Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez is the modernist in the Buena Vista Social Club. The bassist from Cuba — who owes his New World fame to the celebrated gathering orchestrated by Ry Cooder that has since become its own cottage industry — works in musical forms that go beyond the BVSC’s pre-Revolution Cuban dance music and ballads. His superb solo debut on World Circuit/Nonesuch points a musical arrow toward the U.S. soul-jazz movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and he arrived at the Knitting Factory with musicians who excel at echoing the sounds of the recent, somehow forgotten past.
Cachaito’s particular brand of fusion is rhythmically heavy; between the organ of Bigga Morrison, the hand drumming of Miguel “Anga” Diaz and, of course, Cachaito’s bass, the soloists have an unerring and driving force underneath them. Truly, it pushes this music to a place that fans of jazz and Cuban music have rarely, if ever, visited; an area that accommodates the lengthy horn and woodwind solos as easily as it provides a frame for Manuel Galvan’s fragmented guitar work.
Cachaito, the 68-year-old nephew of the legendary Cachao, starts the show the way the disc begins — with the sound of a phone ringing. Dressed in a gold suit, he enters the stage, picks up his upright bass toward the left-hand side of the stage and solos, a signal that he will be distinguishing himself from his BVSC brethren who rarely step outside the ensemble format. As the evening progresses, Cachaito involves nearly every member of his band in duels, using playful calls and responses to toy with saxophone, trumpet, guitar and even congas.
Flutist Polo Tamayo is his dominant soloist, melodically soaring over this bounty of enchanting compositions as the others give the music its hardcore jazz appeal. Morrison, a Jamaican, grooms the presentation with bluesy organ fills that are more juke-joint than Havana dance hall. Evening’s liveliness is a tribute to the men at centerstage: Diaz, with his six congas in front of him, and bongo player Carlito Gonzalez.
The sounds produced by electric guitarist Galvan have their roots in the 1960s pop/doo-wop band he and Cachaito backed, Los Zafiros, and in the jazzier tunes, his solos provide an avant garde edge. Were Galvan an American, his solos would be labeled deconstructionist, played in shards of notes that go from the deep chorded lows to a piercing high end, consistently with the notes in between missing. Little of what he does is in the form of a run, the way American jazzers solo, and his disjointed and choppy style is a joy to behold; when he used the melody of “Rawhide” as a solo — played straight, mind you — it scrapped notions of familiarity and became something exotic. Cachaito’s openness to experimentation hangs over nearly every tune, especially one segment that found the ensemble reduced to bass, guitar and a DJ scratching.
Cachaito, who plays the bass with a distinct and rare forcefulness that heeds to the spirit of Charles Mingus, performs a body of work that is easily the most forward-looking of the BVSC — his album is actually the only progressive disc to emerge from the ensemble. Despite its lack of concern for retaining old world charms — it asks for listeners rather than dancers — his music is a rooted conveyance of island spirit, and as such the album provides an important demarcation in the evolution of Cuban jazz.