What appeals to me straight off the bat in this CD is its immediate rawness and compelling simplicity. The engineers (Carlo Lopez, Greg Landau) caught every note in perfection without putting a molecule of studio adjustment or electronic whizbangery to anything, a very rare act in this modern world of overwhump on everydamnthing. The result turns the listener’s living room into one of those cool Mexican restaurants you can still find in the barrio in East Los Angeles, the ones that haven’t been bought out by White arbitrageurs and gentrified into vanilla mush.
Please note that Changui Majadero is Cubano music based, but I’ve never been there and so must rely on kindred spirits in comparatives. Besides, the band hales from just down the street from me: L.A. In the 80s, I took a cruise of the Mexican Riviera, which was mostly a mistake (I shoulda been hiking instead), but it had a few interesting wrinkles. At one point, as everyone rushed to head inside the famed Papas & Beers, already full to the gills with bourgeois a-hole Norte Americanos, I remained outside to listen to a ranchero band instead (though it could well have been changui), a very cool music unit. During a break, I struck up a conversation with the bass player who’d dug that I liked their authentic refrains rather than the glitzy stuff inside the establishment. We talked music, and he shared the home-made tequila he and the band had been quaffing. It was the best liquor I ever had, pure and smooth, and the ensemble was excellent (most of the rest of the damned trip was pretty much expendable).
Changui Majadero reminds me very much of that band: direct, heartfelt, sincere, polished, straight up from the ground, with no intention whatsoever to compromise an inch in their art. “Nengon” is a particularly striking cut, all players and singers caught up in serially repeating patterns until a folky form of drone music, almost rondo, is established and the listener pleasantly enwebbed within it. The song ends as it started, and one finds oneself carrying the melodies on inside one’s head.
That’s continued in the follower, “Digno de Lastima”, with call-and-response thrown in for good measure. Alfred Ortiz takes a strong lead vocal throughout the cut, with Gabriel Garcia and Norell Thompson backing him up. Elsewhere, Ms. Thompson takes the reins with just as confident an air, harmony vocals omnipresent everywhere. Garcia plays the tres, Thompson sports a guayo, and Ortiz shakes the maracas, but another Ortiz, George Ortiz, is a very strong presence on the bongo de monte, the backbone to everything as Yosmel Montejo plays a trippy bass. I don’t know if his approach is standard to changui, which is the predecessor to salsa, but it’s intriguing as hell, highly punctuated and intermittent yet perfectly placed in every sense. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, not in jazz, not in World, not in prog, nowhere. The thinking behind his lines comes from another place, and he’s in every inch of this CD, so…how satisfying that trad can also be quite unorthodox in the right hands and, Mr. Ortiz included, there are five sets of them wherever you turn here.