Many would argue that Giraldo Piloto has been the single most important figure in Cuban
music over the past 30 years. I couldn’t disagree. Percussionist from the outset of NG La Banda, he created a new role for the seldom used trap drums/pailas (timbales) combination and made it standard in popular dance music. He went on to author some of the great tunes of the ‘90’s, including La Charanga Habanera’s first hit, Me Sube La Fiebre.
Since 1995, he has led his own band, Klimax, for which he writes and arranges a large amount of the material. His Timba has evolved and matured, but it’s unmistakable for its richness, intricacy and Jazz. Piloto has opened a path for many others, yet follows one that is very much his own.
Klimax has not developed in a straight line. It’s early upward trajectory culminated, to my mind, in one of the greatest CD’s ever released. Oye Como Va arrived in 2000. This was followed two years later by an excellentLatin Jazzoffering. The 2000’s was not a good period for Timba. Most of those who led the way the previous decade became lost in commercialism or just faded away. If Piloto was not amongst these, he was not entirely immune to what was going on around him. There are few real gems in his subsequent albums of the period.
Solo Tú y Yo came at the tail of this period and features a number of guest singers. Its generous 14 tracks attempt to appeal to everyone, yet only a few deliver, for me, anyway. The arrangements are as busy and detailed as you’d expect, it’s the material that tends to lack interest. That, and at times, a mismatch of material and vocalists.
The title track shows Omara Portuondo at her best in the lushly orchestrated and supportive introduction. Her voice is too frail though, to compete with the montuno and slightly messy production in the body of the song. Similar holds true, I think, for Pablo Milanés’s contribution on Rosita Y Laura, but if you’re a fan of his quivering voice, it might just work for you. His daughter, Haydée, can handle a bolero nicely, but in Tu No Eres, is unable to adapt successfully to Klimax. The result is a fairly uncomfortable girly number.
Having waded through to track five, Dale Cuatro Malas is the first that holds me all the way through, and it also anticipates the direction subsequently taken by the band. This is followed by another episode in Piloto’s ongoing exchange with revered Venezuelan innovators, Guaco. Sung by their distinctive vocalist Luis Borjas, La Tentación, has a lot of Guaco about it and it smokes, in part on account of its sheer pace. The Reggaetón influenced La Matrícula is up next, and, if lightweight, it might appeal if you’re into songs about buttocks.
Towards the end of Solo Tú y Yo, Ella Es Culpable has Klimax’s stamp all over it, while ex-Azucar Negra singer Tania Pantoja sings a good lead on A Amarme Decídete. If that’s all that grabs me from a 14 track album, I feel a little cheated. Put into context, 4 or 5 decent songs was pretty good for the time, and still is for most bands. It was different in the ’90’s but today only Klimax releases albums of near enough back to back genius.