Recommended Recordings To Practice With

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Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby The_Faniatic » Sat Jul 18, 2020 12:23 am

Hi All,

I'm new to this forum and am actually a student of timbales, but I figured this topic could apply to congueros and bongoceros, too. I'm wondering if there are any classic recordings that are frequently recommended to new students of latin percussion to learn from and practice with. I have an old Latin Percussion pamphlet/CD "Understanding Latin Rhythms" that's a pretty good intro to the basics, but I'm interested in actual albums of the greats that I can jam with as opposed to instructional materials and was wondering what you more experienced players might recommend.

Thank you!
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Siete Leguas » Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:14 am

Hello Faniatic, and welcome to the forum!

That's a good question. I would like to know what other forum members have to say too.

First of all, I'm not a very experienced player myself. I took up percussion about 10 years ago, when I bought a bongó and started messing around with it. At the moment I am learning to play congas as well, but not timbales (yet).

For me, the journey into (latin) percussion came in parallel with the journey of discovering new music that goes with it, as, before that, I had mostly only listened to music "in English" (rock and such). This journey of finding out about music has been (and still is) perhaps even more exciting than the drumming itself. Personally, I have discovered that I have a preference for old Cuban music, and when I want to jam to some recorded music, there are some recordings that I keep coming back to again and again. If you want I could give you a list of some of the many artists I like. I would have to give it a thought, but I guess many of the records I like to play to are traditional Cuban Son ensembles (Sexteto, Septeto, Conjunto...) and they might not include timbales. For old Cuban music with timbaleros, you might want to look for ensemble types like Charanga, Orquesta típica... Maybe some other members have more ideas.

I didn't know "Understanding Latin Rhythms", it's a very interesting record. The percussionists on that record (José Mangual Jr., Carlos "Patato" Valdez, Manny Oquendo (!), Milton Cardona...) ARE some of the greats! I only recently discovered a similar record series launched by LP around the same time. It's called Drum Solos vol.1 - 3. These have become some of my favourite records to jam to. The first half of the records have tracks with percussion solos played by Eddie Montalvo and Charlie Santiago (he plays timbales), and the second half are the same tracks without solos. I love those piano tumbaos with that kind of Fender Rhodes-y sound, I find them very inspiring to try out some ideas on the drums. Here is vol. 3 (the other two are also uploaded on the same Youtube channel):


But of course "Latin" music is much wider than Cuban (and Cuban-derived) music. I like a lot of other Latin styles too. One of my favourite ones to jam to is Peruvian Chicha, which is rhythmically based in Colombian Cumbia, but has a different instrumentation, including almost always timbales. In case you don't know it, the 2 CDs of the compilation "The Roots of Chicha" can give you a nice taste of it. Here is the first CD (the second is also on Youtube):


Cheers!
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby The_Faniatic » Sun Jul 19, 2020 7:38 am

Hi Siete Leguas,

Thanks for your reply to my post! It’s so nice to meet someone else with a passion for latin percussion. I’ve been an amateur musician throughout my life and know many musicians, but they all play rock or jazz, so there’s no one around me to learn from and share this incredible music with.

I agree with you about the joy of discovering new music that moves you. That’s been one of the great pleasures in life. I’ve been interested in salsa since I first heard it on public radio when I was young, but the language barrier always kept me at a bit of a distance until I decided I would learn Spanish. As part of that, I started really digging into New York Salsa and my love for this music convinced me to try to learn more about the various roots of Cuban music and to pick up the timbales. (I already play drum set.)

I really appreciate your recommendations. Drum Solos vol. 3 is awesome. I have a feeling I will be spending a lot of time with those recordings. Yes, “Understanding Latin Rhythms" is an excellent introduction to the various styles. I only wish the tracks were longer!
Last edited by The_Faniatic on Sun Jul 19, 2020 7:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Siete Leguas » Sun Jul 19, 2020 11:45 am

In son montuno/salsa, I especially enjoy the recordings of the NY/Miami label SAR for artists (singers) like Monguito "El Único", Mario Muñoz "Papaíto" (great percussionist as well), Henry Fiol... They are often long tracks in a laid-back tempo, with beautiful arrangements and solos played by "crème de la crème" musicians; they are also very clean recordings with a great sound. Perfect to play along to!

But again, that's just a personal preference of mine, and possibly without timbales...



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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Thomas Altmann » Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:46 pm

Welcome Faniatic,

actually Siete Leguas encouraged me to respond as well, since I'm not a timbalero either, at least not in the first place. However, like you, I too came from the drum set (which I still play, theoretically), and from 1979 up in to the late 90s, Salsa band leaders used me as a timbales player. So I have a little experience, but eventually decided to focus on hand drumming primarily. If I have some more gig-free time, I will definitely freshen up my timbal skills again. I really don't know whether there are dedicated timbaleros on this forum, or whether they are on vacation, or on Facebook.

The first music that you should play along with is simply your favorite records. That's my tip. If you are into NY style Salsa, I especially recommend Ray Barretto, Típica '73, Eddie Palmieri, and Conjunto Libre. These are MY favorite bands, for instance. I haven't checked out the entire Fania roost, I confess. Anyway, the only thing you should look out for is that you consciously choose music that is perfectly in clave, at least for the beginning. Because whether you are playing cáscara or montuno/mambo cencerro, you are actually lining out the clave constantly. So you have to develop a good clave feel from the start.

Of course, your timing has to be excellent, because you are playing on metal all the time, and that cuts through and determines the groove and the time feel of the band a great deal.

An important task of the timbales player in a Salsa or Mambo orchestra is structuring the piece and navigating the band through the arrangement, much as a big band drummer does. This refers to dynamics as well as to marking clave changes or transitions between sections, using short pick-ups or extended fill-ins, and occasionally punctuating brass figures and kicks. Be discreet with the latter, because you are dealing with dance music, and catching every note you read can jeopardize the groove. It's like playing in a Swing band. Reading will help you, by the way.

At first, it is essential that you learn when to play cáscara and when to play cencerro and have some standard fills at hand. A clean abanico is important.

Siete Leguas is absolutely right adverting you to charanga francesa, because that really is THE school for timbales. That's where you have to develop dynamic control and estilo típico. This is finesse music. And central to charanga music is, of course, the danzón. That's where you really play the instrument!

While the record that Siete Leguas suggested is great for practicing solo improvisation, you may also want to look for music-minus-one tracks to play along rhythm. Victor Rendón's timbales method has audio play-alongs. That's a nice book, anyway. Joe McCarthy has a book out called "Afro-Cuban Big Band Play-Along (for Drumset/Percussion)" that could help you. Or you take Robby Ameen's "Funkifying the clave". Both are more Latin-Jazz-oriented. Be careful with play-alongs offered on YouTube, because they may be out of clave!

Have fun!
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Chtimulato » Sun Jul 19, 2020 7:52 pm

Hello everybody.

I agree with every suggestion above. All these records/artists are very good to play along.

I may suggest also you use an app on a smartphone or a tablet if you want to practice slowly. I use Android, but I think it can also be used on iOS.
I suggest these, which are all affordable.

A clave app :
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mammalsoft.theclave

a "salsa app" with piano and bass :
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mammalsoft.theclave

and a percussion one :
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.funkydrumtutor.PercussiontutorUnity

They're all very useful too, since you can set the tempo and mute some instruments.
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby The_Faniatic » Sun Jul 19, 2020 8:01 pm

Thank you for the recommendations, Siete! I had not heard of these artists before and am really enjoying "El Unico" as I type this. I agree that the arrangements seem very approachable and the music is so joyful and uplifting!
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby The_Faniatic » Sun Jul 19, 2020 8:01 pm

Hi Thomas,

Thanks very much for your advice! I will definitely check out the artists you recommended. So far, my main inspiration has been the music of Héctor Lavoe. (TBH, it's probably crossed the line from "inspiration" to "obsession!") However, I also enjoy Rubén Blades, Willie Colon and Los Van Van. I suppose I will try to begin playing along with this stuff and then branch out as I discover additional artists.

Your comments about the role of timbales in the ensemble were very helpful and the point you made about being able to read was particularly on-point, as one of the mysteries for me so far has been trying to understand how the percussionists can keep track of all the synchronized rhythmic kicks with the horns. It makes sense that they would be working from written arrangements. Many years ago, I was a bassist and used to play in a jazz ensemble, so I have some experience navigating charts. In fact, for the salsa tunes I really love, maybe I’ll even try to write some charts for myself to help me learn the arrangements.

My other major challenge at the moment is learning to differentiate the various styles from one another so that when I listen to a track, I know a cha-cha from a mambo, etc. Afro-Cuban music is so rich that there seems to be an almost endless variety of new styles to learn. It seems like focusing on the bell patterns can help to identify the style.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply. I learned a lot from reading your post.
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby The_Faniatic » Sun Jul 19, 2020 8:09 pm

Chtimulato wrote:Hello everybody.

I agree with every suggestion above. All these records/artists are very good to play along.

I may suggest also you use an app on a smartphone or a tablet if you want to practice slowly. I use Android, but I think it can also be used on iOS.
I suggest these, which are all affordable.


Great suggestion! I will definitely check out these apps, as I have no one else to practice with yet. Thank you.
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Thomas Altmann » Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:33 am

Hi Faniatic,

I also enjoy Rubén Blades, Willie Colon and Los Van Van.


Of these, Los Van Van is the only Cuban band. Oddly enough, it is exactly the most problematic band in terms of clave. After the Cuban revolution there was a trend among some Cuban musicians to "free" themselves from the "dogma of clave". Juan Formell was a Beatles fan, Changuito dug Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby. The music of Los Van Van is Cuban pop music. Clave is there, but you can almost bet that the clave flow will be interrupted at one point or another. You can hear crossed clave with a lot of Cuban bands, like Irakere, and you could go as far back as to the Sexteto Habanero or the Trio Matamoros. I must admit that I like most of this music anyway, but there is one Los Van Van record that I can't even listen to. While we should perhaps re-think the clave concept in Cuban music in general, and relax a bit, I still don't find this clave treatment ideal.
Also remember that the music of Los Van Van is by definition Songo (meaning the style, not a particular rhythm); they were the ones who created it. It's definitely not Salsa.

It makes sense that they would be working from written arrangements.


I had the chance of meeting one of the leading Salsa timbaleros of all time, who cut some of the most pivotal Salsa recordings in history, and was surprised to learn that he could apparently not read music. I suppose he wasn't a singular case. He probably just played pick-ups when a cue was given, and whenever he guessed the phrasing of an ensemble figure, he hit it on trial & error basis. You know how that sounds. Anyway, we must recognize that there are musicians who can do it all just by ear. And before recordings or concert tours you usually have rehearsals.
Talking about myself, I have never been a great reader to this day. But the more I got into the professional field, I felt the absolute need to practice it. Writing out my own charts, especially for timbales, and then playing from them, was a good way to learn. I also decided I wasn't going to learn the 1000 arrangements that I'd be playing in my lifetime by heart. It just doesn't look cool for a Salsa band to have percussionists reading their parts on stage. I could imagine that in the top Salsa acts you are supposed to perform without written music and learn the stuff.

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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby The_Faniatic » Mon Jul 20, 2020 6:54 pm

Hi Thomas,

Thomas Altmann wrote:Hi Faniatic,

I also enjoy Rubén Blades, Willie Colon and Los Van Van.


Of these, Los Van Van is the only Cuban band. Oddly enough, it is exactly the most problematic band in terms of clave. After the Cuban revolution there was a trend among some Cuban musicians to "free" themselves from the "dogma of clave". Juan Formell was a Beatles fan, Changuito dug Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby. The music of Los Van Van is Cuban pop music. Clave is there, but you can almost bet that the clave flow will be interrupted at one point or another. You can hear crossed clave with a lot of Cuban bands, like Irakere, and you could go as far back as to the Sexteto Habanero or the Trio Matamoros. I must admit that I like most of this music anyway, but there is one Los Van Van record that I can't even listen to. While we should perhaps re-think the clave concept in Cuban music in general, and relax a bit, I still don't find this clave treatment ideal. Also remember that the music of Los Van Van is by definition Songo (meaning the style, not a particular rhythm); they were the ones who created it. It's definitely not Salsa.


Yes, my initial passion for Latin music was sparked by New York Salsa, but I do intend to work back and study the Cuban roots of the style. I will search out earlier recordings to practice with where the musicians are clearly playing in clave, especially charanga and danzón, as you recommended.

It makes sense that they would be working from written arrangements.


I had the chance of meeting one of the leading Salsa timbaleros of all time, who cut some of the most pivotal Salsa recordings in history, and was surprised to learn that he could apparently not read music. I suppose he wasn't a singular case. He probably just played pick-ups when a cue was given, and whenever he guessed the phrasing of an ensemble figure, he hit it on trial & error basis. You know how that sounds. Anyway, we must recognize that there are musicians who can do it all just by ear. And before recordings or concert tours you usually have rehearsals.
Talking about myself, I have never been a great reader to this day. But the more I got into the professional field, I felt the absolute need to practice it. Writing out my own charts, especially for timbales, and then playing from them, was a good way to learn. I also decided I wasn't going to learn the 1000 arrangements that I'd be playing in my lifetime by heart. It just doesn't look cool for a Salsa band to have percussionists reading their parts on stage. I could imagine that in the top Salsa acts you are supposed to perform without written music and learn the stuff.

Thomas


I've certainly encountered many talented musicians who play exclusively by ear, including professionals. Of course, recalling precise rhythmic accents in a complex arrangement requires a very good memory, so I think I would at least start with written music where possible and memorize it. I expect that I will have to create my own charts from recordings most of time, but that would probably be a good exercise, as I don't have much experience in writing arrangements.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences with me. This has been very helpful, as I don't know anyone else who plays timbales. May I ask, do you currently play in an ensemble?
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Thomas Altmann » Mon Jul 20, 2020 7:46 pm

Hi Faniatic,

May I ask, do you currently play in an ensemble?


No, I'm sitting in my practice room, playing congas and batá for myself. Before Corona, I played mostly drumset in New Orleans- and Swing bands and miscellaneous percussion in Fusion bands (not the 1970s' Fusion). The times when I played just bongos, timbales or congas in Salsa or Latin Jazz bands seem to be gone, which is sad, to be honest. As I'm formally retired now, I can afford to do my own thing anyway, without applying for gigs that happen to correspond to the tastes of a broader audience.

Before Corona, there had also been plans to finally form a Latin ensemble at the Hamburg Conservatory ("Hochschule für Musik und Theater") that I would direct. No idea whether this will ever materialize.

Aside from that, I have currently more time to write comments in newsgroups :wink:

Here are two examples of me playing percussion in the Fusion projects of pianist Lorenz Boesche:




I do intend to work back and study the Cuban roots of the style. I will search out earlier recordings to practice with where the musicians are clearly playing in clave, especially charanga and danzón, as you recommended.


Charanga is important to study in order to learn about the tradition of the timbales as an instrument.

The home of clave, however, is conjunto music, starting with Arsenio Rodríguez. I recommend Chappottín y sus Estrellas, like this one:
https://www.discogs.com/de/Chappottin-Y ... se/2954387. You might try to find some of the titles on YT.
Traditionally, conjuntos didn't have timbales, only bongos and one tumbadora (plus claves and maracas). You could play timbales along, but 1) the sound is not up to today's standards, and 2) at least my ears wouldn't want to hear any timbales in this style. Maybe the SAR productions that Siete Leguas recommended come close to that tradition. I haven't listened to the recordings yet.

Greetings,
Thomas
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby The_Faniatic » Mon Jul 20, 2020 8:50 pm

Thomas Altmann wrote:Hi Faniatic,

May I ask, do you currently play in an ensemble?


No, I'm sitting in my practice room, playing congas and batá for myself. Before Corona, I played mostly drumset in New Orleans- and Swing bands and miscellaneous percussion in Fusion bands (not the 1970s' Fusion). The times when I played just bongos, timbales or congas in Salsa or Latin Jazz bands seem to be gone, which is sad, to be honest. As I'm formally retired now, I can afford to do my own thing anyway, without applying for gigs that happen to correspond to the tastes of a broader audience.


Yes, coronavirus certainly has changed everything. I hope that we will succeed in getting it under control soon, but things aren't looking good in my part of the world right now. I must admit I'm a bit concerned that I will devote a lot of time and energy into learning timbales, only to find that there are no opportunities to play latin music with others in my area. However, I'm studying Afro-Cuban music mainly for my own enjoyment anyway and given my obsessive nature, it doesn't seem I have much choice in the matter! :lol:

At the very least, it's a fascinating diversion that will give me a much deeper understanding of this music as a listener.

Before Corona, there had also been plans to finally form a Latin ensemble at the Hamburg Conservatory ("Hochschule für Musik und Theater") that I would direct. No idea whether this will ever materialize.


I'm sorry to hear that. I hope it works out.

Aside from that, I have currently more time to write comments in newsgroups :wink:


Yes, and thank you for this!

Here are two examples of me playing percussion in the Fusion projects of pianist Lorenz Boesche:




Beautifully played! Thanks for sharing.

I do intend to work back and study the Cuban roots of the style. I will search out earlier recordings to practice with where the musicians are clearly playing in clave, especially charanga and danzón, as you recommended.


Charanga is important to study in order to learn about the tradition of the timbales as an instrument.

The home of clave, however, is conjunto music, starting with Arsenio Rodríguez. I recommend Chappottín y sus Estrellas, like this one:
https://www.discogs.com/de/Chappottin-Y ... se/2954387. You might try to find some of the titles on YT.
Traditionally, conjuntos didn't have timbales, only bongos and one tumbadora (plus claves and maracas). You could play timbales along, but 1) the sound is not up to today's standards, and 2) at least my ears wouldn't want to hear any timbales in this style. Maybe the SAR productions that Siete Leguas recommended come close to that tradition. I haven't listened to the recordings yet.

Greetings,
Thomas


Interesting. Thanks again for the recommendations. I have a lot to listen to and learn from!
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Siete Leguas » Mon Jul 20, 2020 11:41 pm

Impressive recordings, Thomas! Amazing sound, I had to run and get my earphones. It puts to move my wall-white ass, too :) Esa guataca!!
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Re: Recommended Recordings To Practice With

Postby Thomas Altmann » Tue Jul 21, 2020 10:11 am

Thank you Faniatic & Siete Leguas! Yes, I was proud to be involved in these - what I find: important productions. Important, because the material was rooted in tradition and at the same time original and progressive. The second video is from a CD that is based exclusively on old German folk songs, arranged and re-harmonized by Lorenz.

The guataca: not quite the Cuban design, but works just fine. Flea market, 1.50 DM.

One final remark, to be accurate: Conjunto music and Son Montuno are only the "home of clave" as far as band music (using European instruments of definite pitch) is concerned. Son is reported to have adopted clave from Rumba; but you can go further back to the Afro-Cuban musical traditions (Carabalí, Lucumí, Bantú etc.) and as far as Central- and West Africa itself. However, I speculate that clave as a spiritualized concept, as opposed to a physical instrument playing a concrete timeline rhythm, started with Rumba. In Son, I can almost hear how it took on shape during the Septeto period and started to reign with Arsenio's music and everything that came after.

This is only a sketch, really worth a dissertation (or two).

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