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Tego Calderon - El Abayarde Contra-Ataca

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Artist: Tego Calderon

Album: El Abayarde Contra-Ataca

Label: Warner Music Latina

Review date: Aug. 31, 2007

If there's a more important record to come out of Puerto Rico in 2007 than Calle 13's Residente O Visitante, it's gotta be El Abayarde Contra-Ataca (The Fire Ant Strikes Back), Tego Calderon's fourth album in just about as many years. The faults are easy to find: the near-abandoning of the revved up folklorico interludes that have always broken up Tego's beat-heavy repertoire; a number of tracks that stick closely to the reggaeton formula beneath candyass synth riffs and faux orchestra hits; and a regrettably short running time (his last album boasted 21 tracks with little filler). All of these misses can probably be attributed to the rushed release, timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Tego's film debut, the John Singleton-produced Illegal Tender, which hit theaters last week.

What Calderon gets right, however, outweighs most of the album's shortcomings. The opening track "Alegria" gets straight to the point with a sample from "Goldfinger" and gangsta synth so smooth it borders on Jacuzzi funk. Tego's unique drawl - partly world weary, maybe a quarter intoxicated, and refreshingly loose when contrasted with the autotuned chipmunkery of headliners like Daddy Yankee and Don Omar - probably looks like a bad idea on paper, but on 2006's polyglot The Underdog (El Subestimado), he slurred his way through West Coast beats, hard salsa with Oscar D'Leon, and dancehall with Buju Banton, miraculously keeping up with all of it. On ...Contra-Ataca, Tego's voice hasn't changed a bit, and in this case his vocal swagger grounds the album and lends a sense of authority to the occasionally derivative beats, largely provided by new and lesser known producers. While the bomba y plena interludes from his debut are gone, Tego still manages to slip in a good handful of roots, including the clarinet-driven cumbia of "Tradicional A Lo Bravo" and the ridiculously speedy "No Era Por Ahi," a largely electronic merengue that enters its own hip hop orbit under Tego's half-time rhymes. On the few cuts that don't venture far from West Coast funk, Tego's slack delivery and penchant for bittersweet melodic flourishes almost recall Tupac's sentimental side: presumably in tribute to Calderon's mother, "Por Mi Madre" ends the album and works into a quiet, acid jazz frenzy, complete with Moog-ish noodling, chiming electric piano and fretless bass.

There are a few moments when Tego's inherent bravado is actually outmatched by the producers' innovation, and these are the moments that will define not only this album but the shadow genre of reggaeton's underground. Calderon, although perhaps not as much as his peers Calle 13 (who's Residente makes an appearance on "Cual es el Plan y Eso"), has positioned himself as a king of genre he denies any part of, and although reggaeton's trademark rhythm surfaces more than ever on Contra-Ataca, his otherworldly excursions across the terrains of both world music and deconstructed electrofunk raise the bar significantly for more pedestrian artists. The crawling, thrusting bass 'n' drum undercoat of "Ni Fu Ni Fa" is as disarming as Timbaland's most taught beats, but the childlike African vocals that surround the mix hint at the song's true inspiration (as well as a recent destination for Calderon). The blending of earthbound spirit vocals and the grinding drum track sure as hell sounds like the music of the future: bulldozers meeting temples, jets crashing into mountains, and robots that bleed.

By Andy Freivogel

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