New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: latin music

Star Colombian Accordionist El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica Shreds at Lincoln Center

Alberto Jamaica Larrota a.k.a. El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica really is a king: he won the Leyenda Vallenato Festival in his native Colombia. He was also reputedly the big attraction at the final night of this year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival, a big event that this blog unfortunately had to miss. Trying to come up with words to describe his slinky, slashing, virtuoso performance this past evening at Lincoln Center wasn’t easy: this guy puts on a party. An all-ages Colombian massive filled the dancefloor and packed the seats at the Broadway atrium space to watch the accordionist/bandleader and an unusually small five-piece lineup – bass, guiro, tambor and vocals – run through a set of hits that even got the people in the press seats up on their feet. Good luck trying to write, or text, or do much of anything other than dancing, in the middle of that.

The former construction foreman, who sold off his wardrobe and prized cassettes to buy his first accordion, is a pretty shy guy: he doesn’t even front his own band. But he shreds, building his way to a fullscale vallenato inferno. He and the group opened with a merengue-flavored tune, the bassist puncing his way up the scale to an enveloping solo. The clever shift from a circling 6/8 beat to a pretty much straight-up clave wasn’t lost on the dancers.

Tthe percussive attack of the second number more than counterbalanced the blithe tune ,Ironically, it was on the third song of the night, a slowly swaying cumbia anthem, where El Rey got shreddier. The one after that belonged to the bass player, slamming out booming chords and swooping octaves over the bandleader’s staccato attack.

A thundering cumbia hit by the late, great Celso Pina was lit up with hypnoticlly circling upper-register accordion riffage, as the rhythm shifted again to a straight-ahead dancefloor thud. Then they went lickety-split through a vampy two-chord number where it seemed like Beto Jamaica’x axe might burst a button or three. As these guy proved earlier during the show, they can slow the show down, just as they did at this point, and still drove the energy higher, this time around with sizzling minor-key accordion riffs, bass all over the place, haunting vocal harmonies and a thorny thicket of percussion.

From there the rhythms followed a roller coaster of dynamic shifts, El Rey paying his respects to his big Mexican influences as well as several squeezebox favorites from his home turf. Anyone in the house who was hearing vallenato for the first time got as solid an introducion as anybody could want.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atirum space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. – New Yorks best place for discovering new sounds from around the or world, or just revisiting them  is next Thursday, August 29 at 7:30 PM with the Haitian funk band that started it all, Boukman Eksperyans. If you’re going, get there early.

Accordions From Literally Everywhere Around the World in Bryant Park This Week and Next

Last week’s kickoff of the annual Bryant Park accordion festival was a chance to revisit some favorites and make some new discoveries. Organizer Ariana Hellerman, who for years published the extremely useful summer concert and events calendar Ariana’s List, has booked every conceivable style of music that uses accordion (and ringers like the bandoneon, concertina and harmonium) into the series. With the rainout this week, next week’s installment begins on August 7 at 5:30 with a series of acts rotating around the park’s four corners and also the Sixth Avenue terrace. The lineup includes but is not limited to klezmer/Mediterranean shredder Ismail Butera, the wryly lyrical Susan Hwang, Mindra Sahadeo (the ringer here) on Indian harmonium and the bouncy, effervescent Nordic Smorgasbandet.

Last week’s lineup was typically eclectic. The irrepressible, timeless Phoebe Legere can still hit those operatic high notes, and engaged the crowd with her quirky sense of humor. She spent most of her show playing to various audience members, encouraging random people to ring the dinner bell on her accordion, and at one point, trailing a cop who was making his way through the crowd. Her funniest number made fun of the OKCupid dating service and had a spot-on punchline.

Romany song maven Eva Salina didn’t let being pregnant with her first child phase her a bit: “Gotta work til I can’t,” she grinned. Her first set of the evening was a little more low-key than usual, full of angst and longing for home and alienated anomie. Singing mostly in Romanes, relying on a forceful low register, she covered both older traditional tunes from Serbia and the Romany diaspora as well as a couple of numbers from the catalog of tragic heroine Vida Pavlovic. Eva’s longtime accordionist Peter Stan supplied his usual chromatic fireworks with lightning trills, uneasy close harmonies and turbulent rivers of minor-key arpeggios.

Foncho Castellar drew the biggest dancing crowd, no great surprise since the Colombian expat played so many oldschool cumbias. His two-man percussion section, on guiro and conga, kept a tightly swinging beat going as Castellar began with a brightly pulsing vallenato number. Then he kicked out the cumbia jams, and picked up the pace even further with some merengue toward the end.

In two hours at the park, you can either catch full half-hour sets from as many as four acts, or wander around and sample everybody. From this perspective, the evening’s coda – one of the most sublime sets by anyone who’s ever played this festival – was a slinky, rapturously microtonal set of bellydance themes by the Egyptian-born Nabawy. Rocking a formidable, sleek black quartertone model, he started out with a stark chromatic dance in the western minor scale and then brought in the Arabic tonalities. For a drum, he plugged his phone into the PA and ran a couple of loops of traditional beats. A concertgoer went up to him to thank him for playing: the fast-fingered guy wasn’t satisfied with the electroacoustic element. “I’ve got to get some kind of drum,” he mused, shaking his head. It was hard to argue with thirty nonstop minutes of the otherworldly torrents he’d fired off; then again, he has a long background playing for dancers. Let’s hope he comes back.

Grupo Fantasma Bandleader Adrian Quesada Headines a Cutting-Edge Soul Triplebill at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

More about that oldschool and newschool soul triplebill at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on the 27th of this month: at 7 PM, British band the Black Pumas open the night, followed by late 60s singer-survivor Lee Fields & the Expressions. Headlining at around 9 are psychedelic guitar maven Adrian Quesada. leading a Texas soul band with a rotating cast of singers from his home state.

As the leader of Grupo Fantasma and its many, many spinoffs, Quesada is no stranger to fans of psychedelic and latin music. His main band’s latest album, American Music Vol. 17 is streaming at Spotify. It’s the group’s most political album, and one of their best, right from the ominous flurry of guitars that opens the first track Fugitivo, a cantering norteno desert rock number with spaghetti western riffage, lithe accordion and a grim narrative about being on the run, from La Migra, or more than one enemy.

Nubes is a sly, brassy mashup of psychedelic cumbia and salsa, while LT, a sex joint, has bright horn accents over a slinky, oscillating soul groove. The band go back to cumbia for the aching, bolero-tinged ballad Que Mas Quieres De Mi, then shift to a mashup of lowrider funk amd reggaeton in The Wall, a snide dismissal of Trumpie anti-immigrant bigotry.

La Cruda is a brightly bouncy, oldtime Mexican folk-flavored party anthem, followed by the gritty, anthemic, fuzztoned Nosotros, set to a circling beat that’s practically qawwali. The brand come across as a latin soul Rare Earth in Let Me Be, a defiant individualist’s anthem fueled by organ and guitar.

The group sandwich a brief dubwise interlude amid circling, dancing psychedelic chamame in Ausencia. They kick off the album’s most epic track, Hot Sauce with a trickily rhythmic intro and then hit a mighty, horn-driven cumbia sway, Quesada contributing his most incisive guitar work here.

Cuidado is hard-swinging wah funk tune with a growly baritone sax solo. The album’s best and most broodingly trippy number is Yo Quisiera, Quesada’s bittersweet wah guitar over moody organ chords; then the band make psychedelic salsa out of it. They close with the darkly otherworldly oldschool Colombian-style cumbia Sombra Roja, flute and accordion swirling over icy reverb guitar. There are as many flavors here as you could possibly find on both sides of the Tex-Mex border. Now imagine if this music, or this band possibly could have existed if there was a wall there.

Midsummer Night Swing Beats the Heat and the Odds and Keeps the Dance Going

The sky was somber and grey, and the humidity was heavy over Lincoln Center Saturday night. But the Midsummer Night Swing crew were ready. Anticipating the storm that had already delayed the Mets game further east, they started the show a little early. And then something unexpected happened: the wind blew the clouds out of the sky. Underneath, Los Hacheros took advantage of the reprieve and treated a park packed with salsa dancers to an epic show.

Their latest album Bambaluye – recently chronicled here – is practically punk salsa, since bandleader Jacob Plasse plays both his guitar and his tres through a distortion effect. Onstage, an expanded version of the five-piece crew were, if anything, more psychedelic, like a more electrified Bio Ritmo, or one of Harvey Averne’s early 70s South Bronx bands. Another even more expanded element was the songs. It was exactly what the dancers wanted: twenty minutes at a clip without a break so everybody could get down before the skies broke.

They opened with Pintate, a four-chord salsa anthem, Itai Kriss’ slinky flute handing off to Eddie Venegas’ fierce violin solo, the bass rising ominously as the chorus kicked in. They took it out quietly and counterintuitiely. Dispensed quickly with the coy faux-baroque intro to the most recent album’s title track, they got down to business, joyous and exuberant, frontman/conguero Papote Jimenez stoking the fire with his gruff, impassioned vocals. The longest song of the night featured a swirling, frantically flurrying solo from Venegas as the band hit their first peak; the final torrential crescendo was the night’s most chaotic. They flipped the script after that with a serpentine bolero lowlit by looming trombone.

In the background, the gaping windows of several grim, blacked-out apartment windows on the northwest corner of the housing project across Columbus Avenue were a reality check above all this revelry. Let’s hope everyone survived the fire and was able to find shelter somewhere; it’s hard to imagine anyone there being able to find similarly affordable housing in Manhattan anymore.

Midsummer Night Swing continues tonight, July 3 with the Sisterhood of Swing Seven, the allstar all-female band put together to pay tribute to the pioneering women of the 1930s who paved the way for this era’s explosion of talented women instrumentalists. Showtime is 7:30 PM; it’s free to get into Damrosch Park out behind Lincoln Center, $18 in advance for the dancefloor.

¿Que Vola? Put a New Spin on an Ancient Party Tradition at Lincoln Center

Saturday night, Lincoln Center was hopping with Afro-Latin sounds. Out back in the park, Los Hacheros said the hell with the threat of rain and gave the dancers a fiery launching pad for some serious moves. A couple of blocks to the south, winding up their debut US tour at Dizzy’s Club, ¿Que Vola? offered another direction for those ancient beats.

They’re a big, brassy newschool jazz group turbocharged by the whirlwind rhythms of three percussionists from Cuban ensemble the Osain del Monte Orchestra. One suspects that the trio are equally skilled at a brain-warping number of beats; at this show, their roles seemed clearly defined. Adonis Panter Calderon, seated in the middle, was the Secretary of Entertainment with his machinegunning flurries and live-wire crescendos, getting up at the end of the set to do a ritual dance as a shout-out to ancient spirits from the African motherland. To his left, Ramon Tamayo Martinez came across as the salsa maestro; to his right, Barbaro Crespo Richard served as a sort of bass player, holding down the center when things got crazy. And they did.

That didn’t seem to be the case as the group opened with massed, minimalist horns over a subtly shapeshifting intertwine of grooves. Until the individual voices loosened and solos began to appear, the sound was closer to indie classical than jazz. The rest of the night ranged between loosely contiguous Afrobeat and what sounded like boisterous old Yoruba shout-and-response chants transcribed for jazz instrumentation.

The biggest hits with the crowd were the percussion interludes. The three beatmasters played mostly on congas, shifting to the double-barreled bata for extra boom during one lengthy number. Martinez also had a cajon which he used sparingly. Meanwhile, bassist Thibaud Soulas played with the punch and stamina of a percussionist, running circular phrases over and over and taking the occasional stairstepping climb. Drummer Elie Duris was also having a great time using his rims and hardware for extra click and crash amid the booming torrent.

Alto saxophonist Benjamin Dousteyssier – one of several members associated with the French Orchestre National de Jazz – dazzled the crowd with his silvery, slithery glissandos and arpeggios. Tenor player Hugues Mayot and trumpeter Aymeric Avice shifted between incisive postbop and sometimes airy, sometimes turbulent Afrobeat. Behind them, electric pianist Bruno Rude’s Rhodes bubbled and rippled like a vibraphonist. With so many tightly interwoven rhythms bursting out from every corner of the band, it only made sense that he’d want to join the party.

Psychedelic Cumbia Icons Chicha Libre Reunite at Barbes

It was late 2006 at a long-gone Curry Hill honkytonk “I’ve got this Peruvian surf band playing on Sundays that you should really check out,” the club’s talent buyer suggested to an e-zine publisher who would eventually become the proprietor of a daily New York music blog. The future blog owner never made it to Rodeo Bar to see an embryonic Chicha Libre, but the group did go on to become the funnest band in New York, toured internationally and also pretty much singlehandedly introduced psychedelic cumbia to the world north of the Texas border.

They played a brief, maybe 45-minute set at their longtime home base, Barbes last night. It was their first New York show since early 2015, but it was like they’d never left. It was amazing to watch the faces of pretty much everybody in the band. The expressions spoke for themselves: “I can’t believe we’irre doing this, and that it’s still this fun.”

Vincent Douglas is still the most economically slashing surf cumbia guitarist on the planet – this time he hit his distortion pedal again and again, for simmer and burn and sunbaked ambience. Frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan is more serioso in front of the band than ten years ago, notwithstanding the fact that this multinational act is just as much a copycat as the Peruvian cult favorites they imitate were, forty and fifty years ago.

Conguero Neil Ochoa had the songs’ machinegunning turnarounds down cold; timbalera Karina Colis not only added extra layers of devious flurries, but also perfectly replicated Alyssa Lamb’s vocal harmonies from the band’s first two records. Bassist Nick Cudahy held the center while Josh Camp used two small keyboards and a labyrinth of effects pedals for a decent recreation of the tremoloing, oscillating, keening dubwise effects he used to get out of an old Hohner Electrovox synth. Maybe it’s a lot easier to switch between a couple of keyboards than to strap on the heavy accordion body that houses the Electrovox. “Electronics have always been an issue for this band,” Conan confided.

The songs were sublime: jangly, and trebly, and swooshy, just like the classic Peruvian bands the group modeled themselves after. Pretty much everybody in the crowd was dancing or at least bouncing. Surprisingly, the one song that gave the band trouble was the broodingly otherworldly Sonido Amazonico, the national anthem of chicha and title track of their classic 2007 album. But no matter – they jammed it out, a little faster and more dubwise than they used to do it

The uneasily waltzing Depresion Tropical, a snide commentary on IMF bloodsucking in the Caribbean, had special resonance. Camp sang a cumbia version of Love’s Alone Again Or. Conan’s account of the little drunk guy in El Borrachito, who tells a girl in the bar that she should stop picking on him and be his girlfriend – in Spanish, obviously – was as cruelly funny as it was when the band played it ten years ago here. Same with the tightly shuffling Hungry Song, told from the point of view of a couple of guys who are so high they can’t tell weed from chicha. Speaking of which, Barbes now has that sour, beerlike corn mash liquor on draft. As a thirst-quencher on hot days, it’s better than beer.

They closed with their outrageously silly cover of the schlocky cheesy pioneering 1972 proto-synthpop hit, Popcorn, They’re back at Barbes tomorrow night, June 26 at 10, and if stoner music, or dance music, or cumbia is your thing, this may be your only chance to see this band, ever. They’re doing a couple of South American dates next, but after that, who knows.

Los Hacheros Turn up the Heat with Their Edgy Electric Salsa

It’s too easy to call Los Hacheros a punk salsa band, but that’s part of the picture. They’re a high-voltage, oldschool Afro-Cuban charanga…with a snarling edge sharpened by bandleader Jacob Plasse’s electric tres and guitar. All that extra burn and buzz is like adding a couple of ripe habaneros to the sauce. It’s a sound that on one hand is totally retro, on the other completely new. Some might hear this music and think of Santana, but Los Hacheros’ grooves are infinitely slinkier. They’re playing the Midsummer Night Swing series on June 29 at 7:30 PM at Damrosch Park out back of Lincoln Center. It’s free to get into the park, $18 in advance for the dancefloor and if that’s your thing, you should get there early because this is going to be a hot one.

The title track to their latest album Bambaluye begins with a tongue-in-cheek, perfectly sedate, actually very pretty orchestral intro, but it’s there to fake you out. Then they get the party started with an expansively tumbling dancefloor vamp, Eddie Venegas’ violin and Itai Kriss’ flute punctuating the tune over trombone and percussion. Pintate is a mashup of salsa dura and Spanish Romany flavors: again, it’s the electric tres that makes all the difference.

Esta Noche Corazon is a lush, retro 50s bolero with classy violin and completely psychedelic tres solos – but this time around, it’s frontman/conguero Papote Jimenez’s impassioned vocals that bring the energy to redline. Justicia is a pouncing, grim account of police brutality, while Querida Madre has an unexpectedly careening, insistent edge fueled by violin and trombone.

Bomba de Loisa has a rustic Puerto Rican groove and a couple of bracingly Stravinskian breaks.The group open Timbalaye with an ominous Yoruba vocal riff and shuffle along, up to a Santana-esque guitar solo.. Las Nieves de Brooklyn, a playtully baroque-tinged interlude, sets up the sprawling, closing jam, Descarga Para Abe, which has a more oldschool feel than any of the other tracks.

Now where can you hear all this crazy fun? Other than onstage, there’s no online playlist other than a private one at Soundcloud – lots of individual videos at youtube, but nothing linked, no Bandcamp, and no Spotify either. So you’ll have to click on each of the individual titles above to hear the songs.

A Fresh New Take on Ancient Afro-Cuban Grooves

In Cuban slang, “¿Que Vola?” means “What’s up?” ¿Que Vola? are also a transnational collaboration between three members of legendary Afro-Cuban ensemble the Osain del Monte Orchestra, and several current and former members of French big band the Orchestre National de Jazz. Their debut album is just out and streaming at Spotify. They also have a popular youtube series which follows various band members as they roam around Havana.

In the first video, Ramon Tamayo Martinez performs an ancient, supernatural African drum ritual. In the second, bassist Thibaud Soulas throws a party in memory the beloved mentor who introduced him to Afro-Cuban music. Next up, percussionist Adonis Panter Calderon has to deal with the drama of trying to reschedule a concert cancelled by the Cuban government – all because the president of the country’s ally, Vietnam, has died. After that, Calderon and trombonist Fidel Fourneyron talk music and history in a gritty Havana barrio. The series finale features yet another memorial bash, underscoring how the Afro-Cuban tradition removes barriers between performers and audience. If you’re part of the party, you’re probably playing something.

The album is part rustic, animated streetcorner descarga and part terse, emphatic European jazz. Several of the tracks sound like ancient chants with the vocals switched out for simple horn lines. It opens with a mightily crescendoing salute to the god Chango, minimalist brass over a shapeshifting thicket of percussion: imagine an epic Amir ElSaffar overture percolating with Cuban beats. The second track, Nganga begins with jaunty call and response between Founeyron’s trombone and the rest of the horns: saxophonists Hugues Mayot and Benjamin Dousteyssier and trumpeter Aymeric Avice. Then Bruno Rude’s Rhodes piano takes over beneath a bubbly sax solo as the music gets crazier.

Calle Luz is a sparkling Afrobeat jam, drummer Elie Duris laying down a tricky beat as the horns punch in and out. The next track, titled ¿Que Vola?, builds from a neat implied clave to a starry Rhodes solo, then the horns burst in and accelerate toward warpspeed.

Iyeta comes across as variations on another lively chant with vocals switched out for horns. Fruta Bomba is a carnivalesque number with trickily polyrhythmic allusions to salsa annd Afrobeat. The sprawling Resistir closes the album, a mashup of clave syncopation, Afrobeat and Return to Forever with some deliciously unanticipated noirish swells. They’re playing the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. for free at 7:30 PM on June 27; then they’ll be at Dizzy’s Club on the 29th at 11:30 for $20.

Up Close at Legendary Cuban Singer Omara Portuondo’s Farewelll Tour

At this point in her career, Omara Portunondo can do whatever she wants. The legendary Buena Vista Social Club singer has roots in Afro-Cuban music as deep as pretty much anyone ever has. Being Cuban, she hasn’t had the chance to spend as much time playing in this country as other artists of similar stature from elsewhere around the globe. That’s downright tragic, especially since her current tour is billed as a farewell.

But she doesn’t sing like she’s on her way out. Sure, she’s in her eighties now  and there’s more flint in her voice than there was ten years or so ago. And she gets an escort onstage, sits when she sings and takes a break midway through the show. But she still has power in the lows and brightness in the highs.

Portuondo distinguished herself as one of the most elegant singers to come out of latin music, and salsa in particular, a long time ago. Her delivery is as articulate and nuanced as ever: even if Spanish is not your first language, she’s very easy to understand. If you manage to catch her on this “Ultimo Beso” tour,, there will be people in the crowd singing along: if you don’t know the words, just wait for the chorus, you’ll get it.

If Friday night’s show at a swanky, semi-new sub-basement boite in the Times Square area is the blueprint, expect pianist Roberto Fonseca to open the show and then lead the band – Andres Coayo on percussion, Ruly Herrera on drums and Yandy Martinez  on bass- through what could be a long, very eclectic ,mostly instrumental interlude midway through. These guys are equally skilled at guajira, rhumba, cha-cha and boleros, and  like their leader can shift effortlessly between those styles.

Although she stays in her seat for most of the set, Portuondo may practically do the limbo from her chair when she’s not setting off singalongs with the audience. Beyond what the band are playing, the musical backdrop may include synthy orchestration and samples emanating from a loop pedal or a sequencer in Fonseca’s collection of keyboards. Martinez will switch between electric and acoustic bass and really dig in on the lows when he bows. Coayo will be as subtle as the singer, since most of the material is on the slow and melancholy side, as he switches from bongos to chekere, but he’ll really energize the crowd and draw them into a fiery timbale solo.

Portuondo will engage the crowd more if she senses that most of them know the material. Friday evening, the bttersweet Adios Felicidad was a highlight: holler for it if the band doesn’t play it early on. They don’t make singers like Portuondo anymore: this is a fleeting chance to be glad that the two of you are alive at the same time when she can sing your disappointments away.

Pan-Latin Surrealism and a Jersey City Gig By the Individualistic J Hacha de Zola

“Is it dark enough for you?” J Hacha de Zola asks. “This singular sensation, this odd delegation, it never made any sense.” That’s a line from a smoldering, spacy Brian Jonestown Massacre-style soundscape on his new album Icaro Nouveau, streaming at Bandcamp.. Most of the other tracks on the eclectic bandleader’s record are a lot more rhythmic, ranging from salsa-rock to latin soul and what.could be south-of-the-border Nick Cave, to Tom Waits circa Rain Dogs, at his most boisterous. A lot of this album follows the same kind of  psychedelic tangents another New York tropical eclecticist, Zemog el Gallo Bueno, indulges in. Hacha de Zola’s dayjob is biochemistry: presumably, that pays for the lavish production and army of musicians (uncredited) here, horn section and all. He’s playing the album release show with his band tonight, April 18 at 9 PM at FM Jersey City; cover is $8

The first track, Anarchy, a swaggering,, sutrealist strut sets the stage for the rest of the album. El Chucho (Hooko) is a rapidfire, similarly anarchic Balkan cumbia, aswirl with brass, guitars, and noisy piano. On a Saturday has a vintage 70s latin soul groove: the bandleader’s energetic croak brings to mind Australian legend Rob Younger’s more recent projects on the mic. Interestingly, the next number, Juan Salchipapas, reminds of Younger’s original band, Aussie psychedelic punks Radio Birdman, at their most slinky and starry

A Song For Her is a staggering shot at tremoloing retro-Orbison Twin Peaks pop, bolstered by guitar overdubs bristling in both channels. The brooding, echoing, swaying, Doorsy bolero rock ballad A Fool’s Moon is the album’s strongest track. Ode to Ralph Carney – the late, lamented ex-Tom Waits saxophonist who was Hacha de Zolla’s “secret weapon” in earlier versions of the band – takes shape as a fond, slow New Orleans funeral march.

The band take a stab at oldschool soul wiht Super Squeaky (titles don’t seem to be anything more than random here) and close with Hacha’s Lament, a return to vintage latin soull If real oldschool surrealism – we’re talking the early 20th century kind – is your thing, along with umpteen retro styles, J Hacha de Zola is your man.