J. P. Torres and his Cuban All Stars
Latin musicians have often looked to the non-Latin songbook, whether in misguided attempts to cash in on a perceived Anglo market or out of a genuine love of great songs and the desire to add their own mark to the repertoire. This has not always resulted in the best of music, but often has produced some of the most endearing camp on record. Noro Morales made a career of it, and Perez Prado, in his more eccentric recordings from the early ’60s, set to vinyl some genuinely bizarre and fun crossover melanges.
On Cuba Swings, Juan Pablo Torres takes a sidelong glance at such classics as “Satin Doll,” “In The Mood,” “Summertime,” “Moonlight Serenade,” and “Take the A-Train,” Latinizes the whole mix, throws in quotes from Cuban classics (such as “Guantanamera”), and adds oddly translated (into Spanish) vocals — resulting in moderately surreal reinterpretations of big band standards.
The musicianship of Torres and compañeros cannot be denied. With a solid set of session players — Torres on trombone, Julio Pachon on trumpet, a host of percussionists, and the genuinely inventive and delightful Pancho Amat on tres — Cuba Swings flows in a mid tempo son feel, rolling from familiar, but conservative approaches to, melodies and riffs, to percussive interludes and call and response codas. Every so often a musician or two will let loose and work the grooves, but held back tightness is the general M.O. here.
Though Torres actually approaches the whole project with a certain seriousness, the campiness of the results undercuts his intent. Cuba Swings is not a must-have for aficionados of the contemporary Cuban revival, but its oddball affectation can be endearing.