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Chico O'Farrill & His Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra
Pure Emotion

That bandleader and arranger Chico O'Farrill is not a household name comes as no surprise; he hasn't recorded as a solo artist in three decades. Born in Havana, Cuba, in the 1920s, he migrated to New York just as the Cuban-jazz frenzy was about to hit. In no time, he was working with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Machito, helping to set the pace for the combustible mixture of hot Latin rhythms and stateside bebop. He was also adept at stirring in European classical music into the mix. Now, some 40 years later, O'Farrill is making soul-stirring music once again. Pure Emotion commingles the lessons he learned--and taught--during his early days, updating them with a stellar cast of musicians, including his son, Arturo O'Farrill Jr., an excellent pianist. The lushly appointed title track is a revamped version of a tune first recorded in the '60s. Evocative of the romantic works rendered by Duke Ellington bands of the '40s and '50s, it even features a Johnny Hodges­like alto chorus. O'Farrill's mid-'60s stint in Mexico City is honored by a funny, touching rewrite of "La Cucaracha," here titled "Variations on a Well-known Theme." (Nicky Baxter)

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Key Kool & Rhettmatic
Up Above

Like orbiting space travelers, Key Kool and Rhettmatic peer down upon the L.A. rap scene and sigh, "Compton, we have a problem." On Kosmonautz, East Coast­flavored boom-bap battles the evil forces of splaying gangsta funk and call-and-response hoochie banging. Kool's street-smart rhyming skills are canted toward conflict and highlighted on "Wreck N' Destroy" and "Brain Swell." With its melodic guitar loop and low-key keys, "Can You Hear It" stresses that words are as important as the music. Rhettmatic's production skills are massive--tight scratches, manipulated test patterns and reverberating bass booms. Sixteen tracks is a long time to listen to one emcee flexing, but special guests Saafir, Ras Kass, Voodu!, LMNO and Meen Green keep it fresh. The standout track, "Reconcentrated," evinces considerable knowledge about the Japanese-American internment camps during WWII. As with Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" or the Disposable Heroes' "Language of Violence," the tension on "Reconcentrated" is palpable as well as listenable, proving that gold brain is better than gold chain. (Todd S. Inoue)

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Iguana Jive
Off the Floor
Maddog Records II

Driven by harmonized vocals, heavy-handed percussion and tough-guy guitar solos, Iguana Jive's Off the Floor relies on the brand of good-time rock & roll played at fraternity barbecues or in the background during beer-drinking games. Guitarist Ted Welty pens catchy but lackluster rock tunes with an emphasis on guitar hooks and weaving melodic solos. Bruce Hornsby­imitation piano strains in both "Blue" and "Cover Me" add potency to the standard array of lead guitar, rhythm guitar and gruff vocals. The band wanders into blues territory with "More Than Meets the Eye," which is broken up with random commentary ("I eat grilled cheese and salami and still live with my mommy") and exits on a solid rock note. (Bernice Yeung)

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