Joan Soriano Brings a Classic, Classy Dominican Bachata Party to Lincoln Center

by delarue

This past evening was a slinky feast of chiming, shimmering guitar overtones and dance beats that ran the gamut of music from the Caribbean and beyond. Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh described her mission as bringing “The height of quality art”  to the series of free shows at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd, and she wasn’t kidding. Dominican bachata star Joan Soriano is such an interesting, incisive guitarist that it was hard to sit and chill with a beer instead of joining the twirling circles of dancers out on the floor.

Are Soriano’s fans all snappy dressers? From the looks of this crowd, guys done out in ties and white shirts, women in red or blue dresses, they could school pretty much any posse of dancers in this city, fashion-wise.

The star of the documentary El Duque De la Bachata fronts a first-rate band with rhythm guitar, guiro, punchy six-string bass and a nimble bongo player who also delivered a subtly boomy dancefloor thud (hard to imagine, but just try) on double-headed tambora. As they brought the guitar up in the mix to open the show, it sounded as if the rhythm player was using an accordion pedal, his playing was that crisp and resonant. Soriano was even faster on his big acoustic-electric, opening with a cheery two-chord vamp. Finally we got some of the deliciously sliding bass that got so popular in bachata twenty years ago

Soriano’s songs tackle the battle of the sexes: there were come-ons, and boudoir vamps, and lots of laments. They did a four-chord doo-wop vamp with a big sputtering crescendo early on, then a slinky, jazzily pensive bolero-tinged ballad that built to an impassioned peak where Soriano kept it going with his spiky broken chords as the rhythm shifted toward classic Afro-Cuban salsa.

They opened the next one with a Bollywood riff and this is where the night really started to cook: some sweet rat-a-tat from the bongos on the turnaround, bittersweet minor-key changes to mirror the angst of the lyrics.

He took a familiar oldschool soul riff and tremolo-picked furiously like Dick Dale. The songs weren’t all just two-chord vamps, either, unexpected minor changes leaping in all over the place. The rhythm player took over lead vocals on the night’s most angst-fueled, biting number, the crowd singing the chorus back at the stage. Later Soriano gave his moodiest, most subtly compelling vocal to a catchy but downcast number that was basically classic Jamaican rocksteady with a bachata beat. 

When so much of bachata has been polluted by cheesy, formulaic Disney autotune radio pop, Soriano is a breath of fresh air straight off the Caribbean. Or, as the show built steam, more like a friendly hurricane. The next show at the atrium is this Oct 19 at 7:30 PM with hypnotic, kinetic female-fronted Mexican downtempo-trip-hop/folk-pop band Ampersan as part of Celebrate Mexico Now month. If there ever was a time to celebrate Spanish-language music, or Mexico, or the Dominican Republic, that time is now.