Sonando con calidad!
Hot on the heels of Charanga Forever’s revitalising Somos Charangueros, comes another Envidia release, Los Ases de la Timba's Aquí están Los Ases - a kind of supergroup featuring Michel Maza, Tirso Duarte, Mandy Cantero and former Charanga Habanera bassist Pedro Pablo, last seen playing with his group Rebambaramba. Do your best to ignore the name (it's Spanish for "aces", apparently, despite what it looks like in English ...), this is reason for timberos to get very excited indeed.
The opener, Aquí están, sets the tone, with thumping piano, tectonic bass and a few references to previous work from the participating parties, including the coro from Rebambaramba’s Rembanero soy; Michel’s La vida es tan tan from Que hablen los habladores and Tirso’s “eso es; para que nada te pueda pasar” coro; a kind of signature of his which goes back as far as his days in Charanga Habanera, and finally turned up fully formed as the song Me Quiere La Habana on his last album Timba Cubana. The other singing star of the project, Mandy is in there too, vamping on Klimax’s Juego de manos (Tirso also references Lozada’s Que venga lo que venga), among other things. There is also, puzzlingly, a mambo that Paulo has added to the live version of El Punto. Perhaps it’s from something far older, which would explain its inclusion in both. This track is far more than a bunch of backward glances though - like the rest of the album, it rocks hard, is crammed with hooks, and is replete with great performances, not just from the aforementioned, but props to the piano player, Karina Gutierrez, sister of Pedro Pablo, who plays with a great deal of grunt and style.
The star singers are all credited with singing four songs each, but surprisingly, for me at least, it’s the tunes of Tirso and Mandy that really stand out. (Surprising, cause I loves me some Michel). Their songs just seem to pack more punch. That duo have a more agressive style than Michel, whose songs are among the softest here. Though I still find it perplexing, given his hard rockin’ persona live - en vivo his concerts invariably consist of little more than jams, grooves and reparto. Mind you it’s worth adding that his songs here are not actually soft - they’re just a bit tamer compared to the (mostly) stomping songs by the others (though Tirso’s La Vecina is on the smoother side).
There are too many good songs for a track-by-track analysis (there are only a couple that don’t grab me); but I’ll single out three:
Tirso’s Cuenta con los santos is a robust blend of rumba and timba, with stuttering percussion, solid bass and blaring horns that hark back to his song with Calixto, Rumbero de Corazon. Las aparencias engañan is my pick of Michel’s offerings: mid-tempo, funky, with a classic performance by Michel - cheeky, playful, melodic, confident. Tu tin de suerte has a kickarse beginning with horns slightly reminiscent of Oye como va. This is probably Mandy’s best moment here: joyous, hard and swinging, with great improvising. I’m liking his style more and more. The song changes up rhythms and breakdowns before it builds up again. Great coros. There is a chick in the mix there, which sounds good.
The coros throughout the album are excellent - good melodies, well sung - and make you realise how important they are to lifting a song (are you listening, Paulito?).
Likewise the arrangements are lively and engaging - I'm assuming that they’re the work of Pedro Pablo, who also wrote the lion’s share, according to Tirso. This is a better album than Pablo’s ¡Yo tengo el don!, probably largely due to the vocal talents involved - hard to go wrong with three of Cuba’s best.
Hear samples of Los Ases songs at Camajan or Prodland. If you're outside of their delivery area, you can buy it at Descarga.