Bassist and bandleader Israel Lopez, better known as Cachao, was one of the leading pioneers of Cuban latin-jazz during the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Cachao was a central part of the latin jazz scene which swept through the United States after World War II. But while Machito and his ensemble developed a fiercely aggressive variation of the mambo dance craze, artists such as Cachao, Bebo Valdes and Mario Bauza (Machito's brother-in-law) pursued a more suave, jazz-oriented muse, playing in longer, groove-oriented jam sessions known as "descargas". No one was better at the descarga style than Cachao, and his recent upsurge in popularity is one of the most welcome successes of the CD reissue era.

Cachao Discography

Cachao "Master Sessions Vol. I" (Crescent Moon, 1994)
An all-star session featuring Paquito D'Rivera, percussionist Francisco Aguabella, flautist Nestor Torres, and timbalero Orestes Vilato, this album helped make Cachao a household name in the warrens and covies of North American "world music" fans. Nice mix of jazz and classic Afro-Cuban styles.

Cachao "Master Sessions Vol. II" (Crescent Moon, 1995)

Cachao "From Havana To New York" (Caney, 1995)
Super-classic material from the late '50s and early '60s, split between recordings made in pre-Castro Havana, and New York City.

Cachao "Cuba Linda" (EMI Latin, 2000)

Cachao "Descargando Com Cachao" (Sony, 2000)

Other Descarga Albums

Mario Bauza "The Tanga Suite" (Messidor, 1992)

Mario Bauza "My Time Is Now" (Messidor, 1993)

Mario Bauza "944 Columbus" (Messidor, 1994)

Machito -- see artist discography

Chico O'Farrill "Cuban Blues: The Chico O'Farrill Sessions" (PolyGram, 1996)
A key figure in the growth of "Latin Jazz" as we know it, composer/arranger Chico O'Farrill more or less formalized the stylistic innovations of fiery performers such as Machito and Cachao... This 2-CD set collects several of O'Farrill's hard-to-find early albums, sessions from 1951 that helped solidify the new style, merging the swaying rhythms of Cuba with the flashy, hard-edged, chops-oriented aggressive virtuosity of the bebop crowd. In some respects, these arrangements are a little too clear-cut and formal, lacking some of the playful exhiliaration of the original Cuban sones... Still, it's pretty cool stuff, and infinitely more interesting than the more saccharine, by-the-numbers style adopted later on when Latin Jazz became an institutionalized (and more marketable) subgenre... O'Farrill's bands were rigorously integrated, evenly split between North American jazzmen and their Latin American counterparts, and incorporated the best elements of both styles. Afro-Cuban legend Mario Bauza helps anchor the band on almost all these tracks; Machito and pianist Rene Hernandez are among the other heavyweights on the latino side of the equation, as well as singer Bobby Escoto, whose gutsy vocals light up several songs on Disc One. Like many Latin Jazz outings, this is all a little too same-y to hold my attention, too blaring and solo-oriented, but still pretty powerful stuff. One of the definitive historical collections of this style of music, and highly recommended for anyone trying to get into the style.

Chano Pozo "The Life And Music Of The Legendary Cuban Conga Drummer" (Tumbao, 2001)
This lavish 3-CD set covers the career of Chano Pozo, the live fast-die young percussionist who is frequently cited by jazz historians as the focal point in the birth of latin jazz. Pozo joined Dizzy Gillespie's seminal bebop orchestra late in 1947, quickly becoming a featured soloist and helping Gillespie break "latin jazz" into the North American mainstream. Pozo was only with the band for about a year: in December, 1948 he was shot to death in a brawl in New York City. This box set collects the bulk of Pozo's recordings and has a big book that includes interviews with Mario Bauza, Dizzy Gillespie, Machito and others who were around to see Pozo in his fiery prime.

Chano Pozo "Manteca: The Real Birth Of Cubop" (Tumbao, 2001)
For a more modest look at Pozo's career, there's this excellent set of live recordings made with the Dizzy Gillespie orquestra in 1948, just before Pozo's untimely death in NYC. There's plenty of charming spontenaiety, including homages to the goofy showboating of Cab Calloway, some lighthearted improvisations and some really impressive aural effects, underscoring the tremendous power of Gillespie's band. A cool look at the lighter, less pretentious side of bebop jazz.

Chano Pozo & Arsenio Rodriguez "Legendary Sessions" (Tumbao)
With Machito and his orchestra...

Bebo Valdes "Descarga Caliente" (Caney, 1995)

Bebo Valdes "Mayajigua" (Caney, 1995)

Bebo Valdes "El Arte De Sabor" (Blue Note, 2001)
Pianist Bebo Valdes was one of the key figures in Cuba's "descarga" scene of the 1950s, a contemporary of fellow jazz-oriented luminaries such as Cachao and Machito. His own work tended towards the softer end of the spectrum, with loping numbers that mirrored the West Coast jazz of Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz. On his first album of the 21st Century, Valdes reels out a sugary set of stunning romantic beauty and musical lyricism. These instrumental tunes have a lilt and lightness to them that is thoroughly enchanting, as is his tendency to toy around with and improvise off the melodies of old pop-jazz standards. This is one of my favorite Cuban jazz albums of recent vintage... It's an album you can easily fall in love with; I know, because that's what happened with me... Highly recommended!


  • Caney Records has some of the greatest Batista-era descarga currently available on CD. Check out my label profile for more reviews and recommendations.

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