Today, Cortijo & His Time Machine y su Máquina del Tiempo is considered a classic and a collector’s item, but when the album dropped in 1974 it threw the 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, whose record label specialized in Afro-Cuban and Latin American popular music, Salsa and the “New York Sound.”
The Back Story
In 1973, after the breakup of the group, Cortijo y su Bonche, Rafael Cortijo was between bands. By chance, he encountered the pianist, composer, arranger Pepe Castillo when they collaborated on a commercial for WKDM radio. According to Castillo, “I told him I have three new arrangements, but the music was International music, not Salsa, very Puerto Rican but radical.” Surprisingly, Cortijo showed an interest.
In turn, Cortijo brought the concept to Harvey Averne. “The young guys (Pepe Castillo and Edgardo Miranda) wanted to express themselves out of the box. They wanted to do something in jazz and survive as a jazz orchestra, but it wasn’t going to happen. They needed someone like Cortijo to do it. Cortijo comes to me with an idea outside of the commercial realm. I asked him what it was and he said, ‘I could describe it, but I would be wasting your time. you have 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! This was not typical Cortijo music. This was a one-time project where the old guy liked what the young guys were thinking and he contributed greatly. Most bandleaders could not have pulled this off, it needed someone with the genius of Cortijo.”
Under Cortijo’s leadership, the group rehearsed at a studio in Santurce, Puerto Rico for two months. The sessions attracted Johnny Pacheco, Charlie Palmieri, and Roberto Roena, who, upon hearing the music prophetically commented, “Rafa, you’re screwed! This music is 30 years ahead of its time, no one will understand it.”
The group recorded the album in multiple sessions in Puerto Rico and New York. The repertoire consisted of Bomba, Plena, Guarachas, and Aguinaldos from the island’s Jibaro repertoire, infused with jazz improvisation, an electric piano and guitar, crisp, lively percussion, and Brazilian elements. It was unlike anything Cortijo had done before.
When Coco records released the album in 1974 the reviews ranged from “interesting” and “avant-garde” to the “Most brilliant Latin jazz fusion in the salsa tradition.” Truth be told, the music didn’t fit into a conventional category, and critics, listeners, and dancers didn’t know what to make of it.
Also, Coco Records made the mistake of targeting the salsa market, which caused a disconnect between the concept and the intended audience. According to Pepe Castillo, “If we had marketed the recording internationally, to jazz festivals and in Europe, it would have been more successful.”
When the ensemble made its New York debut at the Teatro Puerto Rico, the event was billed as “Juntos Otra Vez” (Together Again). The all-star lineup included a variety of Cortijo alumni: 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 the 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 after that, Cortijo adjusted the repertoire to accommodate the salseros and dancers.
In the mid-90s the Miami label, Musical Productions acquired the rights to Time Machine and targeted an international audience. According to Castillo, “Sales were brisk in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Puerto Rico. The album became a collector’s item and it opened many doors.”
After Time Machine, Pepe Castillo and Edgardo Miranda remained in New York and formed the influential group, Puerto Rican Folklore. Also, Castillo was the driving force behind the album Banana Land (1984) and created the documentary-theatrical-musical concept, Jolope, A Christmas Fiesta.
Edgardo Miranda is considered to be one of the most important cuatro players in Puerto Rico and the U.S. In addition to being an exceptional improviser, arranger, and accompanist, there is speculation he may have been 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. Neither of them lived to see Time Machine gain the notoriety and recognition it deserved.
Time Machine’s Impact
Today, Time Machine is a classic but Harvey Averne admits, “This album is one of the most respected, heralded, and awarded albums I’ve ever done (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” (Coco CLP 108) would go something like this,” says Professor Robert Farris Thompson, “I shall honor my ancestors, their Kongo bomba rhythms from the north of Puerto Rico, but I shall also honor the individual dreams of my fellow Puerto Ricans in New York, adding to the fast tempo of the bomba a thousand reflections of what we learn and face and live in Nueva Yor—mambo, rock, son montuno, jazz, even the famous hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho scatting of Cab Calloway, if I so desire. 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.”
Track list – 1. Carnaval; 2. La Verdad; 3. Gumbo; 4. Baila y Goza; 5. La Lluvia; 6. De Coco y Anís; 7. La Tercera Guerra.
Personnel – 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.
- Album (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)
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