Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, February 03, 2005


A gorgeous and raucous Afro-Cubop masterpiece by Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie. Chano, a hot conga player from Cuba, played in Dizzy’s late ‘40s big band. He wrote the main themes of “Manteca,” or, rather, the main riffs, stacked one on top of each other, first the bass, then the low saxes and trombones, then the mid-range saxes and trombones playing a little higher in a “call” figure with the high trumpets wailing the response. Riff riff riff, energy and power -- Cuban-style riffs, ear-delighting and body-moving; and, like much riff music, going in circles, round and round, harmonically static -- which isn’t how jazz goes. Dizzy wrote a melodic, harmonically lush bridge, and the big band recorded it, with Chano’s hot congas, the wailing horns, hot trumpet solo from Dizzy, a hot tenor solo, until it comes back again at the end to the opening riffs, only this time Dizzy is yelling wildly -- “Manteca! Manteca!” -- a cry of exoticist liberation, primitivist intensity, until you learn -- or maybe you already know -- that “Manteca” means “grease” or “lard,” and that changes everything, it’s so un-cool, so goofy, so, so strange; and then, remember, in impoverished cultures grease and lard are big deals -- luxuries. Is that what Dizzy’s excited about? I’m guessing not; still, knowing the literal meaning of the word raises such questions, and the knowing does change everything about the record -- animal fat! animal fat! -- everything, except how it sounds.

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