Ecuadorian singer and composer Carmen Gonzalez dedicates Caramba to both the African musical culture rooted in the northwest region bordering Colombia, and to the African traditions embedded in Cuban music. Saxophonist and flautist Tito Junco, her husband, directs the ensemble La Legión Del Sabor, which fuses Afro-Cuban grooves with the resonating soul of the Afro-Ecuadorian marimba. La Legión's most appealing work (e.g., Canoero) showcases the marimba mastery of Larri Preciado Hernandez and Antonio Selio, but the heavily amplified mix often mutes the subtle expressive strength of the marimba. Junco also heads Havana Casino, backing Gonzalez on three capable, if unimaginative salsa numbers.
The most captivating moments on the album are three songs that unite Gonzalez with Koral y Esmeralda, the brilliant Afro-Ecuadorian folk ensemble led by Preciado Hernandez. The group's traditional repertoire (e.g., Andarele and Torbellino) with ringing marimba, unerring percussive sensibility, and searing female vocal call-and-response, presents Gonzalez with her most passionate vehicle. Koral y Esmeralda's dead-on attack lends an equally transcendent quality to "Caramba," Gonzalez's anguished title-track composition. - Michael Stone
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