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The Spanish label Disconforme has recently launched an excellent reissue program of music recorded for Egrem, the Cuban state label. Thus far the titles have focused on the 60s, a time period sadly underrepresented in the U.S., as much for political reasons as anything else. There are a few CDs featuring the great pianist Chucho Valdes, including some music that predates his pioneering Latin jazz juggernaut Irakere, but the album I’m most taken with collects two killer albums by the trombonist Generoso “Tojo” Jimenez. Ritmo was made in 1960, Trombon Majadero in 1965—the latter supplies the new CD’s name—but both feature some of the tightest, most propulsive mambo jams and proto-Latin jazz I’ve ever heard. It’s mostly instrumental stuff, but the solos are concise, the arrangements drum-tight, and the dense polyrhythms irresistible. The line-ups are loaded with some of the island’s greatest talents—including bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez, trumpeters Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros and Alejandro “El Negro” Vivar—but this is ensemble music, through and through. The blare of massed trombones and trumpets cut against plush saxophone riffing and hypnotic piano montunos—a symphony of crosscutting riffs and rhythms.
Jimenez was born almost 90 years ago in Cruces, near the town of Cienfuegos, and as a teen he toured with various local bands. But it was his arrival in Havana that kick-started his career, most importantly his enlistment in a new orchestra led by the great pianist Bebo Valdes—Chucho’s father—in 1952. Within a year Jimenez had joined the band led by Armenteros that worked for perhaps Cuba’s greatest singer, Beny More. Before long Jimenez was writing the band’s arrangements. He was a seasoned vet when he cut the albums collected on these CDs, but incredibly, he’s still alive and active, and in the last 15 years he’s recorded a series of albums that reflect the classic sound of his 60s work. Bu this stuff is the real shit.