UPDATE: because of the water main break just down the block, the Lincoln Center atrium space is currently closed, check their website for updates on cancellations and rescheduled concerts.
If a band can really jam, they can keep a two-chord minor-key groove interesting for twenty minutes. A lot of the oldschool salsa bands who play Lincoln Center can do that. But at the most recent salsa dance party there last month, timbalero Carlitos Padron and his group Los Rumberos del Callejon came in with a next-level game plan. A setlist is an art and a science, and this careening unit took that view from five thousand feet, slowly unwinding a show that peaked at about the forty-five minute mark, took a dip and then rose up with a scorching clatter at the end. And that was just the first set.
Padron didn’t even move from his snare until the first number was almost done – and that took about twelve minutes. Great as Tito Puente was, too many players try to imitate him, leaping in at peak velocity and leaving no room to go any higher afterward. Padron’s approach was 180 degrees the opposite – having a great percussion section, with congas and cowbell and a fantastic bongo player he’d engage in some devious beatwise conversations throughout the show was a big part of it. And as the show went on, each guy got plenty of time in the spotlight.
They didn’t hit that classic Puerto Rican bump bump, bump-bump-bump rhythm until late in the set – and that got the Nuyorican posse clapping along. The ride to that point was just as entertaining. Padron would tease the crowd with tantalizingly brief solos that would go on for maybe four bars: he’d never start on the beat, he’d never end on it and used every texture on his kit, hinting at familiar riffs but hardly ever going there. The rest of the band was just as purposeful; there always seemed to be a place for everybody within this wild mesh of sound. The horns – including sax as well as trombone – punched hard in peak moments, the pianist brought frequent classical elegance to the tunes and the bass had a similar low-key slink.
There was a point toward the end where the group brought it down with a couple of 80s-style salsa romantica ballads, but even there the percussion didn’t pull back to the point where the music sank in a big tub of cheese. Part of the reason why Los Rumberos sounded so counterintuitive, at least to New York ears, is that that they’re Venezuelan. Being outside the usual Cuba-Puerto Rico-New York flight path, they’re not as bound by that tradition – one that produced such a vast, rich amount of music back in the 70s, but one that sometimes bands play as if they’re in a museum. Not these guys.
There isn’t another salsa dance party at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. until February, but there are a couple of shows coming up where the grooves are going to be hot, for very different reasons. Venezuelan cuatro shredder Jorge Glem is playing with his C4 Trio, who do everything from Thelonious Monk to cumbia, rescheduled to March 6 ay 7:30 PM.. The Jan 23rd show with Los Cumpleaños playing their Colombian-flavored mix of psychedelic cumbia, dub and other trippy dance sounds is up in the air at this point, stay tuned.