Aguankó, Unidad Review
Echoes of Tradition: The Timeless Journey of Aguankó’s Unidad
by Nolan DeBuke
Aguankó’s latest album, Unidad, is a collection of original songs led by Alberto Nacif, a conguero and composer. Joining him is a talented ensemble of Jose Espinosa on timbales, Russ Miller on saxophone and flute, Charlie Miller on trumpet and flugelhorn, Christopher Smith on trombone, and Rick Roe on piano. Holding down the bass is Patrick Prouty on tracks 1, 2, 5, 7, and 11 and Kurt Krahnke on tracks 3, 4, and 6.
“Kintsugi” (Mambo), composed by Nacif, opens the album. This track is a nod to the mambo craze of the 1940s and 1950s, popularized initially in Cuba before sweeping through New York. The percussive patterns played by Nacif and Espinosa hark back to the greats like Pérez Prado, while Roe’s piano montuno patterns are a vibrant interplay reminiscent of the genre’s golden era.
“Discurso” (Cha Cha Cha), also composed by Nacif, takes us into the world of cha-cha-cha, a rhythm born in the dance halls of Havana in the early 1950s. This genre, made famous by Enrique Jorrín, is characterized by its steady, catchy beat, which Aguankó captures with an effortless grace, making it both familiar and innovative. The composition has a beautiful feel and easy-to-follow form, with excellent playing by the ensemble.
With “Dualidad,” composed by Russ Miller, we journey into a 6/8 rhythm, a time signature that speaks to the African roots of much of Cuban music. Miller’s saxophone playing here is a standout, weaving a soulful and contemplative narrative. “Dedicación” (Bolero), written by Christopher Smith, takes us through the rhythmic allure of the bolero, a genre that originated in Cuba in the late 19th century and is known for its slow tempo and sentimental lyricism. Smith’s composition, combined with Miller’s emotive saxophone, creates a mood of deep introspection and romance.
“Un Poco Cubop” (Mambo), by Russ Miller, is a tribute to the fusion of Cuban music and bebop, known as Cubop, popularized by musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo in the 1940s. This track is a rhythmic powerhouse, showcasing the ensemble’s versatility and the rich history of this musical fusion. “Todo Es Todo” (Rumba/Mambo) is another Nacif composition, blending the rumba – a complex, polyrhythmic structure with roots in African drumming traditions – with mambo. The interplay of trombone and congas here is particularly noteworthy, capturing the essence of these rhythmic traditions.
“Viaje Con El Viento” (Afro/ChaCha6/8), again by Nacif, is a blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms. The track transitions from an Afro rhythm into a cha-cha, then into a 6/8 pattern, showcasing the ensemble’s ability to navigate complex rhythmic landscapes with ease and grace. “Intercepción” (Mambo), another Nacif composition, is a high-energy mambo that harkens back to the big band era of Latin jazz. The lively interplay of percussion and brass is a joyful celebration of this genre’s enduring appeal.
With Unidad, Aguankó has created an enjoyable sound that is a tribute to the historical roots of Latin jazz but also a fresh, vibrant interpretation of these rich musical traditions. Each track is a journey into the heart of a rhythm, a style, a history, making Unidad a must-listen for anyone interested in the depth and breadth of Latin jazz.