Nunca Tarde – Album round-up (Susana Baca, Agustín Pereyra Lucena, Irakere, Dossel, Leti Garza and many more)

By 03 February, 2024

Just to prove that it’s never too late to discover a worthwhile album, here’s a quick run-through of some worthies you might have missed since Christmas. Doesn’t it seem like a long time ago already?

Julián Solarz: Resonancia – Música de Frederic Mompou (Microscopi)

I first heard the music of the Catalan composer at a concert last November in the Théatre de Brive by a wonderful solo pianist from the Antilles, Wilhelm Latchoumia. The Argentinean jazz pianist, Julián Solarz, also discovered Mompou quite recently and promptly immersed himself in his work. His second album translates the composer’s work into a kind of chamber-jazz context, built around a group consisting of alto sax, (bass) clarinet, double bass, drums, guitar, piano and, on two pieces, flute. Recorded at the back end of 2022 in Buenos Aires, the result is cool, precise and, if a little academic, certainly a beautifully performed introduction to a composer who’s known outside Spain only by the cognoscenti.

Susana Baca: Ao Vivo (Sesc Jazz)

Talking of elegance and sophistication, Selo Sesc released an album to treasure in mid December: the incomparable Peruvian diva captured live at the Sesc Pompeia Jazz Festival in October 2022 as part of the label’s Sesc Jazz Ao Vivo series. The singer is in fine fettle, striking up a palpable rapport with the audience; her highly polished, tasteful band is spot-on; and the mix is everything you could ask of a live concert. An invaluable addition to the great chanteuse’s canon.

Agustín Pereyra Lucena : Agustín Pereyra Lucena (Far Out Recordings)

No less a luminary than Vinicius De Moraes writes of the Argentinean acoustic guitarist on the liner notes of this, his 1970 eponymous debut, “I think I never saw, with the exception of Baden Powell and Toquinho, anyone more linked to his instrument than Agustín Pereyra Lucena.” The reference to the former is particularly apt: four of the ten tracks are Baden Powell compositions, including the opening “O Astronauta” and the closing “Berimbau”, and one feels that had it not been for the Brazilian master, Lucena would have been much more famous outside of his native Argentina. Accompanied here by two fellow Brazilophiles on bass and drums and by the dreamy intermittent vocals of Helena Uriburu, a French teacher who (shades of Astrud Gilberto) had never sung in a studio before, the guitarist’s lyricism and empathy for the music he loved make this much more than an album full of covers. Check out, too, Altercat’s reissue of the guitarist’s encounter in Buenos Aires with Naná Vasconcelos, The Incredible Naná.

Aguidavi do Jêje: Aguidavi do Jêje (Rocinante)

A rather extraordinary debut album now from Bahia, Brazil. It’s a percussion powerhouse celebrating the Candomblé rhythms of the Jeje-Mahin nation. Led by percussionist and composer Luizinho do Jêje, the (count ’em) 18 percussionists were recorded live at the Terreiro do Bogum, one of Brazil’s oldest Candomblé houses. Of the seven long numbers (and eighth is included as a bonus with the digital version), “Violão de Cabaça” features a contribution from Gilberto Gil. The leader describes this rousing celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture as a party album, but I reckon the neighbours would be swiftly on the phone to the local constabulary.

Grupo Irakere: Grupo Irakere (Mr. Bongo)

From one powerhouse to another, but this one’s from Cuba. Grupo Irakere, as they were then known, released this exuberant eponymous album in 1976. Mr. Bongo of Brighton have reissued it as the second in their Cuban Classics series – and a classic it genuinely is. It’s probably not the one-of-a-kind fusion outfit’s most sophisticated album, but it certainly breathes fire and passion. Chucho Valdès is featured on acoustic piano with alto saxophonist Paquito d’Rivera on the ballad “Esto Camino Largo” and Arturo Sandoval’s typically florid trumpet gets a feature on the other ballad, “En Nosostros”, but otherwise it’s electronic keyboards, horns and vibrant percussion a go-go, typified by the celebrated opener “Chequeré-Son”.

Ary Lobo: Ary Lobo 1958-1966 (Analog Africa)

Sticking with reissues, the trusty German crate-digging label has done it again. Number 19 in their “Limited Dance Editions” is a baião, batuque and forró gem from the north-east Brazil of yesteryear. Ary Lobo was something of a national celebrity, and it’s easy to see why. His ingratiating vocals exude warmth and immediacy, and the accompaniment of accordion, triangle, bass drum and vocal chorus never lets the listener go for a minute. It’s the kind of easy ebullient music that fuels your energy levels while putting a big smile on your face.

Dossel: Badoque (Peneira Musical)

I’m still finding my way around this one. It’s a beguiling album and no mistake, and one, I feel, that will instil itself deep within my subconscious. It’s no coincidence perhaps that one of composer and producer Roberto Barrucho’s collaborators on this, his second album as Dossel, is Vasconcelos Sentimento, whose own off-kilter album, Furto, has now settled down snugly inside my cranium following its 2021 release on Far Out Recordings. In both albums, the rhythms and melodies seem reassembled after initial disassembly. There’s something fractured and awkward, too, about the vocals, yet there’s a palpable magic in the somewhat disconcerting ensemble. Barrucho or Dossel has won various awards as a composer and Badoque has already appeared on a number of Best of 2023 lists and entered the World Music Charts Europe last month. You have been warned!

Leti Garza: Canciónes Sobre La Vida y La Muerte (Independent)

Rather more conservative in its approach is this new album by a bilingual singer-songwriter based in Austin, Texas. Influenced by such big-hitters as Celia Cruz and Mercedes Sosa, she talks of her collection of mainly self-penned canciónes as “an album to explore the understanding of the heart. A journey to recount through music, relationships and an individual’s process, develop consciousness, continue to develop my Latina identity and have a great time while doing all of the above.” The artist performs all the delicate vocals and undertakes keyboard arrangements throughout, while guests contribute tasteful instrumental enhancements on clarinet and violin and such like. Arguably, the songs sung in Spanish work better, but their English-language counterparts enabled me to appreciate how sensitive and resonant are her lyrics. It all helps to make for a thoughtful, rewarding and sometimes exquisite album.

Gustavo Santaolalla: Ronroco (Nonesuch Records)

Here’s a name associated with the wonderful world of film. Santaolalla is best known for scoring such screen classics as 21 Grams, The Motorcycle Diaries and Brokeback Mountain. His critically acclaimed album from 1998 was not written for the cinema, but was inspired by the traditional music of his native Argentina, and in particular the strange-looking stringed instrument that lends its name to an album brought to you now in vinyl for the first time by the Nonesuch label. And quietly memorable it is, too.

Cuarteto Yemayá: El Tic Tac (Vampisoul)

And so inevitably to Madrid, Spain, the wellspring of forgotten treasures from South America and the Latin world in general. This one is my pick of their December crop, the second album from a hard-hitting Peruvian quartet originally released in 1971 by MAG Records. Electric guitar plus electric bass plus drums, percussion and vocals equals an electrifying album of Cuban-flavoured music that curiously made me think of early Kinks. Something to do with its no-frills rawness to the power of four, I guess. 

Ghetto Brothers: Power-Fueza (Vampisoul)

Talking of power… Perhaps the pick of the January crop comes from Puerto Rico via the South Bronx. The Brothers Ghetto released their album back in 1972 and it certainly whiffs of the era, with elements of boogaloo, Sly-style soul-rock, Latin soul à la Joe Bataan and the infectious spirit of Archie Bell & The Drells, all there bubbling away in the clunky mix. As for “one of the best Latin funk albums ever recorded,” however, I have to point out that my hyperbole gauge is flashing furiously. Still, it has some seriously funky moments and it’s redolent enough of a Puerto Rican heritage and the mean streets of the South Bronx to warrant attention.

As the irritating voice on our satellite decoder insists, I’ll be back – circa the Ides of March. Beware!

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