Performers include: Ignacio Pineiro (arranger).
Recorded in Havana, Cuba in 1955. Originally released on Riverside (4005).
Includes liner notes by Andy Gonzalez.
Personnel: Bienvenido Le¢n, Carlos Embale (vocals); Geraldo Rodriguez, Adriano Rodriguez (congas).
Audio Remasterer: Joe Tarantino.
Liner Note Author: Andy Gonz lez.
Recording information: Havana, Cuba (1955).
Arranger: Ignacio Pi¤eiro.
In 2003, Milestone/Fantasy announced that it was reissuing Festival in Havana -- an obscure recording that was made in 1955 (before Fidel Castro came to power) and had been out of print for at least 40 years. Those who weren't familiar with the original LP might have expected to hear a Cuban dance orchestra playing son, cha-cha, or mambo; perhaps they might have expected to hear something along the lines of la Sonora Matancera or the bands of Beny Mor‚, Tito Rodriguez, Machito, or Xavier Cugat. All of those artists were quite popular in the '50s, and all of them were masters of the music that eventually came to be called salsa (an umbrella term that didn't come into vogue until Fania Records' heyday in the '70s). But while Festival in Havana is authentically Afro-Cuban, it isn't salsa -- actually, the performances on this CD favor an approach that would have been considered old-school even in 1955. Boasting the famous Ignacio Pi¤eiro serving as leader/arranger, Festival in Havana is traditional Afro-Cuban music at its most raw, skeletal, and basic. Oscar "Floresita" Velasco, a well-respected Cuban musician, appears on trumpet, but the group that Pi¤eiro leads is far from a '50s-style Latin dance orchestra; Velasco is the only horn player, and most of the band consists of percussionists and singers (including Carlos Embale and Bienvenido Leon on lead vocals). The songs come from traditional guaguanc¢, rumba, and conga repertoire, and even though many of them have been played in a dance-band style (including "La Chambelona" and "Ave Maria Morena"), they aren't played that way on Festival in Havana -- again, rawness prevails throughout this album. Salsa fans who are used to hearing more elaborate and polished Afro-Cuban dance orchestras might find these performances to be too raw, but for those who are aren't afraid of rawness, Festival in Havana's debut on CD is cause for celebration. ~ Alex Henderson