Timbalero Tito Rodríguez Jr. Celebrates His Iconic Salsa Bandleader Dad’s Legacy of Party Music at Lincoln Center

by delarue

This past evening, veteran bandleader and percussionist Tito Rodríguez Jr. led his thirteen-piece band at the Lincoln Center atrium, in a celebration of the centennial of his late father’s birth. It was the younger Rodriguez’s first time time here since 2019, when the long-running, mostly-monthly series of salsa concerts ground to a halt before Christmas, and were then stalled out by a big water main break on Broadway. We know what happened after that. This show was was billed as a tribute to the Palladium in the mid-50s, where Machito, Tito Puente and the elder Rodríguez held court, reflected in a setlist and an oldschool vibe that would make a dedicated salsa record crate digger’s mouth water.

Rodríguez Jr. played pretty chill on his timbales throughout the show, setting the stage from the first number, spiced with Carmen Laboy’s smoky baritone sax and a straightforward, emphatic piano solo that hit a rumbling peak. They kept the web of rhythms elegantly undulating under the blaze of brass, a six-piece percussion section in front of two trumpets, trombone, the bari sax, piano and bass.

They slunk from carnivalesque hi-de-ho rumba to sunnier territory and then back in the second number, then picking up the pace with a lightly bouncing version of Rodriguez senior’s catchy anthem, Chevere, lit up with the light/dark contrasts of the brass against the baritone. That dynamic would resonate throughout the rest of the night, continuing with a more ramshackle take of Pajaro Lindo.

The singers in the band flirted with a pretty brunette recording video from the front row while the oldsters in the sold-out crowd, many of them from the projects a couple of avenues to the west, swayed and twirled further toward the back. Meanwhile, the orchestra returned to vampy 50s dance-craze call-and-response rumba with another hit, featuring a tantalizingly abbreviated trumpet-and-baritone duel. Kitty-boom, kitty-boom!

Mujer Erotica was next, the band working variations around a stark Dave Brubeck-esque piano riff to close the first set. They opened the second with another retro hit, Mama Guela, then hit a more jazz-inflected, untethered groove with a wry, cynical edge echoed in the sarcastic horn outro. The best song of the night, Bilongo came toward the end of the set, a smoky, Andalucian tinged, chromatically charged anthem. Tumbling minor-key riffage gave way to a couple of cheery two-chord Cuban-flavored numbers to wind up the night.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium on Broadway south of 63rd is April 27 at 7:30 with a popular return guest, maverick violist and film composer Ljova Zhurbin with his Trio Fadolin and his whole family, including his electrifying singer wife Inna Barmash as well as his parents, Alexander Zhurbin and Irena Ginzburg, who bedeviled the authorities throughout a pretty wild career in the Soviet Union. The classical concerts here don’t sell out as fast as the salsa dance parties, but arriving early couldn’t hurt if you want a seat.