Aurelio and His Brilliant Band Bring a Tropical Dance Party to Lincoln Center
Midway through his full-throttle set Thursday night at Lincoln Center, Aurelio decided to get philosophical. Addressing a packed house in Spanish, the Garifuna guitarist/singer/bandleader explained that while he was writing the songs on his excellent new album Darandi, he found it imperative to stay in the moment and for the songs to reflect that. At that very second, his phone went off.
The audience howled. It was his brother. Considering the relatively early hour – around half past eight – and that Garifuna parties in his native Honduras start late and go way later, he can be excused for interrupting the show.
Much as what Aurelio plays is fun, upbeat dance music, it’s incredibly sophisticated. What an amazing band this guy has. The most spine-tingling point might have been where midway through a scampering, vampy, vallenato-ish number, he launched into a fiery, frenetic solo, his right hand a blur on his acoustic guitar. Then he raised his headstock in the direction of lead guitarist Tony Penalva and a duel began, the two weaving and bobbing back and forth, both of them completely switching up the rhythm. The second that happened, drummer Angel Suazo hit a big splash on one of his cymbals. But as the exchange went on, it was clear that he didn’t do it for the sake of his bandmates: they didn’t miss a beat. He did that for the dancers.
Who, at the end of the show, took turns leaping onstage and doing their Soul Train thing, moms and kids and pretty much every other age group showing off their moves, some of which were pretty impressive. Otherwise, packed on the floor, they sang along: the Garifuna diaspora seems like a big family. Which is how Aurelio explained the circumstances of having two bass players onstage. Benigno “Junior” Guerrero gave the first couple of numbers a fat low end and then handed his bass over to Alex Ciego, whose spring-loaded swoops and dives and gritty runs up the scale were a clinic in how to spice a song on the low end without wasting notes.
Meanwhile, Penalva twanged and jangled and spiraled through lowlit, reverbtoned psychedelic cumbia lines, starkly electrified Brazilian rainforest folk, some elegant bossa riffage and lots of jaunty licks that echoed both Veracruz son jarocho as well as vintage American C&W. Suazo and conguero Kelvin Martinez switched chairs a couple of times while Guerrero and Andy Ordonez built a bustling tropical atmosphere with their shakers. And Aurelio himself took a turn on the congas, reminding that before he picked up the guitar, he was a standout teenage percussionist.
All that served as a backdrop for Aurelio’s sometimes defiantly relevant, sometimes wistfully nostalgic songs, touching on topics as diverse as global unity, pride in African ancestry and the daily struggles of rugged coastal village life. Considering the events of the day, it made more sense than ever to celebrate the resilience of these people of latino and African descent.
These more-or-less weekly free dance parties at the Lincoln Center atrium space are addictively fun. The next one is tomorrow night, Jan 26 at 7:30 PM with the dusky, jazz-tinged Brazilian jungle sounds of Forro in the Dark.