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Category: latin music

Mariachi Real de Mexico Bring Their Flair and Grandeur to Queens on the 22nd

It was July of 2019, and Mariachi Real de Mexico were playing an outdoor show on the east side steps to the plaza at Lincoln Center. A big crowd grew, to the point that the group were completely surrounded. New York’s largest and lushest mariachi band didn’t care: that hot summer day, almost three years ago, they seemed to be completely in their element. These days, you will assuredly not get the chance to stand that close to the band, or any band, at Lincoln Center, but you can do that on June 22 at 6 PM when they play Highland Park in Ridgewood. Take the J to Crescent St., enter at Warwick and Jamaica Ave. and follow the sound.

Singer and bandleader Ramon Ponce Jr. – son of the man who founded the group in the early 90s – projects with an expressive, dramatic voice. He’s got a powerful falsetto and will use circular breathing to wow the crowd by sustaining a single note for a solid thirty seconds. You can see that reaction in an old clip of La Malagueña from 2013.

The Lincoln Center show featured an unusually large lineup, even for this crew: there were over a dozen members, from the graceful bajo sexto and guitarron anchoring the music’s elegant sway and the occasional bouncy dance tune, to the brass and strings which give the group a symphonic sweep. The show was a mix of old standards, ranchera ballads and a couple of originals. At one point, they pulled out the old trick of speeding up one of their instrumentals to doublespeed and beyond, to where they were right back at the original tempo.

There isn’t much Mariachi Real de Mexico online, but the handful of clips up at their youtube channel will give you a good idea of their many flavors. An old clip of El Pastor is a prime example of how their brass cuts through over the strings and guitars. If the sequence of the youtube playlist is any indication, they’re more proud of the time they backed Placido Domingo singing El Rey – with the crowd joining in vociferously, just like at the Lincoln Center show – than they are of playing the theme song to the tv show Narcos. They’ve also played live with Los Tigres Del Norte – check the wistfully lavish version of Hermoso Cariño.

For the way they play a shapeshifting waltz, watch their take of La Sinaloense. There’s only one audio clip up at their webpage, but it’s choice: Realeza, a swaying, lushly orchestrated, Andalucian-flavored anthem. They sing in Spanish but explain a lot of the material in English if it seems the crowd need some context. Either way, you don’t have to speak the language to get swept up in the drama. This could be the soundtrack to your personal novela on the 22nd in Queens.

An Upbeat New Album and a Loisaida Release Show by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra

One auspicious development here in New York is that we are seeing several groups whose performances were banned during the 2020-21 lockdown beginning to reemerge. Before March of 2020, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra were leaders in keeping the flame of oldschool salsa dura alive, while adding their own brassy spin on a sound that in many ways defined this city for so long. Even better, they have a brand new album, Imágenes Latinas – streaming at Spotify – and a record release show this May 20 at 7:30 PM at Drom. Adv tix are $30, which is five bucks less, in a more salsa-centric space, than their previous release show at the old Jazz Standard several blocks to the north.

All the singers – Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch – kick in right off the bat on the first number, Llego La Hispanica,,over the blaze of trumpeters Maneco Ruiz and Alex Norris, and trombonists Doug Beavers and Juan Gabriel Lakunza. Mitch Frohman’s baritone sax smokes in the background, bolstered by bassist Jerry Madera as bandleader Oscar Hernandez’s piano tumbles elegantly. The percussionists – timbalero Luisito Quintero, conguero George Delgado and bongo player Jorge Gonzalez – are slinky and pretty chill on this one, but they will all cut loose later on.

The album’s title track, a shout-out to immigrant determination, gets a deliciously spare, noir-tinged intro before the brass blasts in. Bosch contributes the cheery, undulating Vestido de Flores. After that, their catchy take of De Mi Para Ti makes a good segue, echoing Manny Oquendo and Conjunto Libre, a persistent influence throughout the record.

Romance Divino, a Hernandez original, has a more pop-oriented 80s salsa romantica vibe but with a classic-style arrangement. A steady, salsafied take of the bolero Como Te Amo makes another good segue, with a tastily shifting brass chart.

Frohman opens Hernández’s Mambo 2021 with a blithe flute solo, then switches back to baritone and completely flips the script, followed eventually by a tantalizingly brief timbale solo from Quintero. Sentimiento y Son has a rustic bomba rhythm but also the sophistication of the group’s home turf.

Likewise, Cuando La Hispanica Toca is an update on a smoky, vintage Machito cha-cha sound. The group slow down a little for the plush, balmy but moodily modal clave ballad Mi Amor Sincero and stay on that tip to close the album with La Musica Latina. We took this group for granted for so long: good to have them back.

Simmering New Songs, Oldschool Salsa Grooves at Pedrito Martinez’s Drom Residency

Percussionist Pedrito Martinez is a New York institution. He came out of Cuba to become a prime mover in the revitalization of this city’s salsa scene at a time when it had gone soft with salsa romantica. Until the lockdown, he held down weekly residencies at a long series of venues. This blog has witnessed his rumbling, dynamically shapeshifting live show at both small-club and big mainstage jazz festival appearances. Either way, he and his band jam like crazy. Martinez’s next gig is his now-monthly residency at Drom tomorrow night, May 12 at 7 PM; as of right now you can still get a $20 advance ticket.

As you would expect at an Alphabet City venue, the Drom shows are a dance party for what’s left of a vital, long-entrenched neighborhood Puerto Rican contingent. You can get a table with your friends, but by the end of the show, a little before nine, everybody’s on their feet. If you’re lucky, Martinez will show off his chops on bass as well as behind his huge rack of congas and other bangable objects.

Martinez also distinguishes himself by writing original tunes rather than just rehashing the classics. He has a new single, My Father’s Eyes, a characteristically slinky, swaying duet with Eric Clapton infused with some gospel-tinged piano as well. The gist of the song is what how our ancestors would react to the pivotal historical moment we find ourselves in right now.

Martinez and the blues guitar icon – who in the last couple of years has reinvented himself as a freedom fighter – have another single, Yo Si Quiero, with jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett. Don’t let the twinkly electric piano intro fool you – Garrett digs in as hard with his soprano sax as Martinez does on the mic and Clapton does in his tantalizing cameo, against a blippy psych-salsa backdrop. That blend of ferocity and finesse says a lot about where Martinez’s live show is these days.

Kiko Villamizar Puts Out a New Socially Conscious Psychedelic Cumbia Album

Guitarist/bandleader Kiko Villamizar gives the listener plenty of food for thought with his new album Todo El Mundo, streaming at youtube. There’s a lot of impressively relevant subject matter for a party record. If you like your cumbia with some oldschool punk rock edge and bite, this is your jam.

But this isn’t any ordinary party record: in its ramshackle, ferocious way, it’s a throwback to the classic chicha music of the early 70s, when not all the songs were about drinking and partying and chasing women. Much as Villamizar’s songs are psychedelic and danceable, he’s been addressing issues like anti-immigrant bigotry and the threat of environmental destruction since the beginning of his career.

Villamizar is Colombian by heritage: he sings in Spanish, and even though there are plenty of serious songs on the album, he hasn’t lost his surreal sense of humor. He also asserts himself on guitar more than he ever has, right from the start with the opening track, Tuya Tuyita, a classic psychedelic cumbia in a Juaneco vein, burning with distortion over the flurrying groove from bassist Greg Goodman and drummer Michael Longoria, with Beto Cartagena on caja vallenata. The gist of the song is taking ownership of your life, for better or worse.

Villamizar turns up the surfy reverb on Siembra el Maiz, a trippy reminder that it’s time to start planting seeds if we want to create something better. Guest Victor Cruz’s gaita hembra reed flute wafts through the clang of the guitar and the thicket of percussion in the album’s title track, a swaying, electrified take on coastal Colombian bullerengue which addresses the ironies in how people native to the Americas are the first to be imprisoned by la migra.

Guru is not a an Indian theme but a biting funk-tinged latin soul groove. Flor de Maracuyá is a rambunctious tribute to the passion flower that’s ubiquitous in climates further south. Villamizar fires off some pretty wild guitar spirals in Papa Soltero, then mashes up a classic chicha sound with cheery bullerengue in La Caravana.

The best song on the album is Tiempo de los Cucuyos, a slow, slinky, elegantly careening number that poses some provocative questions about how the earth might be trying to wake us to how we need to take care of her. Later, the band wind their way through El Grillo, the record’s most amusing and crazed track. They close with Lelolai, which is funny for completely different reasons.

Mafalda Minnozzi Reinvents Classic Italian Film Music on Her New Album

Singer Mafalda Minnozzi‘s career spans the worlds of jazz, tropicalia and Mediterranean balladry. Her new album Cinema City: Jazz Scenes From Italian Film – streaming at Bandcamp – is a perfect vehicle for her since the collection underscores the close affinity between Italian film music from the 50s onward, and bossa nova. With her expressive high soprano, Minnozzi brings a cinematic swath of emotions to life: she also has a puckish sense of humor. Although she sings most of these tracks in the original Italian, she also shows off a strong command of English.

Skip the opening number, a playful and coyly amusing take of La Dolce Vita ruined by a break for whistling. Track two, Loss of Love is an aptly muted, poignant, steady theme lowlit by Tiago Costa’s piano and Paul Ricci’s guitar over bassist Sidiel Vieira and drummer Ricardo Mosca’s slow, sotto-voce swing.

Minnozzi and the band bring a gentle, velvety approach to the tiptoeing bossa Metti una Cera a Cena. Special guest Dave Liebman’s soprano sax spirals joyously in Nino Rota’s Cinema Paradiso love theme over glittering piano clusters and a tight triplet groove.

Art Hirahara takes a rare turn on organ, flickering throughout a hazy, delicately swinging reinvention of the thinly veiled druggy cha-cha Amapola. The pensive, tango-inflected Amici Mei title theme is a feature for Graham Haynes, who takes an understatedly gritty turn on flugelhorn.

Hirahara returns for a bittersweetly shuffling take of Anonino Veneziano and then a more immersive, expansive version of Bruno Martino’s E La Chiamano Estate, a prime example of the Italian/Brazilian connection.

Luca Aquino guests on flugelhorn, intertwining with Ricci’s intricate picking in a raptly emotive performance of Nella Fantasia, which has special resonance for Minnozzi considering that it was her wedding song. Lingering guitar over flickering organ and a steady backbeat make Cappuntamento (from the film A Beiro do Caminho) one of the album’s most memorable moments.

She rescues Arrivederci Roma from Rat Pack cheesiness, imbuing it with gravitas but also defiant energy, grounded by trombonist Jorginho Neto. Se, from the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack, gets a spare, tender interpretation, followed by a soaring, organ-and-vocalese-fueled Deborah’s Theme. Minnozzi winds up the album with a final Cinema Paradiso number, Maturity, evoking a visceral sense of longing amid Costa’s turbulent phrasing. Count this as one of the most strikingly original releases of 2021.

Elegant, Intricate, Psychedelic Cumbias and Tropical Sounds on the Upper West Side

Saturday evening on the Upper West Side, banks of grey clouds were moving in fast and ominous. But in the community garden on 89th west of Amsterdam, tucked in cozily under a tent, Inti & the Moon played a colorful, upbeat, intricately individualistic mix of tropical sounds with tinges of psychedelia and jazz.

There is no Inti in the band. Inti is the Incan sun god: so, the band cover all the bases. They did all that in a mix of originals and imaginative covers. Bandleader/guitarist Geo Suquillo played spiky thickets of fingerpicking, flinging shards of chords into the mix. Frontwoman Noel Wippler shifted from a simmering, ripe, oldschool soul-infused delivery to a wounded wail in the night’s biggest crescendos, in both Spanish and Portuguese. Alto saxophonist Xavier del Castillo began the night playing brooding resonance on the band’s first number, then shifted to alto flute on a few songs, including a bossa tune where he played both.

This group’s cumbias are more relaxed and slinky than the briskly pulsing chicha-style versions that some of the bands around town – at least the ones playing before the lockdown – typically gravitate toward. It was the bass player’s birthday, and he was clearly in a good mood, adding deft harmonic accents against low open strings, plus fleeting hammer-ons and slides. The drummer brought a jazz sophistication, whether subtly riding the rims, or working his way into a 5/4 groove on a biting minor key number which for a second seemed to be a Caribbean take on Take Five.

Suquillo saved his most sparkling solo for a bright, merengue-flavored tune, then took it unexpectedly dark and vampy after a long solo. Del Castillo’s plaintive phrasing pulled the song further into the shadows before a tantalizingly brief guitar/sax duel. The biggest hit with the crowd was Wippler singing an impassioned take of Los Hijos del Sol’s classic Carinito, over an animated but restrained backdrop. There were a couple of other popular covers in the mix, one possibly from the Yma Sumac catalog, but done with much less fanfare. The band approached a familiar Jobim theme with a similar elegance and encored with a stately Brazilian ballad.

With November looming, there isn’t much in the way of live music that’s been publicly announced which is open to all New Yorkers without apartheid restrictions. However, Inti & the Moon have been staples of the free outdoor concert circuit since the late teens, so it’s hardly a stretch to think they might try to squeeze in another park appearance like this before winter gets here.

Magos Herrera Brings Her Elegant, Genre-Defying, Poignant Songcraft to a Popular Outdoor Queens Spot

Singer Magos Herrera‘s music spans the worlds of jazz, film themes, contemporary classical and many styles from her native Mexico. This blog has witnessed her in a rapturous, intimate duo performance with her longtime collaborator, guitarist Javier Limon, as well as a much more lush and politically-fueled set with string quartet Brooklyn Rider. When live music was criminalized throughout much of the world in 2020, she turned to the web for supporting musicians. The result is Con Alma, the most eclectic album of an amazingly eclectic career, an “operatic tableau on isolation” streaming at Bandcamp. Herrera is back in action in New York, with a 7 PM gig outdoors on Halloween night at Terraza 7, where she’s leading a quintet. The Elmhurst venue is best known for jazz, so that’s probably going to be what Herrera brings to the stage, but knowing her, anything is possible.

The album is a mix of energetic acoustic guitar-driven numbers, imaginative pieces for orchestra and vocals and choral works. As you would expect from an album created during the lockdown, there’s an ever-present apprehension, but also hope. As fascinating as this music is, you will want to skip track seven – a found-sound collage on which Herrera does not appear – which contains PTSD-inducing samples of social engineering run hideously amok, a 2020 artifact best buried forever.

The first track is La Creación de las Aves, Vinicius Gomes’ circling, nimbly fingerpicked  acoustic guitar loop anchored by Jeffrey Zeigler’s sweeping cello and Gonzalo Grau’s lithely understated cajon.

Tree of 40 Fruit begins as an uneasily close-harmonied soundscape, layers of wordless vocals by Constellation Chor‘s Marisa Michelson blended with a little crowd-sourced spoken word on themes of isolation and alienation. She quickly builds it to an anguished series of peaks: the effect of all the multitracks wipes away any sense of loneliness or abandonment.

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh joins with guitarist Romero Lubambo for moody but energetic dynamics in Rojo Sol, a bristling, flamenco-tinged ballad. Alma Muerta, a choral collaboration with Ensemble Sjaella rises from a desolate, Gregorian chant-influenced atmosphere to a web of stricken, shocked operatic riffs.

With her broodingly impassioned vocalese, Herrera and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería reinvent the album’s title cut – a Dizzy Gillespie hit – as a shapeshifting mini-suite, moving from cumulo-nimbus orchestration to a delicately bouncy, balletesque rhythm.

Ensemble Sjaella return for Fratres, by Paola Prestini, Herrera and the choir moving uneasily between early Renaissance-flavored ornamentation, grey-sky ambience and tremoloing atmospherics.

The lush treble counterpoint of Prestini’s Thrush Song, sung by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, offers a glimpse of hope. Herrera and her Mexican orchestral colleagues wind up the album with a strikingly stark, gracefully rhythmic take of Cucurrucucú, a longing-infused ballad made famous by Mexican singer Ana María González in 1954.

Acoustic Reggae and Similar Rarities by a Fixture of the NYC Parks Concert Circuit on the Upper East

Other than Bob Marley’s iconic Redemption Song – “How long must they kill our brothers while we stand aside and look?” – there’s hardly any acoustic reggae. In fourteen and a half years of concerts in what was once the live music capitol of North America, this blog and its predecessor covered exactly one acoustic reggae show, by Jamaican toaster I-Wayne. And that was a private performance for media, in the fall of 2011 in a west side studio with ganja smoke seeping out through cracks in the door.

But if you’re in Manhattan on Oct 29 and you can get to Second Avenue and 90th St. by 3 PM, you might see some acoustic reggae when ukulele player Dahlia Dumont and her group the Blue Dahlia play Ruppert Park.

Dumont has been plugged into the municipal concert circuit for the past several years, and her passion for reggae and ska matches her fondness for playing outdoors. She writes in English and her native French, in lots of other styles ranging from French varietés pop to Balkan music. Her most recent, characteristically eclectic album La Tradition Américaine got the thumbs up here in 2018.

She’s put out more material since that record, streaming at her music page. At the top, there’s Betty, a characteristically bouncy, horn-spiced quasi-ska song encouraging everybody to stop complaining about the status quo and police brutality, and go out and vote. En Dehors du Temps (Outside of Time) is a lot quieter, a wistfully waltzing familial reminiscence. Dumont recorded The Walls during the 2020 lockdown, an understatedly angst-fueled piano ballad about a relationship interrupted by fascist travel restrictions. “If we make it to the other side, will you be much changed?” she asks, speaking for as many people as Marley did with Redemption Song.

Nobody at this blog has ever caught a full set by Dumont. The closest was about the last twenty minutes of a show where she squeezed a good-sized band, including guitar, accordion and rhythm section, into an intimate Park Slope space a few months before the album came out. Dumont has also been a fixture at the annual late-November outdoor music festival that ran down Broadway from Dante Park across from Lincoln Center down to Columbus Circle. She brought a stripped-down trio to those shows, as she most likely will do at the Upper East Side park gig. She has an expressive voice, boundless energy and a sense of humor, all things we all could use right now.

Sonido Costeño Kick Out the Salsa Jams This Weekend

Sonido Costeño play an especially edgy, individualistic blend of oldschool salsa and other styles from south of the border and the Spanish Caribbean. Their most distinguishing feature is bandleader Juan Ma Morales’electric cuatro, which he wields to create a jangly, clanging, bristling intensity. The horns punch in and the group’s percussion section build an undulating groove, but it’s the cuatro that sets this group apart from their brassy brethren. They play a lot of outdoor shows, and they’re doing one on Oct 23 at two in the afternoon on the big plaza in front of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza.

Check out the clip of La Murga at their Vimeo channel, from a show at a park on the Hudson this past Fourth of July. Morales flings bits and pieces of chords through a chilly pool of reverb, sings with a gritty intensity, and the horns add smoke and flame when they kick in. He plays guitar on Falling Rain, an English-language cha-cha recorded at a Brooklyn Museum show, and the sound is just as careening and fearless: the guy always sounds like he’s about to go over the cliff, but never does. And it’s contagious: the piano player’s solo is just as unhinged.

Sin Tu Carino, another song from the July 4 set, is more lighthearted, riffy and horn-driven. Scroll down for a scruffy take of Indestructible at the old Gonzalez y Gonzalez in the West Village, where Morales leaves his guitar on its stand and sticks to vocals for a more oldschool, traditional Spanish Harlem sound.

The group also have a few cuts from studio recordings up at their music page, which are predictably more lush and digital-clean. No doubt they will give that stuff more edge and bite at the library gig.

A Lavish Upcoming Album From Salsa Jazz Pianist Dayramir González

Pianist Dayramir González is an incendiary, hard-hitting jazz pianist who could be characterized as the missing link between McCoy Tyner and Eddie Palmieri. He slayed at one of the very last latin jazz concerts at Lincoln Center, at the end of 2019. Gonzalez’s lavishly orchestral new album Tribute to Juan Formell & Los Van Van, which hasn’t hit the web yet. A diverse cast of salsa singers from across the decades take turns in front of the band; the record also comes with a full-length concert video. This album is more testament to Gonzalez’s outside-the-box ambitions than his sizzling chops.

The songs are a turbocharged mix of foundational Cuban salsa hits, awash in strings and sweeping brass. Brenda Navarre intones a brief homage to Formell, their guiding force, over Gonzalez’s bright neoromantic chords, then all of a sudden she shifts to an incantation to the spirits.

Gonzalez completely flips the script with Tu Decision, reinvented as latin P-Funk with a woozy synth organ patch, flute and orchestral strings. He switches back to piano as the orchestra backs away for bright flute and sax solos.

Alain Perez sings Mis Dudas with a gritty intensity over an undulating, symphonic sweep: it’s a mini salsa symphony. Luna Manzanres takes over the mic for Este Amor Que Se Muere, Gonzalez and the strings adding a towering angst before the brass and the groove kick in.

David Blanco provides the vocals on the catchy anthem Anda Ven y Muevete, which Gonzalez and the band reinvent as quasi-rocksteady. Then Teresa Yanet delivers a strikingly raw, plaintive take of Todo Se Acabo over a slinky, plush backdrop.

With Mandy Cantero out in front of the band, Deja la Boberia is both more rustically rhythmic and symphonically cosmopolitan than the original. Later on Hayla Mompie joins Cantero for El Guararey de Pastora, which also has a more rugged groove and a wickedly spiraling Gonzalez solo.

No Te Quieres Tu, a duet between Mayito Rivera and Arlenys Rodriguez, is the most epic, lavish rearrangement here: the surprise ending is killer. Next, Rivera and Telmary Diaz team up for a slyly funky reggaeton remake of Marilu.

Abdel Rasalps, Diaz, Rivera and Rumba Pelladito all join in a serpentine version of Chan Chan to close the record.