Aguankó : Unidad Review
Released on September 8, 2023, Aguankó’s Unidad is a rich collection of Latin jazz, infused with Afro-Cuban rhythms and the spirited heart of Detroit’s music scene. Led by the masterful Alberto Nacif, a conguero whose roots stretch from Mexico City to the jazz clubs of Detroit, this album celebrates musical fusion and rhythmic brilliance through eleven original compositions by Nacif and other ensemble members.
The ensemble behind Unidad is a vibrant blend of seasoned musicians, each bringing their own unique flavor to this musical concoction. Leading the pack is Alberto Nacif, a conguero with a rich history in both the traditions of Latin music and the innovation of jazz. The percussion section is further enlivened by Jose Espinosa on timbales, adding a rhythmic complexity that is essential to Latin jazz. Alongside him on the piano is Rick Roe, who brings a melodic brilliance to the album. Russ Miller, on saxophone and flute, complements the brass section of Charlie Miller on trumpet and flugelhorn and Christopher Smith on trombone. The bass, alternately handled by Patrick Prouty and Kurt Krahnke, provides the grounding force that ties the ensemble’s dynamic interplays together. Together, these musicians form Aguankó, an ensemble that respects the traditions of Latin jazz while creating a sound that is both familiar and refreshingly new.
“Kintsugi” (Mambo) opens the album with a mambo rhythm that is both captivating and uplifting. Nacif’s congas and Espinosa’s timbales lay down a rhythmically intricate foundation. The montuno pattern played on the piano invites the listener into a dance, weaving a tapestry of sound that is both complex and accessible.
Following the vibrant start, “Discurso” (Cha Cha Cha) maintains the album’s momentum with a traditional cha-cha-cha that feels both familiar and fresh. The track exhibits a playful interaction between the percussion and the brass section, echoing the classic sounds of Latin jazz while introducing Aguankó’s unique flair.
The shift to a 6/8 time signature in “Dualidad” brings a refreshing change of pace. Here, Miller’s tenor saxophone offers a smoochy sound that beautifully contrasts the assertive trumpet solo, showcasing the ensemble’s versatility and depth.
In “Dedicación” (Bolero), the mood turns romantic. This bolero by Smith features a tender and expressive melody, gracefully carried by Miller’s saxophone. The flowing texture of rhythms provided by Nacif, Espinosa, and Hrahnke’s bass creates the perfect backdrop for Smith’s soulful trombone solo.
The album then returns to its energetic roots with “Un Poco Cubop” (Mambo), a dance-inducing track. The Miller brothers’ horn playing drives the piece, supported by the relentless energy of Nacif and Espinosa’s percussion, making it impossible not to move with the rhythm. In “Todo Es Todo” (Rumba/Mambo), the fusion of rumba and mambo is executed with precision. Smith’s trombone takes center stage with a finely crafted interlude, underscored by Nacif’s masterful conga playing.
“Viaje Con El Viento” (Afro/ChaCha6/8) then takes the listener on a journey of rhythmic variety. The Nacif composition’s relaxed feel is enhanced by the flute and muted trumpet solos, supported by Roe’s evocative piano playing and solo. The ensemble returns to the romantic bolero style with “Un Ensueño,” a track that maintains the album’s danceable spirit while providing a moment of tender reflection.
The pace picks up again with “Intercepción” (Mambo), a fast-paced mambo that showcases the energetic interplay of timbales and congas, anchored by Prouty’s solid bass lines. “Adios Amigo” (Danzón/Cha Cha Cha) provides a nostalgic yet refreshing mix, embodying a spirit of camaraderie and musical journey. It’s a track that flows and is a fitting tribute to the genre’s rich history.
The album concludes with “Espacio Verde” (Comparsa/Mambo), a lovely blend of comparsa and mambo. The sensual rhythms, coupled with energetic and expressive solos, ensure the album ends on a high note, keeping the listener moving and engaged until the very last beat.
Unidad is a fun album that showcases Aguankó’s mastery of Latin jazz. It’s an album that grabs your attention and invites you into a world of rhythmic complexity and melodic beauty. Nacif’s leadership and vision shine through in each track, creating an album that is both a joy for the ears and a celebration for the feet. Whether you’re a seasoned salsa dancer or a casual listener, Unidad offers a rich, immersive experience. Its blend of traditional rhythms with modern flair makes it an essential addition to any Latin jazz collection.
September 8, 2023