43. Buena Vista bass

Tumbao No 5 (para Charlie Mingus). From Orlando “Cachaíto” López, Cachaito, 2001

Hard to believe the original Buena Vista Social Club album is 25 years old. I can still remember specific locations where I heard that music playing in the open air (waiting for an airport bus in Florence while marathon runners slogged past in the early sunshine, since you ask). And after the first super-hit there followed a string of wonderful albums from people in the band – Rubén González is a favourite there along with this one from Orlando Lopez.

I can’t remember where I first heard this track, with its opening statement of one of the deepest bass sounds ever made, but it made an equally indelible impression. Lopez was the bass player on all the Buena Vista recordings, but this one was his – and his first album under his own name after a lifetime as boss of the bass in Cuba, as far as I know.

And a brilliant thing it is. It’s a mix of styles to say the least, everything from Son to dub to hip-hop, and it’s heavily produced, with London studio sessions worked into the mix, horn arrangements by the late, lamented Pee Wee Ellis and a cast of dozens. But the bass holds it all together effortlessly. As on this track, the leader plays with such authority it sounds as if the music had no choice but to coalesce around him.

It’s a simpler affair than most of the others – just bass, two percussionists and sax, and the nearest thing to a bass feature. How to show off jazz chops? Invoking another bass hero was the answer here.

It has that wonderful bass swagger, and picks up the riff from Mingus’ Haitian Fight Song half way through in homage to another bassist who had a swagger all his own. More bass players should do that – I can think of Danny Thompson playing it in the old Pentangle days, when it threatened to overpower whatever else they were doing. It’s a powerful thing in the right hands, and that pays off here with the equally potent percussion. It’s a thrilling combination, with the usual killer Cuban rhythm section jousting with the bassist. There’s a gripping sax solo interwoven with the other three from Rafael “Jimmy” Jenks, about whom I know nothing more – but knowing he did this is enough. Only 20 years old, this one, but still generating instant sunshine every time.

Why the No 43? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify.

photos from CD insert.


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