Well, it's been a long time, but I noticed that I reached 10,000 hits in my absence, so I felt it was a good time to return to reviewing. Thank you for continuing to read!
Let's start with a rather strange and ambitious piece of afro-cuban/latin jazz/exotica by Perez Prado, the mambo king. The titular Voodoo Suite is a side long, kaleidoscopic trip through the various jazz styles of the ages. If that sounds like a crazy idea, it is, especially for 1955.
The record starts out slow and ominous with very primitive, tribal drums. They are almost arhythmic, and presumably meant to conjure up images of cavemen pounding away somewhere in Africa at the dawn of civilization. Gradually, low key chanting fades in adding an air of mysticism to the proceedings. After a few minutes this breaks off suddenly for some of Prado's trademark shouting at his band members.
When he's done, the full band comes back in, this time adopting a more traditional Latin sound, and for a while it becomes almost danceable. This builds in intensity, developing themes and adding instruments until it finally bursts into a sudden explosion of bebop, with Shorty Rogers wailing away on his trumpet, totally in his element. It doesn't sound anything like what you'd expect from a guy like Prado, but it works.
After that, things slow down and the piece starts to live up to its title, rocking back and forth to swampy and sinister grooves. Then it's back to classic Prado style mambo for a while before transforming into a driving drum circle pattern with alternating solos. Themes are revisited and more styles are explored until it gets tough to keep track of them. The whole thing is a masterpiece of arrangement, whatever you think of the composition, and it's clearly something Prado put a lot of love into.
he second side is filled with Latin big band covers of jazz standards, exquisitely arranged and performed, but ultimately overshadowed by the jungle themed tour de force that precedes them. All in all, the Voodoo Suite is a daring, at times abrasive, at times beautiful achievement. Those curious about the more eccentric side of Latin jazz would do well to check it out.