Another great album you’ve likely not heard of…

This week, we look at another of my all-time favorite jazz albums: Arturo Sandoval’s Hot House. It’s an album that I always depend on to allow me to focus on whatever it is I’m doing. In fact, of all the tracks I’ve played that have been transmitted to last.fm, Arturo comes in 7th overall.

The album is one of the first albums that I had bought on my own (as in I got it based on it appealing to me without having had a taste of it in the past). I’ve had it ever since May of 1999 when the school jazz band I was in for the year took a trip down to Chicago. One of the things that the trip involved was a visit to the Jazz Record Mart which was still at 444 N Wabash St (and no, I didn’t need Google to remember that address ;)) at the time.

All this time later, I don’t remember exactly what hooked me on buying the album, it might have been the color on the cover, with the pastels, though I seem to remember there being a sticker on the shrink wrap that said something about being a Grammy-award nominee or winner.

Anyway, whatever the reason I bought it, the album is still worth paying full price for.

If you don’t know anything about Arturo, the important thing to know is that he is originally from Cuba, but has been a citizen since 1999. In fact, in 2000, HBO did a movie about him called For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. To this day, I have not seen the movie*, but from what I’ve heard, it was done really well.

I’ve actually had the chance to meet him in person. It was November of 1999, and we were attending a jazz clinic at a college up in Appleton. The first event we went to was a clinic and Q-and-A session he held for all the participants of the event. However, the bit that I still remember to this day was the concert.

He had flown in from Denver on that day, but thanks to some foul-ups in luggage, he didn’t have his usual equipment with him. That didn’t stop him from putting on an amazing show, with the major feature in the show being his performance of “Sandunga” where he did solos on just about every instrument available to him – the piano, trumpet, flügelhorn, drums, timbales, and even making rhythms on his stomach.

To top it off, some of us stuck around after the show and he came out to chat a little bit, while enjoying a cigar, and I was fortunate enough to have my copy of Hot House signed by him. Looking back, about the only thing that wasn’t perfect was that I didn’t have a camera with me, but I have my mental camera and I can still see the stage that he was on, and that’s all I need.

But I do digress back to the topic at hand. Hot House is one of my favorite albums, partly because of the history I personally have with it, but also for the fact that the music is just great to listen to. Interestingly, in my Senior year in High School, we played two of the songs from the album, partly as a result of us petitioning the director to let us play them.

The album starts out with “Funky Cha-Cha” – I think that if every album started out like this one does, you’d have people enjoying music more, but you’d probably have a lot more deaf people because right out of the gate, you have a trumpet glissando up to an approximate high-C and a pop! sound. It’s hard to describe in words what the song sounds like because of its just overall “poppiness”. If you have a listen to the Amazon sample of the song, you will hear the first 30 seconds of it.

The second track, “Rhythm of Our World”, is one of those songs that, for me, sets me in a good place. It starts out with the trumpet again, this time there’s no popping, but rather a very smooth flow, with minimal backing from the piano. It is some of the cleanest playing you will ever hear, with just an amazing vibrato when a note is held. Luckily, this is one of the songs that you can listen to in its entirety on Arturo’s official site – it’s well worth the five minutes.

Both of these songs are the ones that we played in my Senior year. I didn’t play the feature part on Rhythm, but I can tell you that the person who did play it gave it justice.

Then we head back into the driving jazz with the title track, “Hot House”. It’s in the style of almost power rock, but done with the Latin beat. Next up is the first of the two vocal songs on the album, “Only You (No Se Tú)”. It’s a love song performed in both English and Spanish; I don’t remember exactly who the singer is, but she has a very rich voice that perfectly fits the role that is necessary for this song.

The fifth track is the aforementioned “Sandunga” – again, it’s another powerful song, with a lot of the popping you find in Funky Cha-Cha. It features the late Tito Puente on the timbale, and some excellent solos by the house band. This is the other song from this album that is available in its entirety on Arturo’s site, another five minutes well worth the time.

Next is the second voice track, simply titled “Tito”. It’s an homage to Tito Puente, sung in Spanish by Ray Ruiz, and again features Tito on the timbales. It’s another excellent work that features lyrics such as this –

Para tocar al timbál
Tito tiene la llave
Si tú quieres aprender
Tienes el vida de saber

Translated:
To play the Timbal
Tito has the way(?)
If you want to learn
You have the life to know

Later on, the song goes on to say that he is the king of the timbál – which is a very true statement.

Up next is “Closely Dancing” (even though for some reason Amazon have dropped the C of the front…). This is a ballad-style tune, which shows off really how sensual the trumpet can sound, along with the amazing range that Arturo and his band have. However, the range that has been shown up until now doesn’t match the range that is used in the next track – “Mam-Bop”. Being another tune with quite a bit of ‘popping’, it fits right in with the rest of the album and has some amazing sounds in it, not only from the winds, but from the percussion section as well.

We then go back to another ballad with “New Images” – it starts out with the fluegelhorn, transitions to the alto sax, then builds more layers starting with the trumpet, followed by a guitar interlude and then concludes with the whole group playing their hearts out, led by the trumpets again.

Next is “Cuban American Medley” which, as the name suggests, is a medley of American “standards” played in a Cuban style – the first two are instantly recognizable as “Back Home Again in Indiana” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. Another tune performed is the “Little Lulu” theme – I’ll admit that I had to look that one up on the Amazon reviews as I don’t know where the sleeve booklet went for the album.

The album ends on a lighter note with “Brassmen’s Holiday”, which could almost be mistaken for the I Love Lucy theme music with other tunes mixed in, but it is its own piece and a fitting end to the album, with a final display of amazing range from Arturo and winds up getting you moving to the beat in the end, wanting to hear it all again.

That is one thing about this album – it never seems that once is enough. I know that I’m prone to going back and listening to it over and over again, just because it is such an amazing piece of work and worth listening to.

Should you get this album? Absolutely – even if you’re not a jazz fan, it’s worth listening to at least once. Of course, my opinion might be slightly tainted by the fact that I’ve met the man and seen him play in person, and that I’ve actually played songs from the album. Though you never know, listening to this album might change your mind. 🙂

Lastly, a mention needs to be made of his version of A Night in Tunisia. For years I’d had heard only the first half of the song, but recently have heard the full version. While it isn’t the most famous version of the song ever done, it is one of the best; it goes for 15 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like that long when you’re listening to it. Below is a clip from the Montreal Jazz Festival where Arturo played a version of Night In Tunisia.

Be forewarned though, that it gets cut off right before the end, and that there is synth playing involved.

Next week, I’m not going to feature an album, but rather a radio show about music…

*Actually, I did see the movie, but it was scrambled so I could only hear it (anyone else remember the days when you could watch the scrambled feeds of the premium channels? ;))