Abelardo Barroso with Orquestra Sensacion – Cha Cha Cha – Puchito Records/ World Circuit Records -mono vinyl

Abelardo Barroso with Orquestra Sensacion – Cha Cha Cha – Puchito Records (1955-1957) /World Circuit Records (2014) – mono vinyl ****1/2: 

(Abelardo Barroso – vocals; Rolando Valdes – guiro, vocals, musical director; Juan Pablo Miranda – flute, arranger; Orlando Lamly – violin; Perez Pinto (“Perecito”) – violin; Carlos Zulueta (“Pan Con Salsa”) – piano; Jesus (“Chuchu”) Esquijarrosa – timbales; Miguel (“El Piche”) Santacruz – congas; Damaso More – doublebass; Gerardo Pedroso – vocals; Luis Donald – vocals; Tabenito – vocals; Enemelio Jimenez – alto sax; Generoso Jimenez – trombone; Alejandro (“El Negro”) Vivar – trumpet)

According to many, the origins of  “cha cha” music can be traced to renowned charanga composer Enrique Jorrin in early 1950s Cuba. Combining various indigenous rhythmic  elements from montunos, mambo-style danzon and chotismadrilène, songs were arranged in populist arrangements that swept across the Caribbean island noted for its exciting night life of casinos and nightclubs. Two influential figures, Rolando Valdes and Abelardo Barroso joined forces, and “cha cha” music became a phenomenon.

Valdes, a percussionist with many bands including Orquestra Union wanted to form his own group. In 1953 Orquestra Sensacion came into existence. Drawing on all-star cadre of musicians, he signed with Jesus Goris at Puchito Records. Then, Valdes employed his impresario skills in transforming Orquestra Sensacion into a top-flight performance band, with flashy suits, relentless promotion and a credible supply of accessible songs. The only missing ingredient was a charismatic lead singer (even though they had two already), and that was Abelardo Barroso. Barroso had been an intermediate star for over two decades. Known as the “El Caruso de Cuba” he sang with many groups, but had not recorded since 1939. This union propelled Oquestra Sensacion and Barroso to superstardom, releasing five singles (in 1956 alone) and thrilling performances on television and concert venues. Most of this occurred in 1955-1957, including the album, Abelardo Barroso With Orquestra Sensacion.

World Circuit Records has re-mastered these recordings to 180-gram audiophile vinyl. Nearly sixty years later, Abelardo Barroso With Orquestra SensacionCha Cha Cha is a glorious reminder of music that transcended its popular dance structure. Fourteen tracks (seven on each side) of enjoyable, passionate music feature cohesive arrangements by Juan Pablo Miranda. Side A opens with “En Guantanamo”. Originally recorded by Sexteto Habanero, it features an artistic a capella vocal intro by Barroso and Miranda’s spirited flute accents. Barroso’s infectious tenor and unison chorus produced a gold record. The “B Side” single, “La Hija De Juan Simon” is slower in tempo and utilizes the dual violinists (Orlando Lamy and Ovidio Perez Pinto) and the trademark punctuated ending. Many of these compositions explore different cultural and regional themes. But there is always a fresh musical approach. “Tiene Sabor” relies on bowed and pizzicato strings and piercing flute notation. Barroso’s personality can be felt in his performances. On “El Guajiro De Cunagua”, an autobiographic story of arriving in Havana is breezy and fun. The band is stellar (especially Jesus Esquijarrosa on timbales).  Festive call and response, piano/percussion elements and subtle tempo acceleration is unique. Exploring African culture, “Un Brujo En Guanabacoa” has a swaying flute intro, joined by violins. The customary percussive finale (with cowbell) is appealing. What is impressive is the ability to delve into cheery, (“El Panquelero” with repeat refrain) or poignant (“El Herfanito”) stories with equal aplomb.

Side B continues the effervescent dance numbers. A very popular Cuban song, “El Manisero” (also recorded by Louis Armstrong) shows some jazzy nuances and a great flute solo. The precise instrumentation complements Barroso’s inimitable style and risqué lyrics. Paying homage to the rumba, “La Mulata Rumbera” is enticing with piano runs (Carlos Zulueta) and sweeping violins. Miguel Santacruz contributes a conga solo. Socio-political subjects like the acknowledgement of the first female Cuban driver, Maria Calvo Nodarse (“Macorina”) was recorded on 1957 after one of Barroso’s frequent returns to Orquestra Sensacion. A darker imagery can be heard on “Bruca Manigua”. Arsenio Rodriguez’s attack on slavery has an emotional resonance. Guest artists Alejandro Vivar (who shines on a trumpet solo), Enemelio (alto sax) and Generoso Jimenez (trombone) expand the texture of the jam with sophistication. There is even a suggestion of “Blue Moon”. Barroso is flawless in any variation, spoken word (“La Reina Del Guaguanco”) or sentimental rumination (“Triste Lucha”), but always danceable.

The audio quality of this mono vinyl is superior. The instrumentation is vibrant (especially timbales and congas). Barroso’s exotic tenor is captured with warmth. The packaging and informational material is outstanding. Biographies of Barroso and Valdes are on opposing sides of the record sleeve. The booklet contains concise, useful liner notes and bi-lingual lyrics. For dancers, there is even a literal diagram of the cha cha steps and a back cover description of them! The suave visage of Barroso graces the album front.  [The U.S. Amazon link goes only to the CD, the U.K. Amazon site has the vinyl version…Ed.]

TrackList: 

Side A: En Guantanamo; La Hija De Juan Simon; Tiene Sabor; El Guajiro De Cunagua; Un Brujo En Guanabacoa; El Panquelero; El Huerfanito

Side B: El Manisero; La Mulata Rumbera; Yo Ta Cansa (Na Teresa); Macorina; Bruca Manigua; La Reina Del Guaguanco; Triste Lucha

—Robbie Gerson

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