New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: dance music

The Pedrito Martinez Group Play Rugged, Sophisticated Cuban Grooves at Lincoln Center

The Pedrito Martinez Group are Lincoln Center favorites. Their Friday night show there felt like a block party. There was a comfortable, multi-generational, multicultural afterwork crowd in the house for the latest in the ongoing series of concerts by world-class acts from across the world of latin music. Lincoln Center calls it Vaya 63 since the atrium space is just south of 63rd Street.

The music was slinky, and raw, and irresistibly physical. With just piano, bass, percussion and lots of call-and-response vocals, Martinez kept the dancers on their feet for about an hour and a half. When a couple would sit down for a breather, another would spring up to take their place. It is physically impossible to sit still and listen to this band – your body rebels and begins to hurt. Much as there’s a gritty, no-nonsense, streetwise feel to their music, it’s also extremely sophisticated. Martinez plays a hybrid kit that includes both congas, snare, cymbals and plenty of other bangable objects. He was rocking his usual Yankees cap, this one with a bright gold metal logo.

Because he’s a generous bandleader and likes to keep company with musicians who have chops as daunting as his, Martinez switched to cowbell while his longtime co-percussionist Jhair Sala took a turn on the congas: it turned out to be the most boomingly adrenalizing solo of the night.

Throughout the set, they teased the crowd with false endings. Pianist Edgar Pantoja-Aleman opened the show with a display of elegant classically-tinged phrasing before buckling down into energetically tumbling salsa riffs and cascades. Meanwhile, bassist Sebastian Natal played with a growly, incisive tone, often spicing his hypnotic lines with hints of reggae or bachata. While the clave was always present, it also wasn’t ever completely straight up – there was always something going on between the beats, or against the beat, not to mention the constant jousting between Martinez and Sala. They hit a quasi-triplet gallop midway through which brought the rhythmic drive to a peak. They finally led the crowd in a familiar one-two, one-two-three clapalong at the end.

While the group didn’t take the songs as far into jazz territory as they can, they never stayed in one place for long, even as a tune would go on for ten or twelve minutes. Sala beckoned for “all the single ladies” to come down front and sing coros with him; a little later, they launched into a long, undulating take of Que Palo that started out crepuscular and mysterious but by the end was a triumphant anthem with polyrhythms and vocals from everybody. Pantoja-Aleman opened a recent Martinez original, Dios Mio – an OMG-good moment – using a cheesy 80s salsa romantica DX7 synth patch, but by the middle of the song, the congas were thundering and he was back on the piano. As the set went on, the jams got longer, with more sparring between band members. They closed with a joyous singalong of the salsa standard Bacalao.

“I’ve never known them to play with a setlist,” one audience member in the know revealed: Martinez simply called out the tunes and the band knew them. Martinez’s next gig is tomorrow night , Feb 28 at  7 PM at Subrosa on Gansevoort St.; cover is a measly $7. Then they hit the road for a long international tour. 

And the next dance party at the Lincoln Center atrium space, on March 16 at 7:30 PM features the first-ever US performance by the master musicians of the Festival Gnaoua et des Musiques du Monde in Essaouira, Morocco with Maalem Hamid El Kasri, Maalem Abdeslam Alikkane and special guest Maalem Hassan Ben Jaafer, leader of wildly popular NYC ensemble Innov Gnawa.

Spanglish Fly Bring New Relevance to SOB’s

Spanglish Fly packed the dancefloor at SOB’s last night. There would have been more people out there if had the club had moved more of the tables out, although plenty of the diners eventually ended up hitting the floor. For the rest of the posse who’d come out on one of the coldest nights of the year, Spanglish Fly’s psychedelic blend of classic salsa and oldschool soul kept everybody listening.

Spanglish Fly’s irrepressible sense of fun matches their originality. On one hand, they work a well-loved New York style of music: boogaloo, the magical Afro-Puerto Rican blend that first fermented back in the 60s in Spanish Harlem. On the other hand, Spanglish Fly are pushing the envelope. Just as Chicha Libre would take a theme by, say, Erik Satie and make a psychedelic cumbia out of it – and make it work – Spanglish Fly made a slinky dancefloor smash out of a familiar Woody Guthrie song. Bandleader/trumpeter Jonathan Goldman explained that his new version of This Land Is Your Land – retitled Esta Tierra – celebrated the same idea of of a world without borders, and without anti-immigrant bigotry, that Guthrie envisioned. And if there’s ever been a time to fight fire with fire with that idea, that time is now. That got the most applause of the night.

They set up that number with Ojala-Inshallah, aloft on a blast of tight, heavyweight minor-key horns over a careening clave pulse, spiced with Kenny Bruno’s tumbling Afro-Cuban piano.  As singer Palome Munoz put it, it’s about wishing for a better world. They’d gotten the night started with Boogaloo Shoes, trombonist Vera Kempster taking the first of several spine-tingling, uneasily sliding solos – she felt the room and then went with it.  Bruno brought both gospel and postbop jazz to Micaela, a slithery clave soul number.

With her powerful low register, Munoz brought the lights down to every ounce of noir in Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good. The band made straight up salsa dura out of it at the end, with another over-the-cliff trombone solo and then a jungle of polythythms with the four-man percussion section -drummer Arei Sekiguchi, conguero Dylan Blanchard, bongo player Ronnie Roc and timbalero Teddy Acosta – going full steam. 

A tight, terse instrumental version of Chain of Fools opened with a machinegunning bongo solo while Rafael Gomez ran that classic bass riff, Bruno adding rich washes of organ as the horns and percussion blazed overhead. The show hit a peak with La Clave e’mi Bugalu and its evocation of the classic 70s Fania era salsa. And that was just the first set.  SOB’s has been the band’s home base lately, at least when they aren’t doing weekly residencies at Barbes. Watch this space for their next big dance shindig. 

Forro in the Dark Bring Their Hypnotically Psychedelic Grooves Home from the Upper West

Some beats are dancefloor crack. Cumbia always gets everybody up out of their seats; at last Thursday’s mostly-weekly dance party at Lincoln Center, it was maracatu that finally brought the population of twirling couples to critical mass. Before then, it had been a slow night. Since the election, crowds everywhere have been sparse. People are either out protesting, or cocooning and trying to figure out what to do next. So watching Forro in the Dark as their roughly hourlong set got underway felt almost like a private party, which was cool.But it was redeeming to see the crowd grow to capacity, which is almost always the case at the atrium space here.

Forro in the Dark are Lincoln Center regulars. Where does the hypnotically bouncy Brazilian rainforest art-folk dance band play when they’re not here? At some hostile, overpriced Live Nation venue, where the simple process of getting inside makes you feel like you’re trying to break into Rikers Island ? No. Forro in the Dark are in the midst of what’s been a long weekly residency at Nublu 151 in the East Village, a comfortable, sonically excellent split-level space that’s a lot bigger than the old Nublu – although that’s kind of like saying that it’s larger than a Smart car. They’re there Wednesdays at around 10 this month; cover is $10.

There’s no small irony in that Forro in the Dark didn’t used to have an accordion in the band, even though their style of music is usually played on one. At this show, they had two, played by their new guy and by a guest from Paris who supplied whirlwind leads as well as rapidfire, tonguetwisting auctioneer-style vocals on one of the songs midway through the set. Frontman/percussionist Mauro Refosco joked that neither he nor his new bandmate come from forro territory in their native Brazil. Which might be one explanation for the vast stylistic reach of their music – that, or the simple fact that in the tropics, all the best bands play a whole slew of styles. To put that in perspective, imagine what would happen if Brazil, or Colombia, or Peru closed their borders to immigration.

The best song of the night was a darkly careening, vamping minor-key cumbia that definitely wasn’t Colombian. and it wasn’t Peruvian chicha either: it was the band’s own creatiom, shuffling along with raw, rustically chattering accordions and violin. The two similarly bristling, rumbling maracatu numbers were also a blast of tropical heat. Their guitarist – who used the bottom strings of his baritone guitar for slinky basslines throughout most of the show – sang a lilting number in English that was practically rockabilly.

Another number sounded like a Brazilian take on 60s Jamaican rocksteady – or was it that the rocksteady guys were ripping off the Brazilians back then? Likewise, the show was full of rustic old riffs that British blues bands, and American soul-pop acts brought into the American mainstream fifty years ago. Whoever wrote that oldies hit by the Rascals was definitely listening to this stuff at the time!

The next one of these free dance events at the atrium space at Lincoln Center is Feb 24 at 7:30 PM with funky latin jazz faves the Pedrito Martinez Group. Show up on time or you might miss out.

Ola Fresca Party For Our Right to Fight

There was a wild party at Lincoln Center this past Friday. It wasn’t a celebration of the events of the day – far from it. This was a defiant salute to immigrants and their vast contributions to American culture, instigated by a second-generation Cuban-American.

Ola Fresca frontman/crooner Jose Conde told the sold-out crowd of dancers who packed the floor at the atrium space that he was going to steer clear of politics this particular night, but by halfway through his band’s electrifying set of oldschool salsa dura, mambos and rumbas, he couldn’t resist sending out a dis in the direction of the Trump property a few blocks to the south. Resounding cheers from the twirling couples who packed the dance floor reaffirmed Hillary Clinton’s landslide margin of victory in this city in last year’s election.

The show started with a slinky, seductive, syncopated conga pulse behind Conde’s come-hither baritone. He explained that he was especially psyched to have a four-man brass section – three trombones and a trumpet – along with piano, bass and a three-man percussion section channeling decades of classic Afro-Cuban beats.

A “tale of temptation,” as he put it, was next. Conde took care to explain the blend of metaphors behind La Mano del Rumbero: the drum head being the drummer’s hand, and vice versa. Looking back toward the golden age Cuban salsa of Tito Puente, it was a launching pad for a long series of sometimes subtle, sometimes triumphantly emphatic cadenzas and turnarounds from the timbalero.

Where the night’s first set was for the lovers – winding up with a bouncy anthem chock full of steamy steam-table metaphors – the second was for the fighters. Conde kicked it off with the soul-infused Bandera, a stark and crushingly relevant immigrants’ cross-border narrative. Likewise, the dynamically shifting Conviviencia spoke to the need for burying the hatchet and building unity, a message that was hardly lost on this multicultural audience. Conde is a master at working the crowd: as the show built toward fever pitch at the end, the vamps got more expansive, the percussion breaks longer and by the end, it was easy to imagine a young Conde doing yoga on the beach in his old Miami hometown (true story), hearing classic Fania-era sounds blasting from a boombox across the sand and thinking to himself, “I can do this too.”

This concert was part of Lincoln Center’s Vaya 63 series (the atrium space is just south of 63rd Street). As impresario Jordana Phokompe reminded, her goal is simple: serving the needs of the community. Without any elaboration, she reminded everyone that New York is about thirty percent latino.

These free dance parties feature both big names from as far back as the 70s as well as more current talent; the next one is Feb 24 at 7:30 PM with the intoxicatingly fun Pedrito Martinez Group. In order to beat the line of hopefuls waiting patiently outside to get in, your best bet is to get to the space at least a half an hour before showtime.

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.

 

Saturday Night at Golden Fest: Best Concert of 2017, Hands Down

Game plan for last night’s big blowout at this year’s Golden Fest was to see as many unfamiliar bands as possible. That wasn’t difficult, considering that there were more than sixty Balkan and Balkan-influenced acts playing five different spaces in about eight hours at Brooklyn’s magnificent Grand Prospect Hall. The way things turned out, it was fun to catch a few familiar favorites among a grand total of fifteen different groups. Consider: when the swaying chandelier hanging over Raya Brass Band looks like it could crash on top of them at any second, and sax player Greg Squared has launched into one of his signature, supersonic volleys of microtones and chromatics, and singer Brenna MacCrimmon is belting at full throttle over a machinegunning beat, there’s no resisting that. You just join the line of dancers, or step back, take a hit of tequila  – or whatever your poison is, this is a party – and thank the random chance that you’re alive to see this.

If you’re hell-bent on being a counterintuitive concertgoer, you can kick off the evening not with the fiery brass music that the festival is best known for, but with something along the lines of the brooding Romany and klezmer guitar folk of charismatic singer Zhenya Lopatnik’s four-piece acoustic band, Zapekanka. Their set of Romany laments, drinking songs, and a folk tune that foreshadowed Django Reinhardt turned out to be a lot more bittersweet than the Russian cheesecake whose name they’ve appropriated.

It was good to get a chance to see Niva – kaval player Bridget Robbins, tamburists Corinna Snyder and Kristina Vaskys and tapan drummer Emily Geller – since they don’t play out as much as they used to, considering their members are busy with other projects. This was a recurrent theme throughout the festival. A straw poll of informed participants picked percussionist Jerry Kisslinger as king of the night, so to speak: he was scheduled to play with seven different groups, jams not included. He wasn’t part of this band. The quartet joined voices for about a half an hour of ethereal close harmonies over hypnotically circling rhythms, a mix of Macedonian dances and tunes from just over the Bulgarian border, even more lavishly ornamented with bristling microtones. Meanwhile, the circle of dancers in the upstairs Rainbow Room – much smaller than the venue’s magnificent ballroom – had packed the space to almost capacity.

Driven by Gyorgy Kalan’s austerely cavorting, rustically ornamented fiddle, the trio Fenyes Banda kept the dancers going with a mix of Hungarian and Transylvanian numbers. As raw and bucolic (yet at the same time very musically sophisticated) as that group was, it’s hard to think of an ensemble on the bill more evocative of a get-together in a village square in some distant century than Ta Aidhonia. The mixed choir harmonized in a somewhat subdued, stately set of Thracian dances, backed only by bagpipe and standup drum. The dancers didn’t quite to know what to make of this in the early going, but by a couple of songs in they were back out on the floor.

By half past eight, it was finally time to make a move downstairs for the mighty Kavala, who played a considerably more contemporary update on late 20th century Macedonian brass music, propelled by electric bass and drums. Trubas bubbled and blazed through fiery chromatic changes until finally, practically at the end of the set, star tenor sax player Lefteris Bournias took one of his signature, wildfire, shivery solos. Back upstairs, Ornamatik took a similarly electric sound further into the 21st century, the music’s fat low end anchored by nimble five-string bassist Ben Roston and frontwoman/trombonist Bethanni Grecynski. Their slinky, shapeshifting originals brought to mind Brooklynites Tipsy Oxcart (who were also on the bill, and deserve a shout for their incendiary, stomping set of mostly new material at Barbes Thursday night).

While the Roma Stars entertained the dancers in the big ballroom with woozy P-Funk synth in addition to the brass, ageless Armenian-American jazz sage Souren Baronian held the Rainbow Room crowd rapt. The octogenarian reedman’s most mesmerizing moment came during a long, undulating modal vamp where he took his clarinet and opened the floodgates of a somberly simmering river of low-register, uneasily warping microtones. And then suddenly lept out of it with a hilariously surreal quote – and the band behind him hit the chorus head-on without missing a beat. As far as dynamics and judiciously placed ideas and unselfconscious soul go, it would be unfair to expect other musicians to channel such a depth of feeling.

Although two of the acts afterward, Eva Salina and Peter Stan, and tar lute player Amir Vahab’s quartet, came awfully close. While his singer bandmate reached gracefully for angst and longing and also unrestrained joy, Stan was his usual virtuoso self. At one point, the accordionist was playing big chords, a rapidfire, slithery melody and a catchy bassline all at the same time. Was he using a loop pedal? No. It was all live. That’s how the duo are recording their forthcoming studio album, reason alone to look forward to it. Vahab’s wary, panoramic take on classic Persian and Turkish sufi themes, and his gracefully intense volleys of notes over twin percussion and otherworldly, rippling kanun, continued to the hold the crowd spellbound

By this time in the evening, many of the dancers had migrated to an even higher floor for the blazing, often completely unhinged and highly improvisational South Serbian sounds of the Novi Hitovi Brass Band. By contrast, Boston’s Cocek! Brass Band rose to the challenge of following Raya Brass Band’s volcanic set with a precise, wickedly intricate performance of their own all-original material, complete with their shoutalong theme song to close on a high note. Trumpeter/bandleader Sam Dechenne’s command of microtones and moody Balkan modes matched Greg Squared’s devastating displays of technique, if in a somewhat more low-key vein.

Hanging in the smaller rooms for most of the night while the biggest names on the bill – organizers Zlatne Uste and trumpeter Frank London’s klezmer ensemble on the top end – entertained a packed house in the ballroom, reached a haunting peak with  a vivid, hauntingly serpentine, all-too-brief set of Syrian exile anthems and lost-love ballads by levantine ensemble Zikrayat. Frontman/violinist Sami Abu Shumays led the group through this alternately poignant and biting material, the night’s furthest divergence from the Balkans into the Middle East, with his usual sardonic sense of humor and acerbic chops.

Finally, at almost two in the morning, it was time to head down to the main floor for the night’s pounding coda, from the night’s most epic act, massive street band What Cheer? Brigade. At one point, it seemed as if there were as many people in the group, gathered onstage and on the main floor as there were dancers, all romping together through a handful of swaying brass anthems that were as hypnotic as they were loud. The group’s explosive drumline had a lot to do with that. By now, the tequila was gone; so was a pocketful of Turkish taffy and Lebanese sesame crunch filched from one of the innumerable candy bowls placed around the venue by the organizers. Although everybody had been on their feet all night long, the remaining crowd looked like they really could have gone until dawn if the music had kept going. As the party did: a couple of rounds of ouzo and Souren Baronian classics on the stereo at a friends’ place up the block turned out to be the perfect way to wind down the best night of the year, musically speaking.

Night One of Golden Fest 2017: A Darkly Danceable Feast

It’s four in the morning as this is being written. Opening night of this year’s Golden Fest – the annual gathering of Balkan bands from around the world in Kensington, Brooklyn’s majestic, old-world Grand Prospect Hall – ended riotously about three hours ago with stomping, original brass band West Philadelphia Orchestra. Tonight is the big megilla, which starts at six, and tickets are still available. If you can afford to, go. It’s probably the best concert you’ll see this year in New York, maybe anywhere.

The overall experience last night was also old-world, in all the best ways. Eighty-year-old grandmothers danced with twenty-year-old dudes and gradeschool kids from what appeared to be every corner of the globe. Through five nonstop hours of music, the circles of line-dancers kept expanding, to the point where those who weren’t dancing either had to join the line or step off the dance floor. It was amazing how well about half the audience had the steps down cold, many of which are in meters considered to be very odd – at least from a rock or hip-hop point of view. The other half of the crowd were obviously somewhat mystified, but couldn’t resist joining the line and bouncing along. There were no judgments and lots of impromptu learning going on. And the music was sublime, as it has been since the festival was launched twenty years ago.

The most lustrously beautiful solo of the night came early, during a dance lesson: one of the truba players from Zlatne Uste, the original gangstas of New York Balkan bands, was responsible. The most dazzling display of technique, among hundreds of those, was the wild series of glissandos from West Philadelphia Orchestra trumpeter Koofreh Umoren. Their sousaphone player, Jimmy Parker, has terrifying chops as well, at one point taking an intro that hit notes that big fat low-register horns aren’t supposed to be able to reach, not even close. That beast of a band made a good headliner: in a short, barely half-an-hour onstage, they finally gave the night’s younger contingent the chance to cut loose to a pretty much straight-up 4/4 beat after an evening of the hypnotic kinetics that started a little after seven. Although a grandmother who looked about seventy was having plenty of fun taking a circle of oldsters down, down, down: how do you say “rock lobster” in Serbian?

Triage is the name of the game here. Tonight’s show features literally scores of bands on four separate stages: you can see a little of everybody, or focus on your favorites from around the world. Last night was a chance to hear four of the most exciting American – or mostly American – groups in the field, along with a goosebump-inducing opening act from Bulgaria. Zurla oboe virtuoso Milo Destanovski led that ensemble, Novi Maleshevski Zurli, through an otherworldly, booming vortex that was as ancient-sounding as it was sophisticated, both rhythmically and melodically. Like most of the music of the Romany people, Destanovski’s group plays microtonally, building an acidic mist that often brought to mind Moroccan jajouka music, rising high over a looming, stygian tapan drum pulse. Right from the start there were dancers out there, and they knew what to do.

The mighty, almost twenty-piece Zlatne Uste have been playing and writing their own rat-a-tat cocek dances and ominously resonant minor-key epics since the 80s. This is their festival, and this was their moment to remind everybody that their music is just as memorably eclectic as their collective address books are vast. A big Romany anthem was the centerpiece of a dynamic mix of acerbically chromatic minor key romps and an unexpectedly blithe, bouncy closing number, the band in the center of the dance floor, the eye in a growing storm of dancers.

Pontic Firebird – #bestbandnameever, right? – took the stage for what might have been the most expansive set of the evening. Jerry Kisslinger’s standup daouli drum and Paul Brown’s muscular bass kept a tight but slinky grip on the tricky tempos, beneath the serpentine lines of Adam Good’s oud and frontwoman Beth Bahia Cohen’s soaring, often searing microtonal violin. Then Good went down on the floor, switched to bass and anchored the similarly intense, even more microtonally magical sounds of Bulgarian band Cherven Traktor, fueled by gadulka fiddler Nikolay Kolev’s uneasy leaps and his wife Donka Koleva’s robust, elegantly ornamented vocals against Belle Birchfield’s spiky bandura lute and Zlatne Uste maven Michael Ginsburg’s sturdy tapan beats. Each of these acts will return in various spaces throughout the hall tonight: see you in the Rainbow Room at around 6:30!

Aurelio Brings His Irresistible Garifuna Grooves to Lincoln Center Next Week

This coming Thursday, Jan 19 at 7:30 PM there’s a killer dance party at the atrium space at Lincoln Center just north of 62nd Street. And it’s free. Over the past year and a half or so, these more or less weekly, sometimes more frequent shows have really caught on, and you have to get there a little early to get a seat – sometimes simply to get in. While crowds here are large and enthusiastic, security never lets the space reach the point where it’s cramped and there’s no room to move around. If you get there in time this Thursday, you will be golden, because the artist onstage is Aurelio.

Aurelio Martinez fronts the Garifuna Soul Band from La Ceiba, Honduras. They play Garifuna coast music that often sounds like bachata at doublespeed, although it has many other flavors, like pretty much all styles from that part of the world. There are echoes of roots reggae in the long vamps, and sometimes in the beats when it slows down, but it’s not reggae. Same deal with the salsa influence. Most of it is upbeat and irresistibly fun, although Aurelio’s band uses a lot of dynamics.

The last time this blog was in the house at an Aurelio show, it was the spring of 2015 downtown at the World Financial Center atrium where the Bang on a Can Marathon used to be held. Aurelio plays with the same kind of bright, stinging acoustic guitar tone – almost like a twelve-string – that’s typical in bachata. And he’s fast, firing off one long spiral after another. Sometimes he did that in tandem with his sensational lead guitarist, who shifted between joyous, bucolic Veracruz folk-tinged licks, Cuban-influenced interludes, starry reverbtoned psychedelia and on a couple of numbers, built an uneasy, echoey, dub-tinged atmosphere. That made for a striking contrast with all the scampering dance tunes, bringing to mind Burning Spear at his darkest and most Ethiopian-flavored in the mid-70s. Which makes sense in context: the Garifuna people have retained much of the African culture their ancestors brought with them after being kidnaped by 18th and 19th century slavers.

Surprisingly, despite all the props he gets for his chops, Aurelio only took a couple of solos, leaving the lengthy guitar breaks to the lead player. As the show went on, there were a couple of points where the band took it down to just the percussion section, which really got the crowd going. Aurelio’s bassist delivered a scrambling, nimbly melodic pulse that was the closest thing to classic salsa dura that anyone in the group was playing. The bandleader interacted with the crowd a lot; there was some “por ahi, por alla” type stuff, occasionally juxtaposed with some surprisingly dark, considerably more low-key, almost noir moments. If Aurelio hasn’t changed his steez in the eighteen months since this concert, the Lincoln Center show ought to be much the same.

Xenophiles Celebrate While We Still Can at Globalfest

Last night’s Globalfest multi-band extravaganza at Webster Hall began gently with Ranky Tanky – the Alabama Shakes of South Carolina retro gospel-pop – and ended with EDM in the basement and its even more stomping analogue two flights up. A packed, sweaty crowd got to revel in electronic musician/rapper Batida‘s sharp, sardonic sense of humor, his archive of Angolan beats and multimedia show, while the big rock room was bouncing with dancers getting down to the mighty shout-and-response of fourteen-piece Washington, DC proto-rap collective Rare Essence.

That’s the main premise of Globalfest. Over the years, the annual festival has become more eclectic, extending to acts from around the world whose music is more contemplative than danceable. Artists playing the three stages are staggered so that you can catch a little of everybody, more a nod back to the evening’s origins as part of the annual booking agents’ convention than to, say, Warped Tour. While Ranky Tanky was reclaiming the old Bible Belt folk standard O Death as a stark gullah hymn, goth-folk singer Maarja Nuut was doing her Estonian girl-down-the-well act one flight up.

The night’s most intricately entrancing moments happened right afterward, when alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa was joined by guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Dan Weiss, the trio working out new material over an exploratory forty-five minutes or so. Watching Mahanthappa air out one sleek wind-tunnel volley after another of variations on jaunty bhangra riffs was as adrenalizing as Abbasi’s own detours from sizzling, rapidfire raga-inflected riffage, to flurries of erudite postbop and the incisive, purposeful, judicious melodicism he’s made a name for himself with. Putting Weiss on a riser,  centerstage, reaffirmed the deep rhythmic roots of the ancient Indian sounds the saxophonist and guitarist have explored so individualistically both here and elsewhere.

But as inspiring as that set was, nothing compared to Hoba Hoba Spirit. They’ve earned a rep as the Moroccan Clash, and in a sense they are. Not only because a lot of what they play is punk rock with fearless, politically charged lyrics, but also because, like Joe Strummer’s band, they take that punk sound to so many different, complicated places. And there were times where it would have been just as easy to call them the Moroccan Stooges. When Strat player Anouar Zehouani, his amp ablaze with  a blast of searing, reverbtoned midrange, hit his wah pedal for a solo, he channeled Ron Asheton at his most surreal and incendiary.

Co-frontman/Telecaster player Reda Allali catchy, emphatic, minor-key riffs throughout the show,  opening with a rapidfire hardcore number straight out of the GBH catalog circa 1983. When charismatic singer/percussionist Othmane Hmimer put down his boomy dombek goblet drum for a pair of clanking qraqab castanets and the band launched into a hypnotically leaping gnawa groove, the crowd went wild: much of the posse from New York’s own Innov Gnawa, including the band themselves, were in the house. From there, drummer Adile Hanine and bassist Saad Bouidi shifted briefly toward roots reggae. There was an arena-rock number for whatever soccer hooligans might have been on the floor, as well as plenty of darkly slinky, serpentine art-rock. The group’s 2015 Lincoln Center debut was a lot more intimate and an awful lot of fun, but this might have been even better even though their set was shorter.

Which is where Lolapalooza-style staggered sets get vexing. It sure would have been fun to catch all of Ssing Ssing, who treated a crowd in the basement to a similarly slinky if completely different set of pansori-tinged Korean disco-punk. Bassist Young-gyu Jang played with a sly, note-bending edge that was as freaky as it was chic while the band’s three frontwomen – Hee-moon Lee, Da-hye Choo and Seung-tae Shin strutted and harmonized like a young Madonna on steroids. Dressed respectively as femme fatale, ingenue and badass, they kept a multicultural crowd on their feet and gave the downstairs headliner, Batida, a solid launching pad. Nights like these draw your eyes to the calendar: how many days are there left before 1/20/17 and we have to really dig in and figure out how – and if – we can stay on our multicultural feet in a nation fronted by an anti-culturist?

Three Nights in a Row at Drom: An Embarrassment of Riches

Last night at Drom, the crowd had reached critical mass by the time Innov Gnawa took the stage. It was the second weekend in a row that the seven-piece Moroccan trance-dance ensemble had packed a Manhattan club. This group is hot right now.

“What’s the appeal of this music?” the energetic, personable Virginia publicist asked the worn, haggard New York bass player.

“It’s the blues,” he replied, pulling himself out of a walking dream state. “You hear what the sintir player, the guy with the lute, is doing? He’s bouncing off an octave, but in between he’s playing a blues riff. Catchy, isn’t it? And I think that’s what people latch onto. That, and the castanets on the high end, and the bassline on the low, with the vocals in the middle. Total stereo from a thousand years ago.”

“I don’t really follow blues,” the publicist responded, guardedly. “I like Middle Eastern music.”

“Me too!” the bassist enthused. “This is the roots of Middle Eastern music, from North Africa. And my theory with the blues is that it’s in everybody’s DNA, everybody can resonate to it because the blues goes back to Ethiopia and that’s where the human species comes from.”

There were a lot of conversations like that over the course of the night. This weekend, the booking agents’ convention, a.k.a. APAP, is in town, which for ordinary people means that there are an unusual number of fantastic multiple-band bills happening for cheap or even free. The conventioneers call themselves presenters. Before you dismiss that as pretentious, consider that if you were a booker, you would probably prefer to be called a presenter. The mix of presenters, club people – the night was put on by the folks at Barbes, Brooklyn’s elite venue along with eclectic dance music label Electric Cowbell Records and Multiflora Productions – as well as random dancers got to enjoy a tantalizingly short set of shapeshifting, undulating grooves and energetic call-and-response chants in Arabic that began not onstage but on the floor in the middle of the crowd. What did it feel like to be literally rubbing elbows with bandleader Hassan Ben Jaafer, who, before he strapped on his sintir, walloped on a big bass drum slung over his shoulder? Thunderous fun. This music is obviously as adrenalizing to play as it is to be part of on the dance floor.

The previous band, Miramar, channeled a completely different kind of intensity. Singer Rei Alvarez rocked a sharp black suit, pairing off fire-and-dry-ice harmonies with his counterpart Laura Ann Singh, inscrutable in a vintage midnight blue pencil dress. The two looked like they just stepped out of a David Lynch or late-period Buñuel film, with music to match. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the most spellbinding performer of the night was keyboardist Marlysse Simmons, who played terse, elegant piano on several of the band’s moody boleros, including the opener, Sylvia Rexach’s classic Di Corazon, one of the saddest songs ever written. But it was her slinky, luridly tremoloing funeral organ on the band’s most haunting numbers, a mix of Rexach covers and originals that defines this band more than anything else. They made their way through a noir Vegas bossa that brought to mind Brooklyn art-rockers Tredici Bacci, a dramatic tango-flavored anthem with some rippling flamenco guitar lines, and a shattering version of Rexach’s Sin Ti. The rest of the material, afloat on a murky river of organ, channeled nonstop angst and longing. In all of latin music, the bolero is the ultimate expression of estrangement and angst: in the hands of this band, that atmosphere was relentless, and breathtaking, and in its own dark way as comforting as the Moroccan grooves afterward.

The night’s most dynamically captivating singer, among many, was Eva Salina, who’d been called in on short notice since Ethiopiques groovemeisters Feedel Band weren’t able to get up from Washington, DC in the snowstorm. Her longtime accordionist Peter Stan shifted from mournful ambience, to slithery cascades downward along with plenty of jaunty Balkan party riffage as the singer moved gracefully and eloquently from a brassy wedding theme, to a brooding abandoned-wife scenario, to an understatedly wrenching Saban Bajarmovic cover addressed to someone he never got the chance to say goodbye to. Eva Salina could front any Balkan band in the world she wants (one might say that she already has). Nobody works harder at getting the accents and ornaments right, or channeling the most minute expression of emotion or shade of irony. Midway through her set, she entreated the agents in the crowd to pair experienced artists with younger groups in order to keep the music fresh…and alive.

Alash were the funniest band of the night: the crowd loved them. The trio of multi-instrumentalist/singers Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Ayan-Ool Sam and Ayan Shirizhik take their bandname from a river in their native Tuva in central Asia, and they backed that up with a couple of sweeping, uneasily rustic pastorales blending spare acoustic guitar with wood flute and the group’s signature, oscillating throat-singing harmonies. There was also a rather spare, severe number that could have easily passed for American gospel or blues from the 1800s if it had English lyrics. But the big crowd-pleasers were the funny stuff: a swaying drinking song, a tonguetwisting number that brought to mind an auctioneer’s rapidfire delivery, and the catchy, emphatic folk tunes that they began and ended with. “Shoot,” barked Ondar as each reached a sudden, cold ending: it’s a fair guess that means something more optimistic in Tuvan than it does in English.

And Ladama, a pan-latin, mostly female (hence the name) supergroup of sorts – assembled under the auspices of the US State Department under Obama – opened the evening with mix of upbeat folk-rock, a hint of tango and a couple of serpentine cumbias. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, whose axe is the bandola llanera, which looks like a Mexican bajo sexto but sounds something like a baritone ukulele with more bite. Her fleet, flamencoish flurries on a handful of numbers made for some of the night’s most intense moments; otherwise, the band – including a couple of male ringers on accordion and bass, along with singer Sara Lucas, drummer Lara Klaus, conguera Daniela Serna and a violinist, kept a seamless bounce over beats from across South America, mirroring the band members’ diverse backgrounds. That was the night’s subtext. It’s hard to imagine the incoming Presidential administration having any interest in promoting music any more globally-inspired or edgy than Bon Jovi.