Latin music begins with the drum. It sings, dances, composes, improvises and tells the story of the song. Many of our favorite tunes are melodies transposed from the murmurs of a talking drum. But only a few drummers are allowed to "lead" the band - names such as Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaría. This month, in its now annual parade of releases, the World Circuit/ Nonesuch team who brought you the Buena Vista Social Club presents the Europe-based Cuban percussionist Angá Díaz.
Díaz's new album is called "Echu Mingua," after the Yoruban god Elegguá, often thought of as the guardian of the crossroads, sometimes the trickster. He's the one who haunted Robert Johnson's dreams, made Thelonius Monk get up from his piano and spin slowly in place. Díaz calls "Echu Mingua" a "religious service" of sorts, and it serves the purpose of guarding the crossroads between Cuban son, rumba, jazz, hip-hop and maybe even what Izzy Sanabria once called "salsa."
A gifted conga player, Díaz has an impressive track record: He began with the legendary Afro-Cuban jazz band Irakere; put in time with jazz experimentalists Steve Coleman and Roy Hargrove; anchored Juan de Marcos' Afro-Cuban All Stars; and made a singular impression on bassist Orlando "Cachaíto" López's 2001 solo effort, one of the best Buena Vista spin-off albums. Díaz's presence contributed greatly to that album's forward-looking avant-garde edge.
"Echu Mingua" has a similar, live- in-the-studio feel to "Cachaíto." The resulting music is decidedly "Freeform" (the name of a hip-hop-inflected jam session), with several stops and starts in rhythm, style and influence. Tracks such as the flamenco-tango inspired "Ode Mar- tima" seem better suited for experimental dance than salsa, and "Conga Carnaval" sounds like Los Van Van partying on a Brazilian tour.
You can find the full review here