Irakere

For Latin jazz fans, this is a succinct and nearly complete roundup of Irakere's two North American albums, a brief peek through Cuba's door before politics slammed it shut again for another generation. Irakere is represented by four tracks, including the lengthy, uncut "Black Mass," and Irakere II by six tracks. The live Irakere was an exciting breakthrough, a real advance in the alliance between Afro-Cuban and American jazz that took into account the electronic developments in music since politics isolated Cuba from the U.S. Irakere II, a studio product, is not nearly as startling; the sound and arrangements are slicker, there are strings and voices on some cuts, super-trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was encouraged to show off his pretty tone as well as his fire, and the Cubans even tried to churn out a disco beat on some tracks, negating all of those wild, wonderful Afro-Cuban cross rhythms. Still, there are passages where the more commercially motivated grooves take off, as in the central section of "Ciento Anos De Juventud," and "Xiomara" is a killer in the old Cuban tradition. Interestingly, when Irakere made their belated American comeback at the Playboy Jazz Festival at Hollywood Bowl in 1996, some of their innovative edge was gone, replaced by overt attempts to get the crowd up on their collective feet. All the more reason to cherish this CD -- which has become the only option one has to sample this Cuban band at or nearly at their peak. ~ Richard S. Ginell

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