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[Off The Record]
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Nelson Gonzalez

This New York–based Puerto Rican tresero has a CV that includes work with Eddie Palmieri, Cachao, and Conjunto Libre, not to mention participation on five Grammy-winning recordings. But his most impressive credentials are found in the crisply jangling melodies that ripple through these 10 classy tracks. The tres is a 19th-century Cuban remake of the guitar whose wide-spaced paired strings facilitate highly percussive melodies. It can take the cycling ostinato role typically reserved for piano, or it can solo with fiery speed, precision, and eloquence. On the slowly loping title track here, Gonzalez does all of that.

This set also features an array of sensational New York–based Latin players and singers, but there’s an intimate, small-ensemble feel that lets the tres come forward. "Santero de Buena Paz" reaches back to the elegant sound of early son, but we get plenty of heat too, as on "Juaniquita," a svelte son montuno that alternates racing instrumental interludes and slow, deliberate vocal sections rich with backing horns. There’s a freewheeling jam (descarga) organized around vocal chants, a romantic Puerto Rican bomba, and, for the closer, an instrumental tres feature, "Tres lindas Cubanas," that harks back to the late 19th-century danzón. Gonzalez threads together diverse elements of Latin music history with surprising grace.


Issue Date: December 6 - 13, 2001

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