Anga Diaz Echu Mingua Review

Released 2005.  

BBC Review

Anga has chosen a sketchbook approach, dovetailing tracks together into an evolving...

Martin Longley 2005

The percussionist Miguel 'Anga' Diaz made his reputation with Irakere, the leading Cuban jazz ensemble, but departed their ranks in 1994. He went on to gig with saxophonist Steve Coleman and trumpeter Roy Hargrove, in whose bands he developed a taste for experimentation. Then, Diaz started playing on the various Afro-Cuban All-Stars projects in the late Nineties.

Although born in the cigar heartland of Pinar del Rio, Anga was soon drawn to Havana, where he won a scholarship to study classical percussion. After a spell in Paris, he's recently settled in Barcelona.

Anga's solo debut is the World Circuit label's most extreme Cuban fusion project so far, even surpassing bassist Cachaito's 2001 solo experiment. Anga played on that one, and Cachaito is one of the core band members for Echu Mingua, along with flautist Magic Malik and DJ Dee Nasty.

The percussionist sees his album as a spiritual invocation. Anga has chosen a sketchbook approach, dovetailing tracks together into an evolving miasma of traditional Cuban son, ritual Santeria call-and-response, hip-hop, jazz and salsa. New relationships are discovered during this merging process, creating an exciting panorama of misegenated sounds. Each instrumental element swells forward, then wafts sideways to make room for another, invariably returning later...

Diaz deploys at least five congas to create his dense patter, their skins tuned for maximum musicality. The French DJ Dee Nasty has a governing presence, supplying beats, scratches and snatches of vintage vinyl. Anga also uses four pianists: Irakere's leader Chucho Valdes, Roberto Fonseca (of Ibrahim Ferrer fame), David Alfaro (Afro-Cuba All-Stars) and Ruben Gonzalez (making his final studio statement).

"Tume Tume" features an impressive blend of Malian and Cuban styles, with Baba Sissoko guesting on vocals and sharply plucked n'goni. When Anga covers jazz standards, he ensures that they're worth doing differently. "A Love Supreme" has a slow hip-hop feel, with expansive string sweeps, then Anga plays the theme of "'Round Midnight" on an expanded seven-conga spread, aided by further lush strings. "Dracula Simon" is a purposely spacious trio probing, "Freeform" is as stated, with maximal turntable input, and then Irakere themselves rush in for the horn-blasting climax of "Carnaval".

Initially, it sounds like Anga is deliberately ignoring discipline, but familiarity makes sense of his brevity, as the listener adapts to each sharp swerve of style. Sometimes, ideas don't seem fully developed, but this itchy impatience soon turns into a distinct advantage.

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