Music

Joaquin "Joe" Claussell: Hammock House: Africa Caribe

A misguided attempt to class up some old salsa tunes by adding remixes, jazz piano, and Sacred Rhythms.


Joaquin "Joe" Claussell

Hammock House: Africa Caribe

Label: Codigo
US Release Date: 2011-05-17
UK Release Date: 2011-06-06
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Beware! This Hammock House: Africa Caribe album is on Fania Records, but it’s not a Fania compilation any more than Moby’s Play was a gospel compilation. New York DJ Joe Claussell has remixed, remodeled, re-recorded, and in some cases rendered unrecognizable 11 old Fania songs. One disc is a 70+ minute live mix, the other disc is nine songs presented as “singles”. Claussell has used Fania’s original multi-track tapes and his own cast of musicians to create a Joe Claussell album. So if you’re gonna enjoy Hammock House, you’ve gotta enjoy Claussell’s musical sensibility, and therein lies the problem with this album. Claussell’s own music just isn’t that good.

I should specify. Claussell’s mixing, recording, and percussion-playing are all fine, and those are all musical skills. Rather, his compositions aren’t that good. Specifically, the one wholly original Claussell composition, “Undeniable Love”, is something I never wanna hear again. It’s a lite-jazz-sounding bit of audio tissue whose highlight is an annoying “soaring” “guitar” solo played by an electronic keyboard. The Tracey-Thorny singer murmurs about her “ambivalence”, which songwriting scholars agree is one of the worst words you can use in song. (Show-don’t-tell and whatnot.) In fact, there’s no legitimate reason for “Undeniable Love” to be wasting space on this album.

Fortunately for listeners, Claussell has provided extensive liner notes and he explains the song’s inclusion: “to give this project a legitimate sense of today, of something new and something now that fits into the idea of Hammock House.” And then he explains how he and his brother José had to change the song’s rhythm from hip-hop to “Latin-flavored”, so that it would complement the other songs.

Yeah, two things about that: needing to change the song’s rhythm should have been a good clue that it doesn't belong here. And there’s nothing about “Undeniable Love” that sounds “new” or “now”. Smooth jazz radio from the ‘80s on would’ve lapped it up.

Two other Hammock House songs basically qualify as original Claussell joints. His remixes of Ray Barretto’s 1962 “Exodus” and Eddie Palmieri’s 1978 “Mi Congo Te Llama Medley” have very little to do with the originals, and plenty to do with ponderous three-chord jazz vamps. (“I’m not crazy about this song in particular,” writes Claussell of the original “Exodus”.) Hardly remixes, they’re new performances that use elements of the originals.

Overdubbed instrumentation pops up on all the other songs, too, and sometimes it’s decent. The Claussell brothers’ percussion fits right in, and even when a part is obviously new, the sonic difference doesn’t really matter. Plenty of old Fania stuff sounds weirdly overdubbed anyway, with elements popping out of the mix; that’s part of its charm.

Problem is, none of Claussell’s additions improve upon the original music. Sometimes his stuff even detracts. Celia Cruz’s 1965 “Changó” is, in Claussell’s words, “very minimal: just some 6/8-groove percussion with Celia singing/chanting over it.” He’s right. It sounds great! Sort of like some mysterious Yoruba ritual come to life. (It’s certainly better than her songs on Strut’s recent Fania Records compilation.) But when Claussell gets jazz pianist Bennett Paster to class it up with some portentous soloing, the whole thing moves into supper club territory. It’s the DJ/piano equivalent of William Shatner hamming up “Mr. Tambourine Man”.

Obviously, this is what remixers do -- they change stuff around and make it sound different. But -- and I say this not as a Fania fan, but as a listener with common sense -- the resulting music should also be good. On Claussell’s “Cosmic Arts Version” (ick) of “Changó”, the good stuff comes from Cruz’s original version, and Claussell’s additions mostly get in the way. The song sounds decent in spite of him. It’d sound a whole lot better without.

There is some good music on Hammock House, and Joe Claussell’s even responsible for some of it. “Lucumí” somehow manages to tighten up its source material, Palmieri’s ‘78 “Lucumí, Macumba, Voodoo”, while making it longer. Claussell gives the song’s instrumental freakout more noise and echo. And the three Mongo Santamaría tunes sound great no matter how Claussell smooths out their rhythms, which may just prove the indestructibility of Mongo Santamaría tunes.

Claussell has long been prominent in NYC’s house music scene, but he has strange notions of what the kids are listening to these days. “How many kids... now even know what Fania was?” he asks in the liner notes. “Maybe some of them might hear this and get turned on.” I dunno; at times Hammock House resembles one of those Grammy-winning Herbie Hancock tribute albums, or deep house night at Body&SOUL, or even the suede-chested tones of Chuck Mangione, but how many kids are getting turned on by that stuff? (Besides all the Destroyer fans, I mean.) Straight-up Fania albums are crisper, noisier, and way more exciting, and they have cooler album covers too.

Not that Claussell should have released a bunch of straight-up Fania songs. But that’s what I’d rather listen to, and I know plenty of kids who’d agree.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.