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Tag: ghetto brothers band

Damian Quiñones Brings His Edgy, Individualistic, Psychedelic Latin Soul Uptown

It was fun to see Damian Quiñones y Su Conjunto rock the back room at their most recent appearance at Barbes a few weeks ago. It’s an intimate space, and for that reason, other than the blazing Balkan brass groups – Slavic Soul Party, Raya Brass Band, et al. – who play here, the club doesn’t book a lot of loud music. While Quiñones draws on an early 70s Nuyorican sound popularized by cult favorites like the Ghetto Brothers, his songs rock harder than most of that era’s latin soul bands. And he’s an individualistic songwriter who draws more on classic pop structures, a la Elvis Costello, than on longform latin psychedelic acts like Santana. He and the band are playing Silvana in Harlem on Dec 13 at 10 PM, which should work out well since they have the muscle to be heard over the chatty Saturday night bar crowd there.

At Barbes, Quiñones sang in both English and Spanish, backed by a purist, bluesy lead guitarist, tight bass and drums, a keyboardist who doubled on trombone, and a conguero and alto saxophonist who came up for most of the second half of the show. Quiñones is a lefty, which might help explain his interesting guitar technique; that, and his mix of traditional Puerto Rican and rock sounds. He and the band opened with Sleepy Eyes, which is basically Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me with better vocals, jazzier harmonies and some rhythmic trickery. Quiñones opened the next number with a wickedly catchy four-chord hook that he then jazzed up over a steady, strutting rhythm, doubling the bassline as the song peaked coming out of the chorus.

He started another song solo, as nebulous acidically jangly early 80s postpunk – then in a second it morphed into a catchy, anthemic bossa-rock tune with swirly organ in the background that reminded of the late, great Williamsburg band the Disclaimers. The lead player took a long, slithery, blues-infused solo on a bouncy number that was sort of a latin soul update on Wilbert Harrison’s Kansas City – and then added a long slide solo for an strangely successful southern rock touch.

Quiñones switched from guitar to cuatro for some Byrdsy jangle over a syncopated clave beat on the instrumental that followed, evoking one of Yomo Toro’s more adventurous, low-key numbers from the 80s. They followed that with a slinky, salsa-inflected lowrider psychedelic tune, the sax and trombone conversing and intertwining. From there they lept from hard funk into a long, hypnotic psychedelic cumbia, a galloping instrumental and then back into  expansive, psychedelic mode. It’s not often you see a band that has this much going on, yet with so much focus and drive: attributes that will pay off at the show uptown.

More Classic-Style Latin Soul from Spanglish Fly

The past year’s been a good one for latin soul music in New York. The legendary 1972 Ghetto Brothers album finally got a worldwide release, Damian Quinones y Su Conjunto put out a stupendously good new album, and the Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout are going strong. Arguably the most exciting of the whole crop of New York latin soul groups, Spanglish Fly put out a couple of singles, including a new one, Brooklyn Boogaloo b/w My Shingaling Boy.

While these days, the job of producing an album usually falls to the artist making the record, this one gets instant cred – not to mention a shot of adrenaline – from producer Harvey Averne, leader of  70s Bronx latin soul legends the Harvey Averne Barrio Band and a longtime Fania Records figure during that label’s golden age thirty-odd years ago. Both cuts are streaming along with the total of three remixes that come with them at the group’s Bandcamp page.

On the A-side, you can feel the summer humidity on Atlantic Avenue, frontwoman Erica Ramos looking for something to lift her spirits. And then she finds it – and it’s got moves you can do. The timbales rattle on the turnaround, pianist Zach Seman tumbles elegantly (and quotes a summertime tune New Yorkers will recognize instantly) and they go out with a bouncy plena groove. The coy, innuendo-fueled B-side is a showcase for the band’s pulsing four-man horn section and four-man percussion line. Both tracks feature up-and-coming jazz star Luques Curtis (of the Curtis Brothers) on bass.

Spanglish Fly are back in NYC on Jan 11 at around midnight at Nublu after a gig at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

The Ghetto Brothers’ Legendary Power-Fuerza Is Back in Print

A cult favorite prized for decades by collectors, the Ghetto Brothers’ legendarily obscure 1972 latin rock album Power-Fuerza has finally gotten a proper release forty years after it was initially put out on vinyl by a South Bronx storefront label that soon abandoned the project. It’s a revealing look at the kind of rock that was coming out of the Puerto Rican community in New York in those days, part Beatles homage (to the extent that it sometimes sounds like a Puerto Rican Rutles), part surreal, swinging psychedelia. Fans of the current wave of revivalist latin rock and soul, from Spanglish Fly to Damian Quinones, should check this out. Frontman Benjy Melendez harmonizes with his brothers, bassist Victor and guitarist Robert over a swaying groove propelled by drummer Luis Bristol and timbalero Franky Valentin, lit up by David Silva’s searing lead guitar.

What’s amazing about this album, most of it a rather haphazard live studio recording, is how tight the band is. Which actually comes as no surprise considering that the Melendez brothers had been child stars on their home turf, playing Beatles covers as Los Junior Beatles, even opening for Tito Puente at one point. Much as the Fab Four harmonies and Beatles 65-style jangle are spot-on, it’s Silva’s guitar work that makes this album. He hits most of the songs fast and ferocious, firing off savagely bluesy leads, scorching flurries of chords and rapidfire funk along with the occasional nonchalantly slinky George Harrison-inflected interlude.

The album’s best song is Mastica, Chupa Y Jala, 1972 South Bronx slang for chasing a hit of acid with a puff of weed. Silva’s fuzztone lead contrasting with boomy percussion and an evil Santana-esque bass groove as it opens is choice, and it just gets better from there. They speed it up, then slow it down a little; the title becomes a mantra, followed by a bass-and-drums break and a long, sunbaked guitar solo to a neat trick ending. “Sabor boricua,” right on!!

Another standout track is the nationalist anthem Viva Puerto Rico Libre, with its six-chord Arthur Lee-style vamp, slinky clave groove and hypnotically perrcussive swirl up to a raw, aching Silva solo that unfortunately gets buried in the mix. Girl from the Mountain, by the band’s friend and colleague Felix Tollinchi of the Harvey Averne Barrio Band, strangely evokes the surrealism of late 60s/early 70s Peruvian chicha bands like Los Destellos, with yet another screaming Silva solo on the way out.

The rest of the album draws equally on the Beatles and James Brown, often in the same song. There Is Something in My Heart sets crystalline harmonies to a funk-tinged verse with busy, blippy bass, while You Say You Are My Friend takes a Blues Magoos-style garage rock riff and adds Beatles harmonies and a latin soul beat. I Saw a Tear is basically a soul song, while the two remaining tracks, Ghetto Brothers Power and Got This Happy Feeling (the latter ad-libbed in the studio) work funky vintage JBs-style vamps.

The backstory here is bittersweet. The Ghetto Brothers began as a family gang, albeit one dedicated to peace rather than the violence that plagued their neighborhood. Then as now, gang membership was sometimes a survival mechanism in New York’s more impoverished areas. Much as it’s fraught with knuckleheaded turf battles and senseless antagonism, it can also mean shelter, and security, and community in the face of destitution, eviction, homelessness and harrassment from the police. The Ghetto Brothers earned considerable neighborhood cred by holding a gang summit in an attempt to stop the violence, a gesture more admirable than it was successful.

Good as this band was, the Ghetto Brothers arguably never reached the popularity the Melendez brothers had achieved earlier in life – and by 1975, the original unit was finished, Benjy having moved out of the neighborhood while his brother Victor went on to form Nebulus, a reputedly much heavier acid rock project, with Silva. Sadly, Victor didn’t live to see this album reissued, having died in 1995 after a long battle with addiction. But Benjy and Robert would go on to lead another popular Beatles cover project and continue to play Ghetto Brothers songs in a new version of the band, with Benjy’s son Joshua on bass and Robert’s son Hiram on drums, in their new neighborhood just over the Westchester line in Mount Vernon.