New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: salsa

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.

A Wild Cuban Salsa Dance Party at Drom

Friday night at Drom, percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his band put on a feral, thunderous dance party. This wasn’t tame, watered-down covers of famous salsa jams from the 70s: Martinez plays originals, set to a constantly shifting, slinky groove. If the club wasn’t sold out, it was close to capacity, and from the second the smoke machine kicked in and the band hit the stage, people were dancing in their seats.

That didn’t last. By the end, everybody was on their feet. There was one particular couple who spent the entirety of the show twirling in between the tables, and they were just as interesting to watch as the band were, completely locked into the kaleidoscope of rhythms. When the pretty brunette saw Martinez move from behind his massive kit to show off his own dance moves at the front of the stage, she leapt up onstage and joined him. By the end of the show, the duo looked as if they’d changed shirts. You would have too if you’d given yourself that kind of workout.

In this band, everybody is part of the percussion section, even the horns. Martinez had six congas, a snare, hi-hat, two cymbals slung overhead, and would occasionally drive home a turnaround with a mighty thump on the cajon he was sitting on. He introduced his timbalero as “the greatest percussionist of his generation,” and nobody in the crowd argued with that, especially when the two dueled and built supersonic volleys of beats, to a tropical hailstorm.

The group’s roughly ninety-minute set was like one long song, but with sometimes subtle, sometimes spectacular rhythmic shifts. Even more impressive than the sheer physicality and grace of the performance was how fresh it sounded. Martinez has been doing this for a long time, but the chemistry in this band is such that everybody knows how to push everybody else’s buttons and drive the jousting to new levels of intensity.

Martinez’s forthcoming album is titled Autentico, and his pianist is in charge of the arrangements, so it was no surprise to see what a polyrhythmic approach he took to his cascades and stabbing chords. Likewise, the group’s bassist would hammer on the strings with the edge of his fist rather than merely fingerpicking. The man in the sunburst shirt who started out on guiro doubled on both trombone and trumpet, often playing all three instruments in the same song. And it was fun to watch Martinez take a turn on bass late in the set: he knows what he’s doing! Likewise, the timbalero took over on congas when Martinez would get up to dance with a pretty girl.

A Blissful Return For Arturo O’Farrill’s Paradigm-Shifting Afro-:Latin Jazz at Birdland

The live music meme in New York this summer is bliss. At his relentlessly entertaining show Sunday night at Birdland with his Afro-Latin Jazz Octet, pianist Arturo O’Farrill spoke to the “infinite loop” between musicians and audience, and how crucial that dynamic is for a performer The club wasn’t quite sold out, probably due to the impending storm outside, but you should have heard the thunderous standing ovation at the end of the show. That infinite loop resonated just as powerfully on both ends.

It helps that O’Farrill is a personable guy and loves to engage the crowd, but in a subtly erudite way. Since the 90s, he’s pushed the envelope about as far as anyone can go with what could loosely be called latin jazz, and he dares the listener to think along with him. And the band seemed as amped as he was to interact with everybody who’d come out.

Much as O’Farrill’s music is colorful and picturesque, there’s always a balance between unbridled passion and a zen-like discipline: nobody in this group overplays. At just about any concert, it’s almost inevitable that somebody gets carried away. Not this crew.

They opened with a broodingly Ellingtonian cha-cha and closed with a more exuberant salsa-jazz tune. Right off the bat, O’Farrill was busting loose: he gets all kinds of props as a composer, but we forget what a brilliant pianist he is. Lickety-split spiral staircase elegance, meticulously articulated yet spine-tingling cascades, moonlight sonatas that flashed by in seconds flat, DAMN. He didn’t confine all that to his opening solo, either.

Trumpeter Jim Seeley and trombonist Mariel Bildstein chose their spots, throughout a lot of deceptively sophisticated counterpoint. Whether everybody in the band is consciously aware of it or not, they’re all ultimately part of the rhythm section.

Bassist Bam Bam Rodriguez ranged from undulating grooves, to hazy uneasy, to a ridiculously comedic exchange with the bandleader late in the set. Drummer Vince Cherico is the secret timbalero in this project, particularly with his hypnotic rimshots, woodblock and bell. Conguero Keisel Jimenez had fun taking a turn on the mic for a singalong, clapalong take of the old salsa classic Manteca. His fellow percussionist Carlos Maldonado fueled several upward trajectories with his boomy cajon while tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta ranged from incisive to balmy to taking a carefree turn on flute.

And the compositions were as wide-ranging as anyone could hope for. There was the shapeshifting, chuffing La Llorona, from one of many of O’Farrill’s ballet suites, scheduled for release on album this winter (if there isn’t lockdowner interference). He drew some laughs when he introduced a restless, lustrous jazz waltz arrangement of the old Scottish air She Moves Through the Fair as a shout-out to his heritage (check the last name for validation).

He explained the matter-of-factly crescendoing Compa’Doug as a portrait of two guys out at night raising hell, although the group took their time with the song’s careful, saturnine development before a rather sober evening rolled into the wee hours. El Sur, a Gabriel Alegria tune, wound out expansively from a Peruvian festejo beat to a hypnotically circular, almost qawwali-ish 6/8 groove with punchy incisions from the horns. And O’Farrill warned that his tune Tanguanco – a mashup of tango and a slinky Cuban rhythm – was dangerously sexy, the percussion section anchoring it with a turbulent undercurrent.

O’Farrill and the octet continue their renewed weekly residency at Birdland every Sunday night at 7 PM; cover s $20.

A Rare, Edgy 1961 Calypso Treat Rescued From Obscurity

Smithsonian Folkways, which is more or less the US national record label, may be best known for championing artists across Americana roots music. But they also have a history of recording artists from around the world. With the boom in vinyl records, they’ve been reissuing a number of releases from their vast back catalog, some of which have been unavailable for decades.

One of them is a haphazard 1960 field recording of Tuareg women running through their repertoire of ancient desert songs. Another is Calypso Travels, a 1961 studio album by Lord Invader, one of the last recordings the Trinidadian legend ever made. His voice is a little ragged, but his deadpan sense of humor and often withering political sensibility are undiminished. Considering how, just like hip-hop, calypso has always reflected its era’s events, this is a real period piece.

There’s always been lots of cross-pollination going on down in the islands, which comes across immediately in the album’s opening track: Me One Alone has a striking Afro-Cuban feel, with call-and-response from the frontman and his band, slightly out-of-tune salsa-tinged piano, spare bass and conga and honking sax. He’s here to claim his title as king of calypso and once he gets the Americans involved (a seemingly very cynical way of looking at things), he’ll rule the island

Lieutenant Joe’s hit As Long As It Born in My House is bizarrely hilarious, a lilting litany of shotgun marriages and dubious patrimony. Likwise, the cheery Beautiful Belgic masks a cynical undercurrent of Cold War imperialist politics: remember, Trinidad only gained independence in 1962.

My Experience on the Rapper Band (i.e. Reeperbahn) is a funnier precursor to the Kinks’ Lola. Lord Invader shows off some surprisingly un-fractured German in Auf Wiedersehen and then examines the ongoing American Civil Rights struggle with the ironclad logic of Crisis in Arkansas. Finally, he drops the sarcasm: “I think you are afraid of the negroes’ intelligence.”

Lord Invader holds out hope for Fidel Castro with a sparse, biting cha-cha shout-out to him, then  gives props to calypso contemporaries Mighty Sparrow and others in Carnival, a celebration of revelry at home and throughout the global Trini diaspora.

The drums rumble, the piano cuts loose more, and it seems like the bandleader is basically freestyling throughout Te We and Beeway, a couple of party joints. Lord Invader’s cynicism hits redline in Cat O’Nine Tails: if corporal punishment is legal in the colonies, then why not use it in the UK too? He follows that matter-of-factly with the anti-violence anthem Steel Band War and wraps up the record with Women Trying to Rule, a wry battle-of-the-sexes tale which extends to the British imperialist classes. Lots of good jokes but plenty of history here too.

 

 

 

Feral, Catchy Guantanamo Party Music Captured For the First Time on Album

Imagine a world with no screens. Where after work, instead of obsessively spending an hour or two on Instagram, you went home and picked up an instrument. And when your neighbors across the way heard the song, instead of filming thirty seconds of it and posting it on Instagram, they joined you and started dancing. And then somebody brought a bottle of rum, and then even in the 110-degree, global warming-era heat, there was a party.

That’s what the new triple album Changüí: The Sound of Guantanamo – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds like, in Cuban Spanish. It’s a party in a box: three and a half hours of wild, rustic, funny, deviously innuendo-laced, historically rich music, played mostly by a bunch of jangly local acoustic pickup bands who have never been recorded before. Which is no surprise, considering that much of their part of the island didn’t have electric power before the 1990s – and explains why this material sounds as feral as it does.

Changui music has been appropriated by salsa bands for decades. In the wild, it sounds like son montuno with a more straightforwardly shuffling beat, although that rhythm is stretched to all kinds of new places here. Tres players show off their fretboard skills in long, careening, spiky solos. Singers trade battle rhymes, or endless rounds of call-and-response over an undulating groove from a simple marímbula rhythm box and bongo beats with a contrasting, labyrinthine, shamanic complexity.

Like salsa and blues, the repertoire is self-referential and self-reverential. Innumerable stars from local scenes are remembered in these songs, along with their descendants, who play their songs now and big-up themselves. One of the most compelling bands on this album is an all-female crew haphazardly assembled when the bandleader’s regular lineup was unavailable – and her subs turned out to be incredibly amped for the performances.

It’s normal to be suspicious of westerners who go into formerly colonized parts of the world and emerge with what they claim is new evidence of a previously undiscovered tradition. What is not in doubt is that Italian musicologist Gianluca Tramontana went into Cuba in 2017, hoping to score enough found sounds for a NPR piece. Two years later, he came back to the US with hours and hours of field recordings, distilled into this box set with a 124-page booklet including Spanish lyrics, plus some pretty good English translations. For non-native Spanish speakers, the vocals are much easier to understand than you might assume: the cheat sheet is a welcome bonus.

It would take another 124-page book to chronicle all the sounds on the record. Typically, the tres clangs and pings, shedding overtones almost like a twelve-string or Portuguese guitar. The spirits are invoked, bandleaders assert themselves as kings of the mic and the party, as the groove pulses from stark to frenetic and back. The lyrics can be suggestive, or snide – one of the funniest songs here is a dis aimed at a real princess of a girl – and also political. Several numbers reference the freedom fighters battling Spanish conquistadors in the 1890s.

There’s a haunting, delicately slashing minor-key number accusing vintage salsa bandleader Juan Formell of stealing the Guantanamo sound: after all these years, the sting still seems fresh. Singer Francisco “Mikikí” Hernández Valiente distinguishes himself with his gritty, impassioned style. Tres player Yoemnis “Sensei” Tabernas lives up to his nickname, and then some. Likewise, fast-fingered Pedro Vera, leader of Grupo Familia Vera, validates his claim as “El rey del diapasón.”

Grupo Changüí de Guantánamo are the band best known outside of Cuba here: they’ve toured the US and played New Orleans Jazzfest. The all-female Las Flores del Changüí are represented mostly by ringers who are very good.

Grupo Estrellas Campesinas and their tragically, recently deceased founder Armando “Yu” Rey Leliebre contribute strongly here, along with Grupo El Guajiro Y Su Changüí, Mikikí y su Changüí, Mikiki’s brother Melquiades y su Changüí plus a multi-brother extravaganza and the unrelated Popó y su Changüí.

There are also a couple of playful lyrical battles between Celso Fernández Rojas a.k.a. El Guajiro and José Andrés Rodríguez Ramírez, better known as “El Sinsonte,” backed by Grupo Changüí de Guantánamo. One can only imagine how much more material there might be in Tramontana’s archive that didn’t make it onto this album.

Revisiting a Hot Night in Queens with Supermambo

The sun was a blowtorch defying the Manhattan skyline, blasting from between buildings as it slowly sank the night that Supermambo most recently played Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City.

Bandleader Felipe Fournier is a vibraphonist. Leaping around, his mallets a blur as his volleys of notes rang out and then receded, was the heat going to be too much? He’s from Costa Rica: maybe he built up a tolerance down there, because he didn’t seem the least bit affected. If anything, the summer sun that evening in August of 2018 fanned the flames of what turned out to be a show that was as interesting as it was adrenalizing He’s bringing the band and their high-voltage blend of classic salsa and jazz back to the park on July 20 at 7 PM. There are two ways to get there: take the 7 to Vernon-Jackson and follow 48th Ave. straight to the river, or the G to 21st/Van Alst, take 45th Ave. as far toward the water as you can and then make a left.

Supermambo started out as a Tito Puente cover band: Fournier took his inspiration from the fact that Puente got his start playing vibes before he switched to timbales. Since then they’ve been playing originals as well as imaginative arrangements of classic jazz tunes. The most stunning number of the night was a real unexpected one, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, reinvented as a long, serpentine jam that seemed to leave the original 5/4 beat behind for the sake of the dancers about midway through. Both Fournier and trombonist Rey David Alejandre had fun working variations on that famous riff, finally bringing the song full circle and ending surprisingly somberly. It’s impossible to remember who was in the band that night: a listing from around that time at Terraza 7, one of the group’s main bases, includes Camilo Molina on congas, Joel Mateo on drums and Dan Martínez on bass.

The Puente material wasn’t all big hits, which was interesting, maybe due to the fact that he didn’t get famous until after he’d left the vibraphone behind. The bass bobbed and weaved, the trombone loomed in and punctuated the songs’ expansive tangents as Fournier rippled up a storm over a river of turbulently undulating beats. May the park be a little cooler or at least breezier this month than it was that night.

A Titanic, Imaginatively Orchestrated Salsa Swing Album From the Iconic Ruben Blades

What an inspiration it is to see the most fearlessly original paradigm-shifter of all the salsa dura pioneers of the 70s still pushing the envelope. Ruben Blades‘ new album Salswing with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta – streaming at Spotify – is aptly titled, a lavishly symphonic latin jazz project. Blades’ voice is a bit more wintry than it was forty years ago, but he tackles the material here – an imaginative mashup of jazz standards and salsa – with his usual soul and gravitas. Listen closely and you discover that he’s overdubbed his own coros. Hearing him hit those high notes on the second track reaffirms his indominable stature as leader of the old school – which in his case makes him just as much a leader of the new school.

Delgado’s Panamanian ensemble and his colorful, edgy charts make a good match. They open with Paula C, the lushness enhanced by the Venezuela Strings Recording Ensemble. Guest Eduardo Pineda’s Rhodes piano bubbles amid the brassy gusts, trumpeter Juan Carlos “Wichy” Lopez reaching for the stratosphere and nailing it.

Blades lands somewhere between Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. in a blazing, ebullient take of Pennies from Heaven, trombone soloist Xito Lovell cascading down out of a sunburst brass break. The textures and exchanges between the reeds and brass in the instrumental Mambo Gil have grit to match their majesty, alto saxophonist Jahaziel Arrocha taking a tantalizingly brief, spiraling solo.

Blades goes into nuanced crooner mode for Ya No Me Duele over the bandleader’s strolling bass pulse, Tom Kubis adding flourishes on alto sax amid the towering brass. The vocals on Watch What Happens are bordering on breathless, effectively driving home the song’s ironclad optimism over the sudden swells of the orchestra. Blades reaches for similar intensity, but with a more imploring feel in Cobarde and its intricate, understated polyrhythms.

Lopez’s balmy, straightforward trumpet solo flies over an elegant midtempo swing beat in Do I Hear Four?, the group’s counterpoint rising toward inferno levels. There’s a little more drama and mystery in Blades’ voice in Canto Niche, Juan Berna switching between piano and echoey Rhodes. The Way You Look Tonight is the closest thing to a coyly seductive, straight-up fifties Sinatra swing tune here,

Blades winds up the record with a couple of slinky barn-burners. Ricky Rodriguez’s low-key, tumbling piano and Alejandro “Chichisin” Castillo’s smoky baritone sax anchor the dynamically-shifting, colorful Contrabando, Raul Aparicio’s accordion popping in unexpectedly. Similarly, Tambó rises from a streetcorner intro from the percussion section to an insistent, driving oldschool salsa groove. A titanic achievement from a huge, semi-rotating ensemble that also includes percussionists Ademir Berrocal, Raul Rivera, Carlos Perez Bido, Jose Ramon Guerra and Luis Mitil; Francisco Delvecchio and Avenicio Nunez on trombones; Carlos Ubarte, Ivan Navarro and Luis Carlos Perez on saxes; Milton Salcedo, Dino Nugent, Ceferino Caban and Dario Boente on piano; Carlos Quiros on bass; Carlos Camacho on vibes; and Abraham Dubarron on guitar.

A Rare Broadway Show with Authentic New York Flavor

From the opening salsa rhythm to the long mashup at the end, the original Broadway cast recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights – streaming at Spotify – simmers with authenticity. Anyone who’s taken the train to 181st Street and then gone up in the elevator day after day will confirm that this was a rare musical which accurately captured an immigrant New York milieu. Miranda knows his turf and didn’t sugarcoat anything for out-of-town audiences. If the upcoming film is as sharply detailed as this, it’s going to be a box office smash – if there is still such a thing as a box office by that time, anyway.

On one level, it’s a familiar story: brash aspiring rapper Benny knows that chasing clear-voiced, angst-ridden college student Nina Rosario, “the one that made it out,” is a longshot, but he does it anyway. It’s funny, it’s smutty in places, and it’s as gritty as the neighborhood. People work long hours amid crushing poverty but dream big. Anti-immigrant bigotry looms in the background. The ice man frets that Mister Softee is putting him out of business. The bodega guys resolve to stick around and defend the store on a particularly hot, violent and eventually lethal Fourth of July evening. Local kids feel displacement as yuppies move in. Generational tensions bubble over, and yet there’s irrepressible joie de vivre despite otherwise pretty dire circumstances.

This is a long album, 23 tracks worth of salsa, hip-hop, reggaeton, soul, Dominican and Cuban folk music and bouncy piano pop, sometimes all in the same number, in both English and Spanish. The band excel particularly in the brassiest salsa interludes. There are unexpected plot twists and a strong supporting cast who get as much if not more time in the spotlight as the central characters. No spoilers: dig in and enjoy.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Bring Cuba to New Orleans, and Vice Versa

Listening to a gargantuan five-album set of New Orleans music (see yesterday’s piece here) makes a person hungry for more. So today’s album is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s latest release, the soundtrack to the documentary film A Tuba to Cuba, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a throwback to the days of Machito and the first wave of Afro-Cuban music making its way to these shores, tracing bassist Ben Jaffe’s trip with the band to Cuba for some deep roots immersion. If you like your salsa on the organic side, this is for you.

Being on the gulf, New Orleans played an enormous role in helping spread American jazz, blues, soul, country and gospel sounds to Mexico and points further south. And that pollintation worked both ways. So it only makes sense that the revered, multi-generational band – who’ve always played a lot more than just New Orleans jazz – would look to Cuba for inspiration.

With its smoky sax, echoey Rhodes piano and slinky salsa percussion section, the album’s first track, Timba, comes across as a mashup of the Meters, Morphine and slinky Afro-Cuban traditions. The second cut, simply titled Descarga (which makes sense since it’s a hypnotic one-chord jam) has spiky cuatro and energetic call-and-response vocals from the group’s Cuban collaborators in lieu of the band’s legendary brass. They bring all that back in I Am, a jubilant soprano sax-driven cha-cha, then take it down again with the balmy, vamping sax-and-Rhodes ballad Corazon.

With Keep Your Head Up, they take a cheery mambo and make a second-line march out of it. Then they invoke the ancient Yoruba spirits with stirring vocal harmonies in a shout-out to the god of good times, Ellegua. The album’s best track is Kreyol, part biting minor-key cha-cha, part New Orleans shuffle, with more than a hint of dub reggae. Another standout is Paloma, a brief, rustic bolero for just cuatro and vocals.

The band return to summery sax-and-Rhodes ambience in Solitude, picking up the pace with the careening, shuffling Manicero, a slightly out-of-tune tres adding to the haphazard energy. They wind up the record with Malecon, a starry mambo.

Although the group tour from time to time, they typically hang close to their home base. So it was a rare treat to be able to catch them live, early one afternoon in downtown Brooklyn in the summer of 2017. Even at that early hour, they were even more adrenalizing than they are on this record, with a fiery, solo-centric mix of marches, funk, expansively brassy jazz and brooding soul themes.