The Best Records of 2004 

From "indie rock" to mix tapes to y'alternative country.

Page 6 of 6

THE FRONTLINE
Who R You
What the Frontline lacks in figurative language, it easily compensates for in hooky rhymes and battle-rap rancor. But the best part of Who R You is E-A-Ski's production: the booms and slaps on "Uh Huh," the scraping sounds on "Smile for the Camera," and the funky looped bass on "What I Can" make this album both more infectious and more ambitious than most commercial booty-bangers. (Landmark Ent./Infrared Music Group)

MASTA ACE
A Long Hot Summer
Rife with Spike Lee references -- the album cover being the first, and most obvious -- and held together by skits featuring fictional mobster Fats Belvedere, A Long Hot Summer is a worthy homage to Masta Ace's native Brooklyn. The raps aren't too fancy-schmancy (mostly shaggy-dog stories about an MC on the grind), but with the addition of horns and melodic piano, the tracks on this album are beautiful. (Studio Distribution)

JESSE "CHUY" VARELA

OZOMATLI
Street Signs
The outspoken Cali groove band got national news attention this year when Texas cops busted the group for taking its party to the streets of Austin during SXSW. But Street Signs is a bigger story: Like every Ozo album, it's a rare look at struggle, oppression, and the possibility for hope. The band's fluency in English and Spanish helps cast positive messages that unite folks with potent beats, breaks, grooves, and real musical instruments. (Concord)

ROY HAYNES
Fountain of Youth
Not only is Haynes one of the best-dressed people in jazz, but at 79 he remains one of its elder statesmen. Still upholding his bebop royalty status, he is playing his ass off with musicians young enough to be his grandchildren. Fountain of Youth, recorded at NYC's Village Vanguard in 2002, explodes with young lions like Martin Bejerano (piano), Marcus Strickland (sax) and John Sullivan (bass). Plenty of Monk, Metheny, Berlin, Oliver Nelson, and more. (Dreyfus Jazz)

CACHAO
Ahora Si!
Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez is a godfather of Cuban music. Having innovated the mambo and descarga (Latin jam session), the 86-year-old is still going strong -- in fact, this CD and DVD package, produced by actor and director Andy Garcia, shows he's still one of the best. With a stellar cast that includes the East Bay's own timbales master Orestes Vilato, the jams are supercharged with rhythms that never let up, and superb soloists who breathe new-millennium life into these Cachao classics. (Cineson)

NANCY WILSON
RSVP
Jazz diva Nancy Wilson's RSVP ("Rare Songs, Very Personal") is one of her finest efforts in quite some time, packed with songs she'd always wanted to sing and accompanist friends that only complement and enhance her enrapturing voice. "An Older Man Is Like an Elegant Wine" with Toots Thielemans is a delightful example, but every tune here is special, blessed with the nuance, styling, and passion that only Nancy can provide. (MCG Jazz)

LOS LOBOS
The Ride
As one of the best road trips I took all summer, The Ride finds Los Lobos celebrating thirty years together with good friends and cool songs. "La Venganza de Los Pelados" with Mexico City's Care Tacuba was a fave, along with "Is That All There Is?" featuring East Los Angeles' Little Willie G and "Wicked Rain"/"Across 110th St." with Bobby Womack. Add Mavis Staples, Tom Waits, Rubén Blades, Elvis Costello, and others to the mix, and you'll agree this is quite a rendezvous. (Hollywood)

HAILA
Live
Don't expect much Cuban music to sneak over from the island anytime soon, given George W. Bush's reelection. It's too bad, because talents like singer Haila Mompié need to be seen to be believed. The former Bamboleo lead singer is riveting here, with great tunes like Ignacio Piñero's "Sobre Una Tumba, Una Rumba" and special guests including Chucho Valdés, Issac Delgado, and Mayito Rivera from Los Van Van. (BIS Music)

JOHN SANTOS Y EL CORLO FOLKLÓRICO KINDEMBO
Para Ellos
As a scholar of sacred and secular drumming traditions of the Caribbean, Santos is recognized worldwide as a master of rumba and bata drumming. On Para Ellos ("For Them"), he uses these traditional forms to honor departed masters like Mongo Santamaria, Julito Collazo, Oscar Valdes Sr., Chichito Cepeda, and Malonga Casquelourd. Rich, original songs with superb Afro-Cuban folkloric drumming make this quite a treat. (Machete)

ANTHONY BLEA Y SU CHARANGA
Virgen de la Caridad
Anthony Blea is a gifted Bay Area classical and charanga dance music violinist who is starting to blow up nationally with this debut release, which offers eight pieces with special guests including trombonist Jimmy Bosch and violinist Alfredo de la Fe. Venezuelan singer Eduardo Herrera is featured on the exceptional "La Cintura de Maria," which highlights this excellent introduction. (Hopping Mad Productions)

MIGUEL ZENÓN
Ceremonial
What alto saxophonist Zenón delivers on this Marsalis Music debut is a jazz style that blurs borders between the straight-ahead and Caribbean varieties. His melodic invention and ethereal harmonies create a thought-provoking lyricism, fueled by an exceptional band featuring Luis Perdomo (acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes), Hans Glawischning (bass), and Antonio Sánchez (drums). Zenón has arrived, and we should be glad. (Marsalis Music)

LOS ALEGRES DE TERÁN
Grabaciones Originales 1952-1954
This pioneering conjunto norteño duo tore up Oakland's La Paloma Bar in the '80s. Squeezebox, bajo sexto guitar, and their voices were all they needed to tell their Mexican corrido folk ballad stories. Grabaciones lovingly details the songs that put Tomas Ortiz and Eugenio Abrego on the map at their youthful best. (Arhoolie)

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