From its Nagel cover to the haircuts and overall design – and first and foremost the music – Rio is as representative of the '80s at its best as it gets. The original Duran Duran's high point, and just as likely the band's as a whole, its fusion of style and substance ensures that even two decades after its release it remains as listenable and danceable as ever. The quintet integrates its sound near-perfectly throughout, the John and Roger Taylor rhythm section providing both driving propulsion and subtle pacing.
Freddy Cole is a marvelous singer, combining consummate ease with a lyric and acute sense of melodic and rhythmic phrasing. Whether it's the lost love of the title song or the reliable romance of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You," Cole's warm baritone creates the impression that everything he sings has been made up on the spot, as if every lyric is the current sum of his thoughts and experiences. That conversational art is much in evidence in this mix of Brazilian and jazz tunes, extending to the way Cole interacts with his sidemen and they with him. There are two basic groups here, an all-star Latin septet with arrangements by pianist Arturo O'Farrill and Cole's own working quartet, but there are also several permutations in between. O'Farrill's work is tailor-made to Cole's throaty voice, mixing it with contrasting flute and guitar and complementary trombone timbres, the latter provided by Angel "Papa" Vazquez, just one of several superb soloists. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander adds inventive, hard-swinging tenor to "I Concentrate"; Joe Beck's guitars define the delicacy of Jobim's "Sem Voce," sung here in the original Portuguese; and O'Farrill's piano is a dancing delight whenever it comes to the fore.
La Habana: Rio Conexion is saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera's attempt to bring the gospel of historical bolero to American listeners. These 12 cuts are steeped in the grand Cuban tradition and reinsert its cultural and historical center into a music that has been watered down to the point of being nondescript. But, of course, this is also a jazz recording, and D'Rivera is a jazz musician. The rhythmic and harmonic extrapolations are minimal, however, and focus on the integral form of the music whether it be the album's opening danza, Ernesto Lecuona's "La Comparsa," or the chorinho that closes the proceedings, Pixinguinha's "Segura Ele."