mambo sinuendo

Ry Cooder & Manuel Galban

Lawrence Russell

MAMBO SINUENDO: Nonesuch [for Perro Verde] 2003

mambo sinuendo
Ry Cooder: slide & steel guitars, piano
Manuel Galban: electric guitar
Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez: standup bass
Joachim Cooder: percussion
Jim Keltner: percussion
Miguel "Anga" Diaz: congas

the deserted ballroom & other stories

Well, you're drunk now, stoned or something. Place seemed full when you got here with Lupa or Lorenna or whatever she calls herself... maybe it's the perfume... intoxi tropicale... maybe it's the way she's rigged out... tight skirt, red stilettos, nylons with seams up tha back, garter belt I bet... just like the fifties. What a babe... but where' she now? Place seems empty, like deserted, manny... maybe it's the music... those muffled, distant drums... urgent, narcotic, like second-hand smoke... and that reverbed guitar... sounds like it's coming from the trees on that Key over there... if that's what it is. Moon's gone behind the clouds. Jesus, where am I? A ballroom on the beach. Is like an old voodoo movie, The Island of the Damned... Alls I remember is:

it's the tone he's after

Talk to any guitar player, anyone who's been at it for a while, and he'll tell you it's all about tone. Speed and intricacy are beside the point -- it's the tone he's after.

Well, you want tone? You want something different? Mambo Sinuendo sounds as if it was miked with two hanging from the roof, a simple stereo capture that leaves the players with you in the room instead of you on your knees with your head stuck inside the amp. "Roxy" comes to mind... that raw club sound of the fifties before multi-tracking and digi signal processing. Cuba? Yep. Old tech alright, pre-Castro, just like the old Flash Gordon sedans you see on any Havana street. Sounds like all the gear is ancient, straight out of a small town pawnshop.

The music is dreamy, with an empty hall ambience, at times muffled as if it's just beyond the horizon. Like maybe Haiti is seeping into your sleep and you wake up with it in your head. Only you don't really wake up. Track 3, Los Twangueros, not only has the whammy bar guitar but also the ethereal vibraphone.. like moonlight on undulating water. Yes, it's big moon over the lagoon, hard-core mambo rhythm. The cloaked boom of the acoustic bass and the congas. Mambo? Can there be any doubt? Don't think so. Track 4, Patricia, is a reprise of the old 1958 Perez Prado hit... even if you were alive back then and have forgotten. Like a rumba crossed with swing. And Prado, remember, was the maestro of the mambo.

Manuel Galban and Ry CooderCooder we know... but who is this Manuel Galban? A Cuban guitarist, known for his work with Los Zafiros... a player somewhat outside of the envelope in Cuba, as the electric guitar has never been big there. Seems Ry had a hellofa a time getting this album made, despite the incredible success of the Buena Vista Social Club sessions. In fact, he was fined $100,000 by the US State Department for violating the embargo. Couldn't he have just met Galban in Mexico City or Madrid, recorded there? No way. The vibe wouldn't have been the same. The sidemen, like Cachaito on stand-up bass, Anga on congas... the chicks on Sinuendo, Juliette and Carla... it had to be Havana.

Herb Alpert blows a little sinuendo horn on the choral exit from the title track -- did he go to Cuba too? Probably not. The extra tracking, editing and mixing was done in L.A.

The danzon organ... Ry's pedal steel with its mai tai vibrato... Manuel Galban's twin-reverb tremolo... birds on a wire, baby. They might be onto something. Whole generation of fat men and women who just wanna forget about old age and existentialism, sit on the deck beside the barbi, drink rum n coke, listen to The Ventures, Santo and Johnny, Duane Eddy... cruise the Net looking for old High School sweethearts and a 59 Caddy in mint condition.

conversation with the gods

Guess I'm talkin' to myself now... in this empty ballroom, bottle of rum and a buncha old guys way over there playin' this strange music. What the hell -- evening started out o.k., drinks with the wife in the lobby of the hotel. She wanted to go see La Maison, buy some local jewels, so we hit the street for a lookaround before getting a cab. Kids ran up, grabbed her arm, she figured they were so cute... yeah, cute... slip her Gucci off of her wrist, so smooth she don't miss it till we having drinks in that bar Hemingway liked so much. Thousand bucks, manny... pissed her off so bad she went back to the hotel. Hey, wasn't my fault. I told her to read what The Lonely Planet says bout Havana. Don't wear panties, don't wear a watch.

What are they playing now? Once I Had A Secret Love... you gotta be kidding. Is like I'm in High School again, my hand up Suzie's skirt... uh, Lupa's. I'm focused now. She's got her tongue in my ear... man, she's like a freakin cobra...hey, manny, dos cervezas por favor. I love your band, I love Cuba.

Drink, senor?
Where're all the people? This a slow night, or what?
Is early, senor.
Hey, you know that chick... the one dancing by herself?
Lupita? Everyone knows Lupita.
She told me Ry Cooder be here.
Si? He might be here now.
Dang weird music, manny.
Is the tone he es after.
So what you folks call this?
I remember that. Hey mambo, mambo Italiano.
Mambo es special music, senor. Actually, es illegal.
Yes. That's why I whisper, senor. The mambo es a theme played in unison by the rhythm section... a transition between two passages of improvisation.
That makes it illegal?
No, no... es the old religion. Macumba.
Hey... Castro outlawed voodoo?
Be cool, senor. The night has ears. The woman you come with --
Yeah... what a fantastic body. Guess she's a hooker, eh.
Puta? No way, senor. That es Lupita.
Yeah yeah... everyone knows Lupita. Think she stole my wallet.
I think not. Lupita es the Mambo Queen. You are a lucky man.
She's a professional dancer?
You are a lucky man, senor. Will be a special ceremony tonight.
Special, eh.
Si. Nothing so rare as a green dog.
O.K. amigo, I'll have a Green Dog. No ice.

nothing so rare as a green dog

Cooder calls his new record label Perro Verde, which is "green dog" in Spanish, the term derived from the popular Cuban euphemism. He's not the first person to be spelled by the mambo... the modernist jazzer Stan Kenton and the composer Nino Rota who scored many Fellini movies were also aficionados. Here he uses the typical Cuban sextet: two guitars, two percussionists, bass and flute/horn/piano. It's a dancehall sound, where the foxtrot and the quick-step are ghosted within the salsa/mambo bass and conga bottom end.

Some of the patterns are very recognizable, like the Guantanamera refrain in Track 8, Echale Salsita... or the two note Tequila riffing of 2, Monte Adentro. Manny Galban gets really loose in Adrento... and maybe it's a disappointment that the track is faded so soon [it's under 3 minutes]. The title track is only 2:29 in fact and the entire album is just a coupla shots over forty minutes. Short-change? Probably a stipulation of Cooder's visa. The brevity fits with the dance-hall pop music idiom of the fifties.

"Mambo" derives from a West African Bantu term, meaning "a conversation with the gods". This is pretty secular music, Saturday night cigars and white rum variety... still, you better watch out: those vibraphonic guitars and jungle drums have a way of drawing a person into strange conversations in strange places.

Yeah. Nothing so rare as a green dog, amigo.

© LR 04/03


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