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Wednesday, Apr 28 1999
Francisco Aguabella
Afro-Cuban rhythms are now so ubiquitous in jazz that their influence is sometimes hard to discern. Listen to even the cheesiest cruise-ship combo for long enough, and sooner or later you'll hear a "Latin" tune that vaguely hews to someone's idea of Afro-Cuban rhythmic structure. The style does have a clear lineage though, and Francisco Aguabella is one of the ingredients of its original evolution in the United States.

The Cuban-born percussionist was a member of the first wave of "master drummers" who visited the U.S. after Dizzy Gillespie hired conguero Chano Pozo in 1946, and he and a handful of others forever changed the evolution of jazz by injecting it with their unique Afro-Cuban sway. A native of the Matanzas region of Cuba, an area steeped in African tradition from the time the Yoruba of West Africa were brought there as slaves, Aguabella pioneered the use of the sacred bata (talking) drum in popular music and remains one of the world's foremost authorities on religious Afro-Cuban drumming.

Immigrating to the U.S. in 1957, Aguabella recorded periodically as a leader over the years, and his most recent album, Agua de Cuba, makes it easy to see why he's been a major influence on almost every Latin jazz percussionist from Mongo Santamaria to Poncho Sanchez. Like a few of his earlier recordings that have become collectors' items in the DJ market, Agua mixes white-hot Afro-Cuban originals with jazz and funk covers that sound like Cuban versions of the funk-infused late-'60s Blue Note "Rare Groove" releases -- imagine Lou Donaldson journeying to Havana in around '68 or so and you'll begin to get the picture. Given the fact that Aguabella is a high priest of religious Afro-Cuban drumming who uses his drums to communicate with his patron saint, Santa Barbara, his shows promise to be transcendent in more than just the musical sense.

-- Ezra Gale

Francisco Aguabella plays Thursday, April 29, at 10 p.m. at the Elbo Room, 647 Valencia (at 18th Street), S.F. Tickets are $7; call 552-7788. Also Friday and Saturday, April 30 and May 1, at Mr. E's, 2284 Shattuck in Berkeley, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15; call (510) 848-2009. And Saturday, May 1, at 2 p.m. at Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight (at Stanyan), S.F. Admission is free; call 831-1200. Finally, Sunday, May 2, at Fuel 44, 44 South Almaden in San Jose, at 4 p.m. Tickets are $10; call (408) 295-7374.

About The Author

Ezra Gale


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