Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Cachao y Su Descarga '77 [Salsoul, 1977] A-
  • Master Sessions Volume 1 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1994] A-
  • Dos [Salsoul, 1995] A-
  • Master Sessions Volume 2 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1995] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Cachao y Su Descarga '77 [Salsoul, 1977]
Despite a decade east of Avenue B I've never responded to salsa, which is a quirk, not a judgment; it must have to do with my clumsy dancing, my lack of Spanish, my finickiness about horns. Even Grupo Folklorico, whom I love live and admire on record, rarely find their way to my turntable. But I play this for everyone I can. Cachao--real name Israel Lopez--helped invent salsa, and here recreates two phases of its evolution. The style of side one dates from the '50s and sounds more or less like the small-group salsa of today; although I appreciate the dynamics of its percussion, I'm not drawn to it. But the style of side two--which dates from 1938, when Cachao claimed the genteel danzon for black rhythm in Havana--I find breathtaking in its conjunction of restrained swing and elegant romanticism. Because it is simultaneously suave and audacious, it reminds me a little of early Duke Ellington, although finally it's more conventional. But Duke Ellington never tempted me to learn to mambo. A-

Master Sessions Volume 1 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1994]
Israel Lopez is a 76-year-old contrabassist credited with bringing the jam to Cuba and the mambo to the world. He has lived in the U.S. since 1962. Yet this is his his first major-label album. So thank Emilio Estefan and Andy Garcia for capturing a genius even a salsa agnostic like me can't ignore, but don't bet the follow-up will ever stick its head out of the can. Working with Paquito D'Rivera, NÚstor Torres, Chocolate Armenteros, et al., Cachao cut 30 tunes one week last May, and these 12 alone run over 76 minutes. Far less hectic than New York salsa, often with a stately charanga feel, they respect Cachao's roots in the old danzon tradition, but the youngbloods' heat and surface motion stimulate a veteran or more Miami weddings and bar mitzvahs than he can count. The notes claim all the tunes are stone classics, and this agnostic believes. A-

Dos [Salsoul, 1995]
Having fallen for Sony's fib that Master Sessions was Israel Lopez's U.S. debut and then been set straight by a savvier fan's lengthy computerized list of the now 78-year-old bassist's specialty-label output, I went down to Bate Records on Delancey Street and selected two classic-looking items. The way I feel it, the perfectly listenable 1959 and 1974 sessions recycled on Kubaney's La Leyenda Vol. 1 overdo the ballroom politesse. And though it's true and crucial that politesse has never been disrespected by this vigorous old man, not even when he was revolutionizing danzon at 21, I prefer this five-track, 30-minute sample of a mid-'70s attempt to cement his legacy. The ballroom's here for sure. But so are the Havana street, the African village, the dockside joint in Anyport, Terra. The ensemble emphasis assures smooth progression from guiro to danzon to descarga to congafest as famous sidemen come and go. A-

Master Sessions Volume 2 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1995]
As an instant fan of its precedessor, I find this too hyperactive and choppy to listen easy. Cut by cut, however, it seldom slips to acceptable. Discerning no serious letdown between the showpiece that sets veteran sonero Rolando Laserie to "stalking the melody" of "El Guapachoso" and a coro-hooked jam off the top of Cachao's head, I choose not to quibble. A-