Spanglish Fly Push the Envelope with a Classic, Slinky Latin Soul Sound
Much as the hypnotically clattering opening track on Spanglish Fly’s new album Ay Que Boogaloo! is titled Bugalú pa’ mi Abuela, this isn’t your grandmother’s latin soul. For the the past few years, Spanglish Fly have been putting a spicy horn-driven spin on the classic sounds that percolated out of Spanish Harlem in the mid-60s, when the local Puerto Rican and African-American populations started what would become a legendary musical cross-pollination. Much as this is dance music first and foremost, the new album is packed with neat instrumental touches that flash by so fast that it’s hard to keep track.
And much as the record – recorded live to two-inch analog tape, available on delicious vinyl and streaming at Bandcamp -pays mucho respect to the greats who came before, several generations of Nuyorican multi-disciplinary artistry are represented. To kick it off, El Callegueso guests as emcee, as do a number of poets and personalities from across the decades on several of the tracks.
“This is Subway Joe talking to you from way back,” the godfather of latin soul, Joe Bataan grins as New York Rules slinks along. It’s a shout-out to the B train (and the scary shit that every New Yorker risks every time we swipe through, or jump the turnstile). The closing interlude, with its sly Ellington quote, is irresistibly fun even if it’s kind of obvious
The band reinvents Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good as Chica Mala Mambo, a brooding, simmering groove under Mariella Gonzalez’s gritty vocals, part brass and part smoke. Morgan Price’s smoldering baritone sax rises out of a jungle of percussion and coros on the outro.
Ojalá-Inshallah dances around a catchy, anthemic brass chart, proto-Afrobeat and latin soul mashed up like Hugh Masekela might have done it in the late 60s…but with hints of Arabic music. As with the rest of the tracks here, there are all kinds of tasty tradeoffs and interplay, in this case between Kenny Bruno’s piano and the percussion section – timbalero Teddy Acosta, conguero Dylan Blanchard, bongo player Ronnie Roc and drummer Arei Sekiguchi.
Gonzalez celebrates the Spanish Caribbean/New York, rural-to-urban connection in the summery La Clave e’Mi Bugalú, punctuated by a tantalizing breakdown, Bruno’s organ shimmering behind the horns and a thumping thicket of percussion. The most distinctly retro number, with its sultry jazz harmonies from the two frontwomen and mashup of jump blue and latin soul, is Boogaloo Shoes – tenor saxophonist Matt Thomas steps out on that one.
Mister Dizzy Izzy – a shout-out to Salsa Magazine founder Izzy Sanabria, featuring actor Flaco Navaja – hides an oldschool son montuno tune inside the band’s intricate interweave and a blazing crescendo driven by trumpeter/bandleader Jonathan Goldman.
Aretha sang about Spanish Harlem, but the group really take her sound there with a smoking,, boogaloo-ized reinvention of Chain of Fools, with sizzling baritone and tenor sax breaks, and percussion by Snowboy.
Swinging along over an incisive, LA Woman-style electric piano and organ groove, Coco Helado features an unexpectedly somber cameo by poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips. They wind up the party with the mighty noir soul anthem How Do You Know/Cómo Sabes, Paloma Muñoz’s richly brooding vocals over the uneasy, brassy backdrop that morphs into a streetwise call-and-response at the end. Goldman and the rest of the band find it appropriate that this multi-lingual, multicultural female-fronted mashup would be one of the first albums recorded during the scary first days of the current Presidential administration. If Putin’s big fat obese bitch in the Oval Office survives impeachment, he can always go see these guys at the Kennedy Center.
Spanglish fly’s next gig is at 8 PM on April 20 on a twinbill with wild Fela cover band Chop & Quench at Flushing Town Hall; cover is $16/$10 stud, and ages 13-19 get in free with school ID.