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Orquesta Akokán – 16 Rayos (2021 FLAC)

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Orquesta Akokán - 16 Rayos (2021 FLAC)

Orquesta Akokán – 16 Rayos (2021 FLAC)

Artist: Orquesta Akokán
Album: 16 Rayos
Release/Reissue: 2021
Genre: Latin Jazz

01. Mi Conga Es De Akokán
02. 4 de Octubre
03. Guajira Del Mar
04. Interludio No. 1
05. El Inflador
06. Fiebre De Mambo
07. Orquídea
08. Interludio No. 2
09. Llegue Con Mi Rumba
10. 16 Rayos

Orquesta Akokán is a multi-generational big band, comprised of top musicians from Cuba and New York’s Latin music scene. Their sound is a reinvigorated take on the golden era of Cuban mambo (the 1940s) combined with rumba, son, tumbao, and cha-cha-cha wedded to Latin jazz. The band’s acclaimed 2018 self-titled Daptone debut was recorded at Havana’s Areito Studios and was followed by an enthusiastically received international tour. In the spring of 2021 the group re-assembled at Havana’s legendary Egrem Studio (home to literally hundreds of classic recordings since the ’60s, including the Buena Vista Social Club’s) and cut ten brand-new originals.

Mambo has always carried the ghost traces of religious tradition in its DNA, in particular Santeria’s, the distinctly ritualistic Cuban meld of African vodou and Roman Catholicism. This set uses spiritual mambo as an inspiration and leaping-off point for exploration. The album title references a Yoruba legend where the sun’s 16 rays were gifted by the deity Olofi to sky father Obatalá, enabling him to care for the earth’s children.

Set-opener and first single “Mi Conga Es de Akokán” weds the driving, low-end serpentine rhythms of the conga to powerful, ringing, swinging mambo horns with vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez leading the band in feverish call-and-response. “Cuatro de Octubre” commences with an unaccompanied rhumba chant by Pedro Francisco Almeida Barriel, followed by knotty, cascading horns and percussion in cut time with gloriously dark exchanges between brass instruments and Michael Eckroth’s piano montunos. As infectious as the fast tunes are, the band reveals its secret soul on the ballad “La Guajira del Mar,” with atmospheric brass harmonies and gorgeous string interplay. “El Inflador” is a furious yet unbelievably sweet dancefloor mambo with gloriously arranged vocal and brass harmonies. “Orchidea” offers a solo piano intro combining classical piano and dissonance before the rhythm section guides the horns, congas, and timbales into a gloriously architected cha-cha-cha. “Llegue con Mi Rumba” also finds Almeida Barriel in excellent form as he engages the band’s punchy, joyous groove and kaleidoscopic sense of swing. On the title-track closer, Gomez trades lines in duet and call-and-response with guest vocalist Xiomara Valdés (a first-call session singer who has worked with Omara Portuando and many others) as shadowy trumpets, dark trombones and ethereal, ecstatic strings wind around the drummers and Valdés’ sweet, tender falsetto. The group unites around their vocal improvisations with a more stately horn articulation and cha-cha rhythm. As enjoyable and edifying as Orquesta Akokán’s self-titled debut was, 16 Rayos is more sophisticated and inspired. While the first album amounted to a raucous, utterly enjoyable soulful dance party, this set is an emotional, spiritually satisfying, labyrinthine musical journey one can dance to.