Let’s say you’re in charge of a popular annual Brooklyn hot pepper festival. Of all the bands in New York, who would you want to serenade the crowd as the doors open? The Brooklyn Botanic Garden chose fiery, hard-hitting latin soul revivalists Spanglish Fly to open this year’s Chile and Chocolate Festival this Saturday, September 26. Festivities start at 11 AM – that’s when the band hits – and continue til 6 along the cherry tree esplanade, which is a short walk from the Eastern Parkway entrance, just steps from the Eastern Parkway stop on the 2/3 trains.. And if you stick around until 3:15, you’ll get to hear popular 90s Jamaican crooner Everton Blender; then at 4:45 the eclectic reggae/Afrobeat Refugee All-Stars of Sierra Leone take the stage. Admission is $20/$15 stud/srs, kids under 12 get in free. And many of the vendors offer free samples as well.
Spanglish Fly also have a long awaited full-length debut album, New York Boogaloo, just out and streaming at Bandcamp. The band’s Harvey Averne-produced 2010 debut album is closer stylistically to the vintage singles of artists like Joe Bataan or Joe Cuba; the new one is more like those artists live, stretching out the songs with a blazing, brass-fueled salsa dura flavor. If you try sitting still to this stuff, your body will revolt.
The opening track, Esta Tierra, sets the stage: slinky percussion, fat slipsliding bass, smoky roto Hammond organ and similarly sepia-tinged trombones. And then a pause, and Kenny Bruno’s elegantly tumbling piano comes in, frontwoman Erica Ramos (who’s since been replace by the charming Mariella Gonzalez) offering a tour of the hood where these Puerto Rican and Harlem grooves started to cross-pollinating fifty years ago. The band takes it doublespeed from there, fueled by leader Jonathan Goldman’s jaunty trumpet. All this in less than five minutes.
Bump (And Let It Slide) is a real catchy one, a briskly strolling, edgy blend of echoey Rhodes piano, minor-key brass and summery organ spiced with Jonathan Flothow’s baritone sax. Return of the Po-Po is a sad scenario that just about any New Yorker who’s been here since the Rudy Mussolini era can relate to: hanging in the park after closing time? Open container, maybe a smoky treat? Uh oh, 5-0!
Martian Boogaloo is an instrumental, its catchy horn riffage punctuated by a handful of wry percussion breaks: just when it seems that percussionists Machuco Estremera and Gabo Tomasini and timbalero Charly Rodriguez are going to chill and just hit on the clave, they cut loose. The ever-present buzz of the scraper propels Mira Ven Aca, a Johnny Colon hit from 1967 that gets the fullscale psychedelic soul treatment, including but not limited to a coolly precise multitracked keyboard break.
42 (El Cuarenta y Dos) is a scurrying go-go shout-out to longtime Yankees closer and future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera – and it doesn’t sound the least bit like Enter Sandman. Love Graffiti Me takes The Locomotion and gives it a deeper, more spring-loaded bounce. Being a New York band, one assumes that Spanglish Fly are referring to the kind of bike you own, rather than rent from some corrupt, bankrupt corporation, in Me Gusto Mi Bicicleta. “Better ride on two wheels!” Gonzalez warns.
The wounded ballad Ciudate Hermana, Bruno’s anguished High Romantic piano underpinning Ramos’ eerily torchy vocals, is an unexpected break from all the party flavor – strangely enough, it might be the best track on the album. The party vibe returns on the final cut, Brooklyn Boogaloo, a hip hop-style shout-out to your neighborhood and everybody else’s. Since Spanglish Fly burst on the scene back in the late zeros, other bands have been mashing up classic soul with classic salsa, but these guys got there first.
If you can’t make it to Brooklyn on Saturday, Spanglish Fly are at Goddard Riverside Center, 647 Columbus Ave. at 92nd St. on the 29th at 8 PM for $10; take the 1/2/3 t0 96th.