Today, Cortijo and His Time Machine y su Máquina del Tiempo is an essential recording. Still, when the album dropped in 1974, the progressive concept threw critics, listeners, and dancers for a loop.
In May 2019, “Jazz on the Tube’s” Kevin McCarthy interviewed the record producer and founder of Coco Records, Harvey Averne, who specialized in Afro-Cuban and Latin American popular music, Salsa, and the “New York Sound” and produced and released Cortijo and His Time Machine y su Máquina del Tiempo.
THE BACK STORY
In 1973, following the band Cortijo y su Bonche’s split, Rafael Cortijo found himself without a band. He met Pepe Castillo, a pianist, composer, and arranger while working on a WKDM radio commercial. Castillo shared that he had three new arrangements, but they were not Salsa music but rather International music with a very radical Puerto Rican flavor. Cortijo was intrigued.
Cortijo brought the concept of Harvey Averne. “The young guys (Castillo and Edgar Miranda) wanted to express themselves out of the box. They wanted to do something in jazz and survive as a jazz orchestra, but it wouldn’t happen. They needed someone like Cortijo to do it,” said Averne to Kevin McCarthy. “I asked him what it was, and Cortijo said, ‘I could describe it, but I would be wasting your time. You’ll need to hear it. It’s something different.’ Before that, it didn’t have the name ‘Time Machine.’ I gave it the name. I knew Cortijo’s past music and to see it grow into this. He was the Time Machine! It was not typical of Cortijo’s music. It was a one-time project where the old guy liked what the young guys were thinking and contributed greatly. Most bandleaders could not have pulled this off; it needed someone with the genius of Cortijo.”
Concerning “Time Machine,” a reliable source who preferred to remain confided in me, “La Maquina del Tiempo preceded Irakere and many other avant-garde groups. That’s why Pepe called it La Maquina del Tiempo. He visualized it would be understood after time passed. Pepe convinced Cortijo to do something avant-garde, chose the musicians and the songs’ order, and arranged and composed the album except for about three songs.”
The album “Time Machine” was recorded during various sessions in Puerto Rico and New York. It features a repertoire of Bomba, Plena, Guarachas, and Aguinaldos from the island’s Jibaro repertoire, blended with jazz improvisation, electric piano and guitar, lively and crisp percussion, and Brazilian influences.
When the album was released by Coco Records in 1974, it received mixed reviews. Some found the music “interesting” and “avant-garde,” while others considered it the “most brilliant Latin jazz fusion in the salsa tradition.” The unconventional sound of the music made it difficult for critics, listeners, and dancers to categorize. Additionally, Coco Records made the mistake of marketing the album towards the salsa market, which created a disconnect between the innovative nature of the music and the intended international audience. Pepe Castillo believes that the album would have been more successful if it had been marketed internationally, specifically at jazz festivals and in Europe.
When the ensemble debuted in New York at The Teatro Puerto Rico, the event was billed as “Juntos Otra Vez” (Together Again). The all-star lineup included a variety of Cortijo alums: The Cortijo y Su Combo All-Stars, El Gran Combo, Ismael Rivera y sus Cachimbos, and Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound. Cortijo’s Maquina del Tiempo was the featured act. A few minutes into Cortijo’s set, the dancers realized the tempos were too fast. “That’s not music,” they shouted, “give us Maquinolandera, Perico!” Then the shouts turned into “boos.” The group faired better at the Jefferson Theatre, where they were a hit with the progressive, Village, and Soho crowds, but later, Cortijo tamped down the repertoire to accommodate the dancers.
Musical Productions, a Miami-based label, acquired the rights to Time Machine in the mid-90s, with the intention of targeting an international audience. According to Castillo, the sales of the album were brisk in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Puerto Rico, making it a collector’s item and opening many doors.
Following their stint in the band Time Machine, Pepe Castillo and Edgardo Miranda decided to stay in New York and went on to form a highly-influential musical group known as Puerto Rican Folklore. Castillo was instrumental in the creation of the album “Banana Land” in 1984, and also came up with the idea of “Jolope: A Christmas Fiesta”, a documentary-theatrical-musical production.
Edgardo Miranda was arguably one of the most significant cuatro players in Puerto Rico and the U.S. In addition to being an exceptional improviser, arranger, and accompanist, there is speculation he was the first cuatro player to utilize the instrument in a big band setting. Also, Miranda was a member of Los Pleneros de la 21. Regrettably, he battled leukemia for several years and passed away at a young age. Also, Cortijo died of pancreatic cancer in 1982. Sadly, neither lived to see Time Machine receive the recognition it deserved.
TIME MACHINE’S IMPACT
Today, Time Machine is considered a classic. Still, Harvey Averne admits, “This album is one of the most respected, heralded, and awarded albums I’ve ever produced. It was voted one of the ten best salsa albums of all time, although I don’t think it’s salsa; it’s pure Latin jazz. Either way, I’m glad I didn’t roll it back.”
“What I think I hear Rafael Cortijo saying, in his monumental LP ‘Cortijo & His Time Machine‘ would go something like this,” says Professor Robert Farris Thompson, “My music is a time machine, and I will bring the past and present to a simmering boil over the tumbaos [bass riffing patterns] and guajeos [treble riffing patterns] of Afro-Cuban music. It will be Puerto Rico within Cuba within Nueva York within the world. We are on the move. You cannot stop us, let alone dictate academic boundaries.”
Rafael Cortijo’s album “Time Machine y su Maquina del Tiempo” is a must-have classic that’s easily accessible on most digital platforms.
1. Carnaval; 2. La Verdad; 3. Gumbo; 4. Baila y Goza; 5. La Lluvia; 6. De Coco y Anís; 7. La Tercera Guerra.
Rafael Cortijo: Leader, conga, bongo, percussion, lead vocal on “Carnaval”; Fé Cortijo lead vocal on “Coco y Anis”; Jose Nogueras: Lead vocal on “La Verdad”; Edgardo Miranda – Guitar; Gonzalo “Gonchi” Silfre – Drums, Percussion; Chigui Sánchez – Bongo, Bell, Percussion; Last.fm – Pepe Castillo & Cuatromania; Luis “Wisa” Velez – Bass; Fé Cortijo, Nellie Charriez, Gloria Archeval, Pepe, Jose – Coro; Brass on “Coco y Anís”, “La Verdad”, “Gumbo” (Puerto Rico) – Andre Torres (trumpet), Orlando Pabellon (trumpet), Héctor Santos (tenor, alto sax), Richard Keene (tenor sax); Brass on “Carnaval”, “Baila y Goza”, “La Lluvia”, “La Tercera Guerra” (New York): Lew Soloff (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mario Rivera (alto sax, flute), Ronnie Cuber (tenor sax, flute), Mike Lawrence (trumpet, flugelhorn).
Produced by Harvey Averne, Pepe Castillo.
Arrangements and Musical Direction – Pepe Castillo, Edgardo Miranda.
- Cortijo & His Time Machine y su Máquina del Tiempo: Production Info
- Carrasquillo, Rosa Elena – The People’s Poet, The Life, and Myth of Ismael Rivera, an Afro-Caribbean Icon (Caribbean Studies Press, 2014)
- Cartagena, Juan – Güiro and Maraca magazine (Vol.9, No.4)
- Maldonado, Wilberto Sostre – Boricua Jazz: Desde Rafael Hernández a Miguel Zenón – La Historia del jazz Puertorriqueño (Independent, 2019)
- McCarthy, Kevin (Jazz on the Tube) – Interview with Harvey Averne, The Making of Cortijo’s Time Machine (2019).
- Roberts, John Storm – The Latin Tinge – The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States (Oxford University Press, 1979)
- Thompson, Robert Farris – Nueva York’s Salsa Music (1975)
© 2021, 2023 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED