Los Fakires, “Los Fakires” [Deutsche Grammophon]

Cuban Maestros

March 2008



Journey with me to the city of San Carlos, a distance from the hustle and bustle of Havana, and enter the world of Los Fakires, five musicians who are elder statesmen of the classic Cuban melodies known as the Son, the Bolero and the Guaracha-son. This is music that epitomizes acoustic simplicity, beautiful vocal harmonies and the complexity of age-old melodies and rhythms. You will hear how the use of language forms the backbone of this stirring musical journey, as it grafts Spanish verses to the gorgeous melodies of sax, guitar, bongos and the scrape of the guiro. The beauty of Los Fakires’ music is that it is so simple, yet so complex. This particular recording, done in two different Cuban studios, has the genuine feel of sitting in with these Masters, and offers excellent sonics, particularly in image dimensionality, clues about the recording spaces and wonderful vocal and instrumental tones and textures.

From the opening sway of Jose Brinques’ sax on “Suavecito,” to the entrance of Gilberto Abreu’s patient bongos and Martin Chavez’s (nicknamed “Cascarita”) youthful vocals, we know we are in for something special here. “Suavecito” is a gentle Son, originating (as most of this music does) from the dance and theatre halls of Havana in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It is a simple melody, flowing and dipping, with Brinques’ sax echoing the vocal calls of Cascarita. Cascarita is a charismatic vocal presence throughout, always offering his joyful conversations on love, drink and neighborhood gossip. At over 75, he’s still a youthful presence, with an uncanny ability to meld Spanish into its own musical instrument, to exchange with the rest of the Band. A great example of this is on “Fuerza De Voluntad,” a fanciful Son in which Cascarita engages Brinques’ sax in beautiful, quick conversation. Cascarita uses Spanish calls, laughter and comic quips up and down his vocal register to hold his animated conversation with Brinques. This number also showcases Los Fakires’ intricate vocal harmonies. The second singer of the group, Rafael Valdes, joins in with his own gorgeous, warm vocals sitting perfectly aside Cascarita’s quick and leathery exclamations. On “El Cafetal,” both singers intertwine so effortlessly that it is no surprise that they have been singing together for decades. “El Cafetal” is a driving number, with bongos going furiously against the intricate pattern of Brinques’ sax. Brinques weaves and shouts, laying the foundation for this tune that we could dance to late into the night. Brinques is an amazing sax presence on this disc, bursting forth with a colorful splash or a long, slow call. For instance, on the slow, smoldering “A Mi Manera,” he enters and then curls around the vocals of Cascarita and Valdes, spinning a warm, enveloping presence to this popular Bolero from the 1930’s. On the following number, (entitled “La Timba”), he hurtles into the stratosphere with quick, staccato notes, echoing Cascarita’s cat calls about holding a girl too close while doing the 1920’s “compulsive rhythm” known as “La Timba.” The group also offers its own version of the classic, “Chan, Chan” (made famous recently by the Buena Vista Social Club) that gives a whole new landscape of color to this piece, particularly in Jose Remie’s beautiful acoustic guitar plucks, coming from way back in the stage. This number will test your system’s ability to image concisely and reveal all of the inner details of Remie’s delicate string work.

Surrounding all of this masterful musicianship is the simple essence of rhythm, dance and melody, all to be explored in their great depth of expression. Just try to keep yourself in your listening chair during the driving rhythm of “Mira El Bodeguero,” a melody of great simplicity, beauty and sincerity, anchored by Brinques’ melodious sax and those intricate layers of vocals pulsing over Abreu’s bongos. The recording concludes with the give and take of “Guitarra, Tabaco y Ron” sending the tune away on a light, airy journey with sparkling bells and delicate percussion. The tune showcases the clean, clear vocal harmonies of this masterful Band, with Cascarita again prancing around Brinques’ sinuous sax and exhorting us to our feet once again.

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