The Afro-Cuban's A TODA CUBA LE GUSTA has distinguished itself with a Grammy nomination and sellout concerts across the country. This assemblage of 13 hard-charging master players and soneros, with younger musicians trading chops with their elder heroes, has been celebrated as one of the most exciting albums of Latin music. DISTINTO, DIFERENTE - also produced by leader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez - continues in the fiery big-band style of its predecessor, but with a more contemporary, dance-oriented sound - as the title implies. Collaborators include the legendary Ibrahim Ferrer and Ruben Gonzelez as guest soloists, plus Guajiro Mirabal (trumpet), Cachaito Lopez (bass) and many more.
With a debut as smashing as their 1997 A Toda Cuba Le Gusta
, the Afro Cuban All Stars would have to hit on all cylinders to not fall short on their sophomore effort. Alas, they don't hit the high marks that seemed so effortless on their debut, heading away from the earthy, complex body of emotions their horns carried and towards a style that reaches unabashedly for pop audiences. Of course, the pop audiences they address are old world enough to like their flute solos to be bombarded by big brass riffs and set off by crooning, sweet vocals. This brings up a key point: even a disappointing album by the likes of the Afro Cuban All Stars is better than most of what makes the airwaves, from Havana to Miami to Montreal. Aside from the more obviously polished elements, there are lots of traces of the band's debut, with the timeworn playing--especially on piano and percussion--sounding both overly commercial and terrifically organic. On many of these tunes, the cleanness of the sound draws the ear away from the music and towards the sonic varnish, the crystal clarity that in many cases would be cause for celebration. Here, it urges the side-by-side inspection of A Toda Cuba Le Gusta
and Distinto, Diferente
, the latter title signaling that the band has sought another terrain, maybe that commanded by Los Van Van
prior to the rise of the Buena Vista Social Club
and its roster of stars. --Andrew Bartlett