The Cuban Danzón: Before There Was Jazz, 1906-1929
This compilation includes some of the earliest recordings of African-influenced New World song. They document a critical transformation of Cuban dance music, as the contradanza and related European forms assumed a growing Afro-Cuban rhythmic feel. Originating in the late 19th century among poor urban blacks in Matanzas, the danzón achieved its classic format in the orquesta típica, combining violin, string bass, clarinet, trumpet, trombone and timbales. The struggle against Spain and U.S. occupation in 1898 made the danzón a marker of national identity, as white Cubans "forgot" its Afro-Cuban roots.
There was a critical stylistic break in the mid-1920s, as the orquesta francesa ("French orchestra"), or charanga, developed a more suave, indoor danzón. Composer, pianist and bandleader Antonio María Romeu exemplified this shift, bringing the flute and violin up front, with piano, ophicleide (keyed bugle), bass, güiro (gourd scraper) and timbal accompaniment. The fine charangas of Felipe Valdés and Tata Pereira are also featured. Fans of Cuba's great Orquesta Aragón and Nuyorican notables Ray Barretto, Charlie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco and Eddie Palmieri will hear their heroes' musical inspiration in the later tracks of this essential historic recording. - Michael Stone