ANGEL D’CUBA/VARIOUS ARTISTS
Heritage/Latin Noir” Everything Happens on the Beach
Angel d’Cuba (2012); Piraha 2648
* * (both CDs)
If ever music is ripe for some innovation, it’s stuff being released from Latin America these days. Although there are superb performances on both of the above albums, there’s not much here that we’ve not heard before. I keep waiting for a Latino or Carib album to come at me infused with the sort of jazz, rock, world beat seasoning that adds zest to everything from Balkan and Celtic music to releases coming out of Africa and Asia, but what comes my way is simply a slicker version of what came before.
Angel D’Cuba is a case in point. He’s a Cuban transplant to Chicago and he could really use some Chicago-style blues to add some grit to his music. Once known as a salsa king, D’Cuba has added touches of samba, soca, son, cumbia, and funk to his repertoire, but despite his claim that James Brown is among his inspirations, his North American flavors tend more toward the pop end of the spectrum occupied by another inspiration: the Jackson 5. He tries a crossover piece with a remake of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love,” but manages only to make it into a generic-sounding power ballad with Spanish segues. His “Una Samba en Chicago” could be titled anything at all; there’s nothing Windy City about it. D’Cuba has a powerful voice, but thus far his attempts at creating a polyglot sound are akin to actors who try to hide their native accent by adopting a flat inflectionless tone.
Latin Noir opens strong with some edgy accordion from Argentina’s Chango Spasiuk (“Tierra Colorado”), but the energy is quickly lost and isn’t regained until track nine, when Piquete Tipico Las dusts off the raw sounds of a Cuban genre known as Danzón, which sounds a bit like a brass street band more interested in being raucous than polished. The music on this album comes from as far away as Colombia and Marseilles and as close as Central Park. The performances are impressive, but once again they fail to be memorable. Several, in fact, open with nearly identical guitar runs and percussion. By the time I reached the Watcha Clan bonus track (“La Petera”), I was happy to hear something that broke new ground, even though their composition is more odd than appealing. I can’t fault the musicianship on either album, but what does it say that after 24 tracks, only Spasuik’s accordion stands out?--Rob Weir