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FROM Jazz2Love

REVIEW for Unidad

Cuban bop or Cubop is not only the moniker of percussionist Alberto Nacif’s dormant Latin group through the 1990’s but it is a type of musical style in the jazz spectrum that is recognizable and easily persuades the body to move along to its rhythmic stride. Think of the theme song from the TV program Sex in the City, composed by Douglas Cuomo. Nacif tweaks percolating romps with woodwind and brass threading that finesses the Cuban-fermented bop style to a sophisticated vintage.

Aguankó’s 5th effort, Unidad, is filled with original Latin jazz arrangements. The recording features the core members of Aguankó, all coming from the halls of the Detroit area jazz scene. Hitting it off with the spicy mambo-clad furls of “Kintsugi,” the track is fraught with tingling percussive beats. Followed by the cha-cha chassis mooring “Discurso,” having an immediate effect on the listener’s hips, helpless to move to the cheery gyrations of Nacif’s congas and Charlie Miller’s fluttering trumpet.

The recording softens to a sultry simmer through “Dualidad” with Russ Miller’s saxophone helming the course, then shifting into the lulling bolero sway of “Dedication.” The lively mambo swish in the rhythmic pulse splayed across “Todo Es Todo” keeps the recording upbeat, then segues into the sinuous cantor of Russ Miller’s flute, traipsing along “Viaje Con El Viento” with a cool fluidity as the light trickle of Rick Roe’s piano keys pump up the jovial mood. Turning pensive through “Adios Amigo” while maintaining the upbeat percussive shimmers, the tangoesque strut of the horns scroll frolicking twists and spins adding to the Cuban jazz gourmet.

The press release for Aguankó details that “Alberto Nacif was born in Mexico City, and lived the isthmus state of Oaxaca on Mexico’s west coast where Cuban derived rhythms were part of everyday music. He began playing conga and bongo drums at a young age with local musicians in Mexico. He emigrated to Detroit, Michigan as a teen, and became involved in that City’s Jazz, Disco and Latin music scene, playing in multiple venues, but found the Latin Jazz muse by playing with saxophonist and composer Jimmy Stefanson’s La Combinacion.”

Several dignitaries south of the American border compliment their citizens, claiming their people are their greatest export. Perhaps Alberto Nacif is proof of that claim and is meant to be shared with the world.


FROM Jazz Journal UK

REVIEW for Unidad

Unidad is the fifth album from Detroit-based Latin jazz septet, Aguankó. It follows the release of Elemental in 2013, Invisible in 2015, Latin Jazz Christmas In Havana in 2016 and Pattern Recognition in 2018.

The band is led by conguero Alberto Nacif who emigrated from Mexico to Detroit in his teens. He studied percussion in Cuba and has performed internationally with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo Sandoval, John Faddis and Jane Bunnett. In the 1990s Nacif headed Latin-jazz group Cubop and for 10 years co-led Tumbao Bravo prior to assembling Aguankó in 2012.

Seven of the album’s 11 numbers were composed by Nacif with three by saxophonist Russ Miller and one from trombonist Christopher Smith. The latter features strongly on the catchy mambo opener Kintsugi, along with piano and percussion. That’s followed by a familiar-sounding cha-cha, Discurso, and then Dualidad with smoochy tenor sax and trumpet solos.

Dedicación is a wistful bolero with trombone, alto sax and piano centre stage. Another mambo, Un Poco Cubop, showcases more sax and trumpet with driving percussion while the bright and bustling rumba/mambo Todo Es Todo has a finely played trombone interlude and highlights Nacif on congas.

Viaje Con El Viento (“travel with the wind”) is a flute-led Afro rhythmic cha-cha followed by a second bolero in the melodic, dreamlike Un Ensueño. The next track, Intercepción, raises the tempo with dynamic timbales from Jose Espinosa and then in contrast the danzón cha-cha Adiós Amigo lowers it again. Espacio Verde, another mambo, concludes the album with spritely solos on piano, alto, trumpet and finally congas.

With crisp, fresh arrangements by Nacif and first-rate musicianship from all the band, this is modern Latin jazz at its best.


FROM Russell Trunk’s Exclusive Magazine

REVIEW for Unidad

Conga player, bandleader, and composer Alberto Nacif and the superlative musicians who make up the sizzling Latin Jazz septet Aguanko have a new, all original Latin Jazz recording titled Unidad.

Their 5th release as a band, self-produced, and released April 2023, it is comprised of 11 creatively fresh Cuban Jazz inspired pieces. The recording features the core group of Aguanko musicians from the incredibly rich Detroit area Jazz scene performing this music.

Their previous release, “Pattern Recognition” (released in July 2018) was well received by audiences and critics, and remained in the Jazzweek charts from September 10, 2018 to March 4, 2019 (24 weeks!), was in the top 20 for four weeks, and peaked at #16. It was voted into the second round of Grammy voting, and in the top 58 for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards, but sadly did not receive a nomination.



REVIEW for Unidad

August 23, 2023

Latin jazz enthusiasts, welcome! Aguankó is the band of the percussionist and conductor, Alberto Nacif, and to tell you everything, he initially honed his percussion skills with the conga/bongo master, Armando Peraza (known for his collaboration with Santana).

Here, this group offers us the best of modernized Cuban jazz where rhythms and brass are perfected, making it one of the standout albums of the season in this unique style. If we delve into the musical arrangements of this album, we particularly love both its modernity and its ability to dive into a much older musical culture, making it an album that can be listened to attentively or can make you want to dance until the end of the night.


From Solar Latin Club

REVIEW for Unidad

July 28, 2023

5 años pasaron desde Pattern Recognition, la última producción que había grabado el septeto Aguankó. Liderados y creados por el conguero mexicano Alberto Nacif en Brighton (USA), Aguankó celebra con este quinto álbum, el cual lleva por título Unidad, su 10 aniversario.

Aguanko debuto con el disco Elemental en el 2013, mientras que en el 2017 presentó su segundo disco, Invisible (2017). Unidad, es un álbum precioso, contundente y nos embruja de principio a fin. 11 Números originales, con 7 temas escritos por el mismo Nacif, nos pasean por las sonoridades afrocubanas que se entrelazan a las del Jazz de manera categórica. Bolero, Guaguanco (Rumba), Cha Cha Cha, Danzon, 6/8 y Comparsa están a la orden del día.

El elegante y sofisticado Kintsugi Mambo sirve como prologo del disco, destacando, Christopher Smith en el solo de trombón, a Rick Roe en el de piano y, concluyendo, a Alberto Nacif en las congas y Pepe Espinosa en el timbal. El bello Dualidad, en ritmo de 6/8 y compuesto por Russ Miller, presenta a su mismo compositor en un solo de saxofon tenor, apoyado en un solo de trompeta a cargo de Charlie Miller. El nostálgico Bolero Dedicación lleva la impronta del trombonista Christopher Smith, también en el trombón, así como un magistral solo de Rick Roe en el piano Un Poco Cubop nos encanta, poniendo de relieve las ejecuciones de Charlie Miller en la trompeta, así como de su compositor, Russ Miller en el saxofón. Todo Es Todo es un movido y efervescente Mambo que alegra para el baile, presentando un solo de Nacif en las tumbadoras. Otra de las cuotas bolerísticas del disco es Un Ensueño, escrita por Russ Miller. Tanto para el melómano de oído exigente, como para el bailador, el tema Intercepcion se adapta a la perfección, dejando un potente solo de Espinosa en las pailas. Viaje Con El Viento es un cadencioso Cha Cha Cha con introducción de ritmos afro, donde Russ Miller deja huella con su flauta. El Danzón Cha Adiós Amigo nos evoca recuerdos de momentos vividos. Con ritmo de Comparsa, la pieza Espacio Verde es el epílogo de la grabación, con una línea de brass potente. Una comparsa se apodera del tema, dejando decisivos solos de Rick Roe en el piano, así como de Russ Miller y Charlie Miller en el saxofón y trompeta, respectivamente, mientras que para concluir, Nacif se encarga de un endiablado solo de tumbadoras.

tracks: Kintsugi Mambo; Discurso Cha Cha Cha; Dualidad; Dedicacion; Un Poco Cubop; Todo Es Todo; Viaje Con El Viento; Un Ensueño; Intercepcion; Adios Amigo; Espacio Verde

Alberto Nacif – congas; Pepe Espinosa – timbal y Bongo; Rick Roe – piano; Christopher Smith – trombon; Russ Miller – saxofon y flauta; Patrick Prouty – bajo; Charlie Miller – trompeta

ALL About Jazz

for Pattern Recognition


Aguanko‘s composer, conguero and bandleader Dr. Alberto Nacif first stepped into the worlds of Latin and Afro-Cuban percussion alongside Cuban conga/bongo master Armando Peraza, the pillar of percussion fire who blazed throughout the Santana band’s first decade. On Pattern Recognition, Nacif teams with another legendary Cuban percussionist: José “Pepe” Espinosa, who jumps in on timbales, guiro and bongos, and doubles as producer of Aguanko’s third release.

Aguanko’s albums consistently run with the humming, precision consistency of an exquisitely tuned timepiece, and Pattern Recognition is no exception. The opening “Señor Smoke” (mambo) organically blossoms from its introductory bass line, trailing piano, percussion, bass and drum lines all in perfect balance, with horns emerging like flowers blooming off of their rhythmic vines. Muted trumpet sketches a classic Latin big band sound into the subsequent title track (also a mambo).

“Doctor’s Orders” (mambo) spotlights extended Latin jazz reflections from pianist Rick Roe and trombone player Christopher Smith, and winks at Dr. Nacif’s “other” profession as a family practitioner who earned his MD from Wayne State University and served as personal physician to Detroit’s esteemed trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. “Metaphorically Speaking” (mambo) burns with even more jazz fever from exhilarating trumpet and trombone solos (and is curiously annotated as Nacif’s nod to Charlie Parker‘s incendiary romp through the Tin Pan Alley classic “[Back Home Again in] Indiana”).

In fact, it’s tempting to wonder if Pattern Recogntion runs a little too smoothly. Running together five mambos out of the first six tracks (no matter how excellently conceived and executed) can create a sonic sameness that sparkles and shines but rolls past without pause or differentiation. Even so, it’s a comfortable glide along colorful, beautiful sights and sounds through the kaleidoscopic vision of southeastern Michigan’s beacon of Latin jazz heat and light.

Midwest Record

for Pattern Recognition

From Chris Spector, July 2017

AGUANKO/Pattern Recognition: So who says there can’t be killer Latin jazz from south eastern Michigan? You think they don’t like to party up there? Led by a conga cat with more than Tito Puente aspirations, put this on and watch the gringos get into the spirit of things—with abandon. High octane and sizzling, this is the stuff you know to always show up for. Well done.

Solar Latin Club

for Pattern Recognition

August, 2018

(Using Google Translate) “Aguanko returns stronger than ever. . . a well-crafted, serious and high-profile album.”

Review and feature in the December New York Jazz Record

for Latin Jazz Christmas

recommended in the 2017 annual gift guide on Page 15.

“For some it is the tree and the strings of lights and balls. For others it is gingersnap cookies and eggnog. Still others can’t be without the mistletoe candle. But without Christmas music, it is all a silent tableau, singularly bereft of cheer. Two of this stocking-full of Christmas jazz albums come from places where snow is a rarity but holiday spirit is clearly in abundant supply. The third takes literally that maxim of Christmas that bigger is better, from the tree to the size of the bow (meaning the box), by compiling classic holiday recordings by some of the legendary big bands. Aguankó is led by the jovial congas of Alberto Nacif and timbales (Jose “Pepe” Espinosa), bass (Patrick Prouty), piano (Rick Roe) and small horn section of saxophonist/flutist Russell Miller, trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner and trombonists Matt Martinez and Chris Smith. Latin Jazz Christmas in Havana is just what it promises: some of the best-loved Christmas songs reimagined for sand rather than snow. “Santa Baby” thankfully loses some its creepiness while “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot like Christmas” is made for dancing. “The Little Drummer Boy” begins charmingly only with percussion and flute before the band enter to liven up the solemnity. “Jingle Bells” is less, well, jingly and more suave and “We Three Kings” are kings of the Mambo. The album ends on a highnote with an expansive interpretation of “The Christmas Song” and a send-the-kids-off-to-wait-for-Santa peaceful “What Child Is This?”


Review in Latino Magazine

for Latin Jazz Christmas

by Mark Holston

As the holiday season rolls around every year, many can’t wait to plug into the sounds of Christmas standards interpreted by their favorite artists. Many Latin musicians have tackled this timeless genre, and the best recordings stand the test of time. One notable example: the collection of holiday favorites featured on Latin Jazz Christmas (Concord), a session starring Sheila E., Arturo Sandoval, Ed Calle, Poncho Sanchez and other notables that sounds as fresh today as it did when it was recorded 15 years ago.

In the same vein, but fresh off the vine, is Latin Jazz Christmas in Havana (Aguankó Music) by Aguankó, a Michigan-based group fronted by percussionist and composer Alberto Nacif. A native of the Oaxaca region of Mexico who is today a practicing physician in Detroit, Nacif has expanded his knowledge of Latin music idioms through frequent visits to Cuba to study with world class musicians in Havana. A man of many talents, he crafted this 10-track session to showcase a variety of tropical rhythmic styles. He applies them to such seasonal hits as “Santa Baby,” an album highlight, “Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Wisely, Nacif avoids overexposing himself with too many conga drum solos, relying instead on guiding the festive flow of cha-cha, mambo, bolero and guaguancó rhythms – among others – and letting his exceptional pianist, Rick Roe, and a four-man horn section take center stage. The arrangements are harmonically lush and the rhythms will get hips swaying. This is a recording you’ll instantly fall in love with.

Review in Latino Magazine

for Invisible

by Mark Holston

“Far beyond the joyous salsa-accented Latin jazz he and his group Aguankó generate on Invisible (Aguankó Music), Alberto Nacif is a fascinating cat. Born into Mexico’s influential Lebanese community (think Carlos Slim), for decades he has balanced maintaining a Michigan-based medical practice with pursuing his love of Afro-Cuban music. Nacif has made the pilgrimage to Cuban many times to study percussion with the island’s masters and has performed with a long list of giants, from Arturo Sandoval to Dizzy Gillespie. Fronting his own group and writing his own songs, the good doctor’s music prescription is a hearty diet of cha-cha-chas and mambos, rhythmically spiced by his roots-grounded conga playing. Nacif and Aguankó may be from the heartland, but the it is the heart of authentic Afro-Cuban grooves that beats throughout this satisfying set.”

Review in All About Jazz Webzine

for Invisible

Published: November 13, 2015

In 2012, conguero and composer Alberto Nacif, a Mexican native transplanted in Michigan, brought together some of the area’s most skilled Afro-Cuban and Latin musicians to form Aguankó. Their small ensemble with a large Latin jazz sound herewith follows up their self-produced 2013 debut Elemental with a sparkling new set entirely written by Nacif, featuring Aguankó percussionist Jose “Pepe” Espinosa serving for the first time as their producer.

“The idea for the title and the concept for this new Aguankó recording is the invisibility of forces that guide us, move us, inspire us,” Nacif reveals in his liner notes. “Love, friendship, respect, compassion, admiration, joy, longing…”

There is something undefinably and indescribably joyous about Nacif’s music, the band’s performance, and Espinosa’s production, on Invisible. A sense of collective joy—the joy of creation, the joy of camaraderie and collaboration, and the simple joy of music—bubbles up from the chirping percussion and sunny brass of the opening “Sur La Seine” (mambo) like a refreshing mountain stream. The trombone solo by Christopher Smith flies so fleetly that you ears nearly hear it as a trumpet, but there’s no mistaking the sound of Russell Miller’s saxophone, which teams with the crackling piano solo to turn up the rhythmic flame. A subsequent 6/8 mambo “Luna Roja for Armando Peraza” is an absolute frenzy of brass, piano, and percussion from start to finish; I genuinely don’t understand how someone could remain unmoved by this music.

On “Señor Belgrave,” Nacif features two of Detroit’s finest contemporary musicians, bassist Robert Hurst and trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. “Marcus Belgrave is a national treasure, and I am grateful for his gentle advice and longtime friendship. He is the dean of the Detroit school of good taste and style, and has been the master teacher to so many of us,” the composer explains. “It is no surprise that he picked longtime collaborator and bassist Robert Hurst to record with us, and his bass intro to ‘Señor Belgrave’ is a one-take wonder, and a master class in itself.”

The closing guaguankó “Un Futuro Brillante” (“A Bright Future”) certainly sounds like it. Trumpeter Anthony Stanco combines the bright and blazing best of Latin jazz trumpet legends Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval, while Nacif honors the sound and spirit of Afro-Cuban piano firebrand Arturo O’Farrill. Just like “Luna Roja,” this absolute hurricane of melody and rhythm is such inspired, and inspiring, music.

Alberto Nacif is also a (General Practitioner) medical doctor, and the music he makes with Aguankó sounds healing, soulful, and life-affirming. Nominated for Ourstanding World Music release by the 2015 Detroit Music Awards, Invisible has thankfully raised Aguankó’s visibility throughout the jazz community.

The latest review from Descarga.

EditorsPick: Alberto Nacif returns with his critically acclaimed group Aguancó. Nacif, composer, conguero and bandleader, is joined by esteemed Cuban percussionist José “Pepe” Espinosa (timbal, bongo, batá) who adds his islands essential, rich, flavor to everything he engages.

There’s enough swing and intelligence packed into these nine tracks to the power this city for a week. Wonderfully composed and tastefully executed, this is mambo-driven dance music at its best.

There is a carefully considered balance of rhythmic intensity and understated nuance that is at the core of Nacif’s arrangements. It’s this quality that has resulted in one the most satisfying, unified, albums produced this year.
Even the more relaxed-tempo tracks are so infused with sabor and groove that its impossible not to move your body. For example, the title track, Invisible, sung by Alberto Alberto, is a hauntingly beautiful bolero that morphs into a slowly boiling cha-cha-chá.

On the other extreme are tracks like Luna Roja for Armando Peraza, a full blown trombone and trumpet-framed party that shines like a beacon of Afro Cuban spirit. Nacif and Espinoza converse percussively in eloquent fashion here. Nice. And, then, guest trumpeter Marcus Belgrave nails it on Señor Belgrave, the danzon-chá.

Nacif is a superb conguero who refrains from going over the top. Oh, he can push it. But, like his compositions, he tends to favor a well executed phrase over fireworks simply for fireworks sake. That’s just fine by me.
This one is a treasure. A big DJ Alert, and Highly Recommended. (BP)

Descarga, May, 2015

Listen to Interview on WEMU

for Invisible

 “…listen to conguero Dr. Alberto Nacif’s band Aguanko and their CD “Elemental,” with special guest José ‘Pepe’ Espinosa. This will be one of the year’s best Latin Jazz projects, with sure shot radio hits…” – Nelson Rodriguez, May 2013, www.


Review from Latino MusicCafe

for Elemental

“Elemental” is the nice debut album of Latin Jazz group Aguanko. Led by Mexican Alberto Nacif and featuring Cuban percussion maestro Pepe Espinosa, the 10-piece ensemble released a delightful album that will surprise jazz fans. Read the full review

 We’re in print!

Check out the Summer 2013 Issue of Jazziz Magazine.


 Kerrytown Concert House show Review


Aguanko’s set included songs written by Nacif from the band’s recent “Elemental” CD on PKO records. It included great alto solos by Russ Miller, the spunky trombone of Chris Smith, the stratospheric trumpet of Paul Finkbeiner, the lively piano of Wesley Reynoso, and above all the cooking rhythms provided by bassist Pat Prouty, the phenomenal percussionist Jose “Pepe” Espinosa, and Nacif himself. Nacif is to be congratulated on this very well-conceived and executed project. His group can be heard regularly at Tio’s in Ann Arbor.

 Interview with WEMU

“Alberto Nacif is, as I like to say on the air, a physician, conguero and world-class human being. He has toured and performed with the legendary pianist Frank Emilio Flynn. He is the co-leader of Tumbao Bravo, along with sax and flute cat Paul VornHagen. He has also been working with his own band! They will be our musical guests at the Sesi Motors 5:01 Jazz show at Guy Hollerin’s this Friday Oct. 5 at 5:01pm sharp! I had the chance to catch up with Al last week when he paid me a visit at the record store along with Cuban percussion master Jose “Pepe” Espinosa (and Pepe’s lovely and happily pregnant wife Reina, carrying a little princess who will be with us soon!). We had a chance to preview a rough mix demo of the new band’s forthcoming CD, tentatively titled “Elemental” and slated for release in January. The name of the band is still in the works…stay tuned.”

Read the whole interview:

 Album Review from WEMU

There is much to recommend about “Elemental”.  The balance of ballads to bright, catchy tunes is perfect. The photos and graphics are sensitive and elegantly artistic. And, the recording quality is stellar.  As I listened, I recalled the crystalline audio quality of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Fiesta Mojo”. Try the comparison and I think you’ll hear what I mean. I think you’ll hear “Elemental” by Aguankó on WEMU for years to come. – Linda Yohn, WEMU, 2013.

Read the whole review: