Although what Spanglish Fly play is ostensibly boogaloo music, what they do isn’t retro at all. Basically, they come across as jazz guys playing a distinctively edgy 21st century update on classic psychedelic latin soul from the 60s. And there’s a little early Afrobeat – think Hugh Masekela – in there too, along with umpteen breaks for flurrying, postbop jazz horn solos, or momentary explosions from the timbales or the congas. You could make a case that they’re a cross between the Bronx Horns and Sharon Jones‘ backing band the Dap-Kings. When Chicha Libre (another individualistic, smartly improvisational band putting a new spin on an old sound, in their case Peruvian psychedelic cumbias) went on hiatus, Spanglish Fly were the first to take over that band’s long-running Monday night residency at Barbes. And they did a good job picking up the slack for an impossibly good act to follow. The first night of the residency, back in December, and then their show there this past Monday were full of surprises and top-shelf playing. They give party music a good name.
Trumpeter/bandleader Jonathan Goldman directed the band – who seem to be a semi-rotating cast of characters -with split-second precision when he wasn’t kicking in with the rest of the horns on a punchy chorus, or spiraling out into the stratosphere with a solo. At the December show, they were joined midway through by singer Mariella Gonzalez, who led them through several originals with a coyly enticing delivery, singing in both English and Spanish. This past Monday, they had a fashionably dressed dreadlocked guy singing a couple of tunes including a snazzily reworked, salsafied version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine. The bass in this band has always been fat but it was especially fat on Monday: as much as there was going on in the rest of the band, just the catchy hooks looming in from the bass amp were enough to keep your head bobbing. One of the standout tracks both nights was Pensamiento (Think), a big showstopper with a salsa dura break midway through and a hard-hitting, irresistible chorus. December’s set was more stripped-down, with plenty of tumbling, incisive piano work. This week’s set was more of a showcase for the fire and drive of the four-piece horn section and the band’s intricate arrangements, which owe more to jazz than to either salsa or retro soul. Their next Barbes show is Feb 16 at 9 PM, and remember, Monday is professional night. All the amateurs will be at home asleep.