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CHANO POZO El Tambor De Cuba (Tumbao Cuban Classics) Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN

He was known as much for the salacious stories surrounding his death after an all-night Harlem drinking session as for his absolute mastery of the conga, but El Tambor De Cuba puts the focus back on Luciano “Chano” Pozo’s role as the rhythmic engine of 1940s Cuban music and Afro-Cuban jazz. A songwriter as well as a percussionist, Pozo’s contribution to Latin rhythms goes well beyond lighting the fire under Dizzy Gillespie’s Cuban jazz connection. Along with a stunning 150-page booklet, the three CDs here document Pozo’s work with and influence on every major Cuban musician of the 1940s, from Bebo Valdés and Arsenio Rodriguéz to Beny Moré, Chappottn, Perez Prado and Machito, exploring his efforts to link Cuban music to ancient African rhythms while moving the drum from the back of the bandstand to the front. Listening to El Tambor De Cuba is like hearing a history of Cuban music, including everything from wild big band tunes to intimate percussion circles, while the too-short collaborations with Gillespie and other bop cats show what could have happened. Essential.

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