Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Willie Bobo: Talkin' Verve (1997)

Then again, Willie Bobo is the shit.

And before this disc, I'd never heard him. I knew of him - as a longtime Santana fan, I'd seen his name mentioned in any number of writeups of that band, but like a lot of rock fans I tend to subconsciously assume that late '60s rock came from Dylan's folk and the British Invasion, and that's all. Like, jazz in the '60s just didn't happen, because teenagers weren't listening to it.

Except, some of them were.

I'm not sure I have the best sense of how Latin jazz bands worked. Like, Bobo was a percussionist, a timbalero: this I know. But no matter how good a percussionist is it's hard to think of him as the musical leader of a band; and yet obviously Bobo was hardly the only one in his field. Then, too, he's never the only percussionist playing on any of these tracks. Nor does he do the arranging, at least judging by the credits here. So wherein does his leadership consist? Because something is lending all these tracks a stylistic unity, and it has to be the cat whose name they're all issued under.

Whatever it is, I can't stop listening to it. This has been in heavy rotation for the last month or two since I got it. The very first track is a gas: "Grazing In The Grass," a Hugh Masekela cover. It just starts cold, with this unassuming groove that nevertheless very rapidly insinuates itself into your bloodstream and defies any attempts you might care to make not to move.

And it just gets better from there. Like the classics-you've-never-heard "Spanish Grease" and "Fried Neckbones." (Dig the psychedelic echo on that last one: and it's only 1966.) This is it, man. That secret place where the delirious mirror-ball champagne headiness of the primo mambo meets late-night streetcorner bodega dozens and the confluence conjures up cherubs winking in the cerulean.

And then play Willie's version of "The Look Of Love." There's something deeply wrong with this guy trying to make like a crooner. But also something so right. Like seeing your parents steal a kiss in the kitchen.

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