New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

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Avenida B Turn Lincoln Center Into a Lower East Side Salsa Hideaway

Emcee and NYU professor Carlos Chirinos grinningly told the crowded dancefloor at Lincoln Center this past evening that salsa dura revivalists Avenida B’s show was “Designed to get you to come back every month.” And it looks like pretty much everybody here does. The couples didn’t wait to get their twirl on while oldschool salsa hits resounded through the atrium space just south of 63rd Sreet. The monthly dance party series there is called Vaya 63 – get it?

This was a real throwback show – it wasn’t hard to imagine frontman/crooner David Frankel and his octet grinding it out in some tightly packed Lower East Side social club forty years ago. With twin trombones, congas, bongos and cowbell, piano, bass and coros, the group mirrors the multicultural lineups of the great bands of the Fania years. Frankel explained that as the son of a popular Lower East Side bandleader in the 80s, he “Basically grew up with a salsa band underneath me, from birth.”

The band opened with a couple of dark, undulating originals, minor-key piano tumbling elegantly over the waves of beats and the trombones’ nocturnal lustre. Frankel kept a close eye on the dancefloor: “That’s the way to do it!” he announced, inspired by a veteran couple close to the stage. 

Did Lluvia Con Nieve hang overhead, gloomy and cold? Not really: as the band broke it down to punchy brass riffs, with a little suspense from the piano in between verses, it fit in with a day that forty years ago would have been called unseasonably balmy. There were hints of vintage James Brown and glittering Fender Rhodes psychedelia in their take of Cañonazos. They wound up the first set with a stormy new one, Paradoja, driven by an ominous, lingering bass riff, the band getting into it with Frankel who by now was showing off some dance moves of his own.

They picked right up where they left off, starting the second set with Que Humanidad, a blustery stomp centered around a ridiculously catchy four-chord riff. The next number was Guaguanco, “But you’re gonna hear a lot of different styles,” cautioned Frankel, and he wasn’t joking, in this Cuban-Loisaida mashup of rhumba, mambo and gritty Nuyorican flavor. They contrasted the fire of Timbalame with a balmier original inspired by Frankel’s teenage dreams of Latin America and the Caribbean, then made coy salsa out of the jazz standard All of Me and wound up the show on the slinky tip, alternating between classics and originals.

Avenida B’s next gig is at Taj II, 48 W 21st on Nov. 6 at 9 PM. And fans of edgy music from south of the border ought to check out witchy singer Edna Vazquez and her band, who are at the atrium on Nov 2 at 7:30 PM. The concert is free, the earlier you get there the better.

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Ampersan Play Dreamy, Cinematic Tropical Psychedelia in Their New York Debut at Lincoln Center

There were some ecstatic moments in Ampersan’s New York debut at Lincoln Center last night, part of the ongoing Celebrate Mexico Now festival. The high point might have been where the punteador and jarana of the five-piece Mexico City band’s founders Kevin Garcia and frontwoman Zindu Cano intertwined with a rippling, slinky intensity. But more often than not, throughout their roughly hourlong set,  the music was simply something to get lost in, reflecting the band’s long background scoring for film.

Ampersan make hypnotic, psychedelic sounds with instruments typically associated with far more boisterous styles. The show came together slowly. Was this going to be just another evening of vampy trip-hop-influenced tropicalia with the occasional psychedelic flourish? The lilting, harmony-infused opening number and the stately candombe ballad afterward suggested that, bassist Sergio Medrano’s terse pulse in tandem with cajon player Héctor Aguilar Chaire and his fellow percussionist Nirl Cano.

Then the group took a detour into reggaeton and Cano switched to violin, raising the energy with his stark, rustic resonance. Garcia played mostly electric guitar and the small, uke-like punteador. Rocking a slinky, gothic black dress, the group’s lead singer began the set on jarana and then switched to guitar; she also had a couple of mics set up for her vocals, one which she ran through a mixer for subtle atmospheric effects.

Then Garcia went up to the board, twiddled with it as it hiccupped and burped…and just when it seemed that the electronics were about to clear the room, they simmered down and the group followed with what could have been the best song of the night, a lush, dreamy, slowly crescendoing tropical psychedelic anthem. The quintet would make their way through more of these while animated videos of Adriana Ronquillo and Mónica González’s mystical deep-forest narratives and imagery played on the screen above the stage.

Likewise, the band’s Spanish-language lyrics have a mysterious, allusive quality: themes of escape, and unease, and occasional heartbreak floated to the surface over the music’s graceful pulse. They like to use poetry from across the ages and hit another peak when they brought up son jarocho champion and poet Zenen Zeferino to deliver a defiant, characteristically eloquent freestyle. As they romped their way through some snazzy Veracruz party polyrhythms, he alluded to how Mexico is just as much or even more of a melting pot than the United States. The implication was that this intelligence ought to trump the demagoguery seeping from the bowels of the White House.

The group brought the show full circle at the end, Zula’s voice receding from a fullscale wail to a tender balminess. The concluding concert of this year’s Celebrate Mexico Now festival is a free show this Sunday, Oct 22 at 3 PM at the Queens Museum in Crotona Park with cinematic music by violinist Carlo Nicolau along with post-industrial projections by video artist Vanessa Garcia Lembo. And the next show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. is tonight, Oct 20 at 7:30 with oldschool salsa dura band Avenida B.

Psychedelic Peruvian Legends Los Wemblers Make a Historic Appearance in Red Hook on the 16th

A landmark event in New York music history is happening this Oct 16 at 9 PM at the Pioneer Arts Center in Red Hook, where the brain trust of Brooklyn hotspot Barbes have booked an extremely rare US show by Peruvian psychedelic cumbia legends Los Wemblers de Iquitos. Powerhouse singer Carolina Oliveros’ trippy tropicalia band Combo Chimbita – who mash up cumbia, salsa, chamame and a whole bunch of other south of the border styles – open the night. Cover is $25.

Even on their home turf, Los Wemblers had pretty much dropped out of sight until the past few years. It’s probably safe to say that if Olivier Conan and Vincent Douglas hadn’t started Chicha Libre, who brought the wild, surreal psychedelic cumbias of the 1960s and 70s out of the Amazonian jungle for the first time, staging this concert anywhere outside of a Peruvian expat community would have been absurd. But thanks in large part to their band – and Barbes Records’ two Roots of Chicha historical compilations – this trippy, intoxicatingly danceable music isn’t an obscure niche genre anymore. Maybe, as Conan once boasted, cumbia really is going to take over the world.

This family band of six guys from an isolated Amazonian oil boomtown, most of them in their sixties and seventies, played a wildly vigorous recent show that kept a mix of sweaty kids and curious oldsters on their feet for the better part of three hours. As one of the night’s emcees emphasized, Los Wemblers distinguish themselves from their innumerable countrymen who from the late 60s into the 80s mashed up American surf music, psychedelic rock, indigenous folk themes, sounds from Cuba to Argentina and pretty much all points in between.  But where so many of those bands went soft when synthesizers got popular, Los Wemblers sound exactly like they did in their hometown of Iquitos in 1969 – except louder.

The band’s patriarch, guitarist Salomon Sanchez sadly didn’t live to see the band’s resurgence, but his five sons did and now comprise most of the group. The star of the night was guitarist Alberto Sanchez, who played most of two long sets with his eyes closed, the trace of a smile on his face as his fast fingers fueled a magically clanging, twangy, undulating tropical time machine.

Behind him, the band’s two percussionists laid down a slinky, irresistible groove that boomed and rattled off the space’s bare walls to the point that there was an oscillation between the clave click of the woodblock and the thump of the congas, which raised the psychedelic factor several notches. Together they ran through a surreal mashup of snaky cumbia, sprightly Pervuian folk themes, twangy surf tunes, a couple of strikingly stark, minor-key, Cuban-tinged numbers, and many of their hits, segueing into one after another with hardly a single break.

The best one of the night was Sonido Amazonico, which they played twice. The first time around, they did the haunting, phantasmagorical “national anthem of chicha” as a sprawling ten-minute jam, a creepy cocktail of Satie-esque passing tones, like a warped tarantella to counter the effects of a lysergic spider bite. The second time around they hit it harder and more directly, like the original vinyl single, the guitarist capping off his solo with a sizzling, spiraling flight upward, then hitting his wah pedal and leaving it wide open, a murky pool of sound mingling with the echoey, cantering beats. What frontman/percussionist Jair Sanchez left no doubt about was that it was their song to mess with, notwithstanding that Lima band Los Mirlos‘ version was the bigger hit, and that Chicha Libre’s cover is what pretty much jumpstarted the Brooklyn cumbia cult.

Another hit the crowd got to twice was the careening, aptly gritty La Danza Del Petrolero – and happily, unlike the popular Los Mirlos cover, the guitar was in tune this time. The rest of the set was a fascinating look at how psychedelic cumbias are just as diverse as American psychedelic rock. Without blinking an eye, the band made their way expertly through a couple of bright, cheery vamps that more than hinted at Veracruz folk tunes, eventually hit a brooding, Cuban-flavored number, made cumbia out of a stately, dramatic tango anthem, sped up, slowed down and took a couple of frantically pulsing detours toward merengue.

One of the night’s best numbers was also the most ornate and ominously elegant – but no less danceable. Devious references to the Ventures, Duke Ellington and the Richard Strauss theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey bubbled to the surface. By the time the old guys finally called it quits, it was almost midnight. Fresh off their first ever European tour, they’re reputedly every bit as incendiary as they were this time out. The Pioneer Works show ought to be at the top of the bucket list of every New Yorker who’s into psychedelic sounds.

Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta Join New York’s Best Psychedelic Tropicalia Bill this August 31

New York’s best psychedelic cumbia show of the year so far is happening this August 31 at the Bell House at 10 PM, where Chicago’s Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta and Austin’s Money Chicha are playing a twinbill. Advance tix are a ridiculously good $12 and still available at the venue as of today. It’s not clear who’s playing first, but that doesn’t matter because both bands are reputedly amazing live.

Money Chicha’s wildly trippy debut album got a feverish thumbs-up here recently. Dos Santos’ latest album, Fonografic –  streaming at Spotify – is a party in a box.  The opening cut, playfully titled Epilogue, begins as a boomy, dub-inflected, staggered waltz fueled by woozy low-register wah guitar, then the twangy chicha melody comes in and gets spun through a funhouse mirror of effects. All of a sudden, Alex Chavez’s blippy organ hits a brisk, minor-key cumbia shuffle!

The tropicalia funk of El Puerto de Animas echoes their tourmates’ heavy cumbia sound, Daniel Villarreal-Carrillo’s drums and Jaime Garza’s bass building to a dizzying, polyrhythmic slink, the twin wah guitars of Chavez and Nathan Karagianis echoing in the mix, Peter Vale’s congas anchoring the otherworldly groove. By contrast, Cafeteando! puts a brass-spiced update on vampy, salsa-influenced late 60s/early 70s jungle cumbia, in the same vein as Juaneco Y Su Combo.

The bittersweet exchange of wah-wah and guitar clang in Santa Clara will remind chicha purists of Los Destellos at their most expansive, classic early 70s best, with a long jaunty trombone solo that takes the song into psychedelic salsa territory. Then the ominously galloping Camino Infernal/Phantom Weight mashes up spaghetti western, surf rock, chicha and Led Zep. 

The band save the best and most straightforward chicha track, Red, for last. Built around a gleefully creepy organ riff, it could be a vintage Los Mirlos number, at least until the band make psychedelic Chicano Batman soul out of it. If a wild, brain-altering dance party is your thing, get your ass to the Bell House on the last day of the month.

An Improbable, Magic Comeback Album From Psychedelic Cumbia Legends Los Wembler’s

The best short album of 2017 is by a band from the 1960s who until now have never released a record outside Peru. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos play chicha, the surfy, reverb-drenched psychedelic cumbias that were all the rage from Lima to the Amazon from the late 60s til the early 80s, and thanks to Chicha Libre have become arguably the world’s default party music. But unlike so many of their more urban colleagues, Los Wembler’s (the apostrophe is probably just bad English) never got soft with synthesizers or drum machines. Their new ep Ikaro Del Amor – streaming at Spotify  – captures the band pretty much as feral and surreal as they were almost fifty years ago, except with good production values. And producer/Chicha Lilbre bandleader Olivier Conan gives the band a chance to tune their guitars, something they didn’t get to do when recording their big Amazonian hit La Danza Del Petrolero, which first reached a global audience via the first of Barbes’ Records’ two indispensable Roots of Chicha compilations.

The only band member who didn’t live to see this is family patriarch and bounder Salomon Sanchez Casanova. Otherwise, this is most of the original members, on guitars, bass and multi-percussion. The opening title track, a chicha standard, comes across as a bizarrely catchy mashup of ska rhythm, tropical mosquito guitar, Ventures surf twang and a little C&W. There’s a mysterious shout-out to Brooklyn in there too.

The centerpiece is a sprawling, phantasmagorical take of Sonido Amazonico, later simplified into a one-chord jam (and a big hit) by Lima band Los Mirlos, then recorded almost forty years later by Chicha Libre as the title track to their first album. Over time, the song has become as iconic as Pipeline is to surf rock fans, or Anarchy in the UK is to punks. Awash in resonant jangle, wah-wah riffs and endless permutations on an ominous chromatic melody, it’s the creepiest, slinkiest, trippiest jam of the year.

There are two other tracks. The epic La Mentecata has a wryly expanding, Twelve Days of Xmas style series of verses, a bubbly, almost Cuban guitar hook and a steady clave on the woodblock. The final cut is Dos Amores, lead guitarist Alberto Sanchez Casanova airing out every sound in his effects boxes, from a fair approximation of an electric accordion to the kind of low-budget electric piano one might have found in a ramshackle recording studio in the band’s halcyon days.

That this album exists at all boggles the mind; until being rediscovered in the early part of this decade the band would regroup for the occasional block party, but that’s about it. And now they’re wrapping up their first European tour. Big up to Conan and Barbes Records for having the foresight to bring them to the mass audience they deserve.

A Ferocious Brooklyn Celebration of Diverse Mexican Sounds

Thursday night at Prospect Park Bandshell, Lila Downs and her lavish twelve-piece band put on a show that was as American as America gets these days. Early in the set, the intense, impassioned singer and bandleader explained that Mexican music is a joint celebration of three cultures, African, Spanish and Native American. Then, addressing the Mexican contingent in Spanish, she made it clear that this was in defiance of the demagogue in the Oval Office. Even the non-Spanish speakers figured that one out – and roared their approval.

The red-flare trumpet cadenza that her Mexico City-based trumpeter fired off to open a duel with his American jazz counterpart, Josh Deutsch? Spanish flamenco, but with the biting chromatics of North Africa and the Middle East hovering in the distance. But then Deutsch took it straight into volleys of African-American jazz.

The insistent, off-kilter metrics of a couple of mariachi songs drew a dotted line across the water to Africa, while their bouncy melodies were pure, native Mexican. And the overtone-rich jangle of the Rickenbacker guitar – when it could be heard ringing through an awful sound mix – was pure heartland America, or Liverpool, if you go back a little further.

Downs’ latest album Salon, Lagrimas y Deseo goes deeply into the mariachi tradition, but as the show went on, she also took on the role of angst-ridden ranchera diva, cumbia siren and wounded Mexican film ingenue. Over the keening strings and frequently spine-tingling flights of a trio of members of New York’s own all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache, she belted with characteristic raw power in her low register, and took a couple of dramatic flights up to the very top where she held on for dear life – and held the crowd breathless with how long she managed to stay up there.

There are many cultures in Mexico, but one common quality is resilience: the Mexican people have been through a lot, especially lately, and Downs’ songs reflect that. It would be an overstatement to say that love under an occupation is one of her themes, but any Spanish-speaking American can relate to her irony-infused narratives of trying to keep things together on a personal level while embattled from all sides. Minor keys soared and pulsed, guitars and cuatros  rippled and strummed amidst blazing brass and undulating, eclectic grooves. Downs hadn’t been here in awhile, was psyched to be back and everybody was glad to have her here.

Another band who’re taking Mexican music to new places, Orkesta Mendoza, opened, cursed with an even worse sound mix. Yet while they were also missing their usual secret weapons – baritone saxophonist Marco Rosano and lapsteel player Joe Novelli – their songs proved to be so strong, and catchy, that they stood alone with just a guitar-bass-drums setup frequently spiced with trumpet, clarinet or creepily carnivalesque roller-rink organ. Like Downs, they played a bunch of slinky cumbias; at one point, leader Sergio Mendoza tried to get the sleepy early early-evening crowd to count down a number, James Brown style, but they weren’t having it. Charismatic baritone singer Salvador Duran worked up a sweat punching out the beat with his shakers while Mendoza switched back and forth between acoustic guitar and organ and their multi-instrumentalist played just about everything else And bassist Adam Rogers sang a number that was part latin soul, part Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Which makes sense: the Elevators were a Texas band.

The afterparty was at Barbes, and was even wilder. With their biting, chiming, punchy acoustic guitars and singer/dancer Julia del Palacio firing off machinegunning beats with her tap shoes, Radio Jarocho celebrated the pan-latin sounds that have steamed into Veracruz over the past many decades. With their colleagues Mariachi  Flor de Toloache in the house, New York’s only original son jarocho band sprinted through a mix of funny, often smutty, wryly aphoristic songs about drinking, chasing women and smoking weed. Yet just when it seemed the party had reached its peak, they completely flipped the script with the best song of the night, a gorgeously stark, bolero-ish minor-key lament. This is what Trump wants to keep out of the country with his wall? Put a wall around this, wigface. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

Orkesta Mendoza Bring Their Slinky Cumbias and Noir Desert Rock to Prospect Park

Tucson-based bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Sergio Mendoza leads Orkesta Mendoza, who might be the most epic psychedelic cumbia band on the planet. When they’re firing on all 24 cylinders – the cast of characters varies, but this is a BIG band – they come across as a slinky, brass-spiced mashup of Chicha Libre and Cab Calloway. They’re connoisseurs of noir, and they do a whole bunch of other styles as well: serpentine mambos, haunting boleros, and latin soul among them. Their latest album ¡Vamos A Guarachar! is streaming at Spotify (with a couple of tracks up at Bandcamp). They’re opening what will be a wildly attended twinbill at Prospect Park Bandshell on June 29 at 7:30 PM; populiat Mexican-American songstress Lila Downs headlines at around 9. You’d better get there early.

The album opens with, Cumbia Volcadora, which perfectly capsulizes why this band is so popular. Mendoza’s creepy roller-rink organ flickers and bends and Marco Rosano’s blazing multitracked horn section punches in over Sean Rogers’ fat chicha bassline, Salvador Duran’s irrepressible vocals out in front. Mendoza plays pretty much everything else.

Then the band immediately filps the script with Redoble, an uneasily scampering mashup of Morricone spaghetti western and Ventures spacerock, the band’s not-so-secret weapon, steel guitarist Joe Novelli’s keening lines floating uneasily as the song rises to fever pitch.

Awash in an ocean of strings, Misterio majestically validates its title, Mendoza’s Lynchian guitar glimmering behind Duran’s angst-fueled baritone and the Calexics rhythm section: bassist John Convertino and drummer Joey Burns. Wryly spacy 80s organ contrasts with burning guitars and brass in Mapache, a bouncy chicha tune with a tongue-in-cheek Ventures reference. Duran’s wounded vocals add extra longing to the angst throughout Cumbia Amor De Lejos over a web of accordion, funereal strings and ominous tremolo guitar.

The band switches back and forth between a frantic pulse and lingering noir in Mambo A La Rosano, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Gato Loco songbook. By contrast, the big audience hit Caramelos keeps the red-neon intensity going at full gas; Mendoza sets up a tantalizingly brief guitar solo with a more enigmatic one on organ.Then they follow the clip-clip folk-rock miniature No Volvere (Not Going Back) with the album’s centerpiece, Contra La Marea (Against the Tide), a briskly strutting noir showstopper, Rosano’s brooding baritone sax and clarinet alongside Mendoza’s reverberating guitar layers.

Mutedly twinkling vibraphone – most likely Convertino – infuses the enigmatically lilting Igual Que Ayer (Same as Yesterday). Mendoza’s insistent wah-wah guitar takes centerstage in the trippy, moody Nada Te Debo (I Don’t Owe You Anything) Rogers sings the album’s final cut, the psychedelic latin soul anthem Shadows of the Mind. Best darkly glimmering party album of the year – and maybe the only one. Hopefully they’ll get the chance to stretch some of these out and get really psychedelic at the Brooklyn show.

Paíto y los Gaiteros de Punta Brava Put on a Colombian Beach Party in Their New York Debut

The cumbia party at Lincoln Center last night started at about nine. For the better part of the previous ninety minutes, a vast expanse of bodies had been bouncing and swaying to the thunderous beats of Colombian gaita negra band Paíto y los Gaiteros de Punta Brava, who were making their New York debut. Introducing the group, Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez kept her cool, but she couldn’t hide how psyched she was to have booked them, current political climate be damned. “The music is deep, and goes way back,” she told an energized, sold-out crowd, and then let the music speak for itself.

Bandleader and wood flute player Sixto Delgado a.k.a. Paito hails not from the mainland but from Rosario Island off the coast of Cartagena. He’s one of very few remaining practitioners of gaita negra, a style that originated hundreds of years ago when slaves kidnaped from Africa began playing music with native Colombians. The result turned out to be as rhythmically sophisticated and eclectic as it is otherworldly. And as the group made clear, among the many grooves in their repertoire is the original cumbia. Even though they’re Colombian rather than Peruvian, if there’s ever a third volume of the Roots of Chicha compilation albums (which, if you love cumbia, you have to own), Paito needs to be on it.

It was a beach party night, and if there’s anybody who knows how to do it, it’s this group. The torrents of beats started very direct and matter-of-fact, then grew more complex and dynamic as the night went on, hitting a mighty peak, then down again and finally out with a lickety-split cumbia celebrating Colombian pride. Over the course of the party, the slinky, booming rhythms, played by two men and a woman on standup bass drum, conga and a surprisingly resounding hand drum, blended and alternated elements that can be heard in African Nyabinghi drumming, roots reggae, Cuban son montuno and Puerto Rican salsa, among other flavors.

Likewise, the fervent call-and-response of the vocals echoed African sounds that have spread around the globe, from American gospel and field hollers to the magical, ritualistic Moroccan trance music of Innov Gnawa. On their wood flutes, Paita and his counterpart played emphatic, gritty riffs based on the blues scale, the younger man keeping time all the while with a pair of shakers. The segues were clever, almost imperceptible, as the group would gallop along a triplet groove and then subtly make their way into straight-up 4/4, whether with a proto-reggae bounce, a slithery clave or the irresistible pendulum motion of cumbia.

One especially tasty subtlety turned out to be that the drums were tuned to a fourth interval, which enabled the drummers to interchange riffs with each other as well as with the flutes. By the end of the night, even the oldsters in the back were on their feet. The next dance party/global music event at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just south of 63rd St. is June 22 at 7:30 PM with South African guitarist Derek Gripper, who plays his own intricately virtuosic arrangements of ancient Malian music. 

And Paito and the band play a rare Brooklyn date on June 19 at 9:30 PM at Barbes; cover is $15.

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. 

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.