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Alex Acuna y su Acuarela de Tambores
Top Percussion: Rhythms for a New Millennium
Tonga Productions

cd cover Alex Acuna has been a fixture in West Coast studios for many years and his percussive expertise has graced albums of all genres, from artists as wide-ranging as U2, Lyle Mays, Paul McCartney, Chick Corea, The Yellowjackets, Andre Crouch, and Al Jarreau, among many others. He was also a member of one of the most well-known versions of Weather Report, and a founding member and co-leader of the studio "supergroup" Koinania. But his heart has always been with the sounds of traditional Latin music (in all of its stylistic varieties), especially the unique blend of Spanish, African, and Indian influences present in the music of his native Peru.

Acuna and a true rainbow coalition of world class percussion stars (Luis Conte, Paulinho Da Costa, Giovanni Hidalgo, Richie "Gajate" Garcia, and Michito Sanchez among them) get their chance to explore traditional and contemporary rhythms from throughout the Latin and Caribbean worlds on this recording. Nearly every sound on the album (save a few cameo guitar, piano, and keyboard bass appearances) derives from one of three sources: drumset, hand drums and various Latin percussion, or vocals and body percussion. While this emphasis on percussive instrumentation might seem limiting to some, the end product is far from it. This CD soars with creativity, improvisation, dynamics, and musical variety. Samba beats, Afro-Cuban rhythms, African elements, dancehall reggae, hip-hop, and contemporary jazz sounds combine to form an exciting whole greater than the sum of its considerable parts.

Fifteen tracks and over an hour's worth of incredible music will be enough to please the most discerning Latin, world music, or percussion fan, but standout tracks include "Las Marias," "Abba Taita," and "L.A. Rap." If there is one overall highlight in this nearly 67-minute tour de force, it is Luis Conte's "Bemlerias," a simmering piece that manages to invoke the sounds of samba, contemporary M.P.B. (Brazilian Popular Music), Spanish buleria, West African and 70s funk all at once. Even after repeated listenings, one finds oneself mentally suspended in this groove, consistently left with the feeling that this tune has ended much too soon. - Gregg Juke

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