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Spanglish Fly Push the Envelope with a Classic, Slinky Latin Soul Sound

Much as the hypnotically clattering opening track on Spanglish Fly’s new album Ay Que Boogaloo! is titled Bugalú pa’ mi Abuela, this isn’t your grandmother’s latin soul. For the the past few years, Spanglish Fly have been putting a spicy horn-driven spin on the classic sounds that percolated out of Spanish Harlem in the mid-60s, when the local Puerto Rican and African-American populations started what would become a legendary musical cross-pollination. Much as this is dance music first and foremost, the new album is packed with neat instrumental touches that flash by so fast that it’s hard to keep track.

And much as the record – recorded live to two-inch analog tape, available on delicious vinyl and streaming at Bandcamp -pays mucho respect to the greats who came before, several generations of Nuyorican multi-disciplinary artistry are represented. To kick it off, El Callegueso guests as emcee, as do a number of poets and personalities from across the decades on several of the tracks.

“This is Subway Joe talking to you from way back,” the godfather of latin soul, Joe Bataan grins as New York Rules slinks along. It’s a shout-out to the B train (and the scary shit that every New Yorker risks every time we swipe through, or jump the turnstile). The closing interlude, with its sly Ellington quote, is irresistibly fun even if it’s kind of obvious

The band reinvents Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good as Chica Mala Mambo, a brooding, simmering groove under Mariella Gonzalez’s gritty vocals, part brass and part smoke. Morgan Price’s smoldering baritone sax rises out of a jungle of percussion and coros on the outro.   

Ojalá-Inshallah dances around a catchy, anthemic brass chart, proto-Afrobeat and latin soul mashed up like Hugh Masekela might have done it in the late 60s…but with hints of Arabic music. As with the rest of the tracks here, there are all kinds of tasty tradeoffs and interplay, in this case between Kenny Bruno’s piano and the percussion section – timbalero Teddy Acosta, conguero Dylan Blanchard, bongo player Ronnie Roc and drummer Arei Sekiguchi.

Gonzalez celebrates the Spanish Caribbean/New York, rural-to-urban connection in the summery La Clave e’Mi Bugalú, punctuated by a tantalizing breakdown, Bruno’s organ shimmering behind the horns and a thumping thicket of percussion. The most distinctly retro number, with its sultry jazz harmonies from the two frontwomen and mashup of jump blue and latin soul, is  Boogaloo Shoes – tenor saxophonist Matt Thomas steps out on that one. 

Mister Dizzy Izzy – a shout-out to Salsa Magazine founder Izzy Sanabria, featuring actor Flaco Navaja – hides an oldschool son montuno tune inside the band’s intricate interweave and a blazing crescendo driven by trumpeter/bandleader Jonathan Goldman.

Aretha sang about Spanish Harlem, but the group really take her sound there with a smoking,, boogaloo-ized reinvention of Chain of Fools, with sizzling baritone and tenor sax breaks, and percussion by Snowboy.

Swinging along over an incisive, LA Woman-style electric piano and organ groove, Coco Helado features an unexpectedly somber cameo by poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips. They wind up the party with the mighty noir soul anthem How Do You Know/Cómo Sabes, Paloma Muñoz’s richly brooding vocals over the uneasy, brassy backdrop that morphs into a streetwise call-and-response at the end. Goldman and the rest of the band find it appropriate that this multi-lingual, multicultural female-fronted mashup would be one of the first albums recorded during the scary first days of the current Presidential administration. If Putin’s big fat obese bitch in the Oval Office survives impeachment, he can always go see these guys at the Kennedy Center.

Spanglish fly’s next gig is at 8 PM on April 20 on a twinbill with wild Fela cover band Chop & Quench at Flushing Town Hall; cover is $16/$10 stud, and ages 13-19 get in free with school ID.

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. 

Spanglish Fly Bring Their Hot Spanish Harlem Flavor to This Year’s Chile and Chocolate Festival

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.

Spanglish Fly Keep the Party Going at Barbes

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.

More Classic-Style Latin Soul from Spanglish Fly

The past year’s been a good one for latin soul music in New York. The legendary 1972 Ghetto Brothers album finally got a worldwide release, Damian Quinones y Su Conjunto put out a stupendously good new album, and the Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout are going strong. Arguably the most exciting of the whole crop of New York latin soul groups, Spanglish Fly put out a couple of singles, including a new one, Brooklyn Boogaloo b/w My Shingaling Boy.

While these days, the job of producing an album usually falls to the artist making the record, this one gets instant cred – not to mention a shot of adrenaline – from producer Harvey Averne, leader of  70s Bronx latin soul legends the Harvey Averne Barrio Band and a longtime Fania Records figure during that label’s golden age thirty-odd years ago. Both cuts are streaming along with the total of three remixes that come with them at the group’s Bandcamp page.

On the A-side, you can feel the summer humidity on Atlantic Avenue, frontwoman Erica Ramos looking for something to lift her spirits. And then she finds it – and it’s got moves you can do. The timbales rattle on the turnaround, pianist Zach Seman tumbles elegantly (and quotes a summertime tune New Yorkers will recognize instantly) and they go out with a bouncy plena groove. The coy, innuendo-fueled B-side is a showcase for the band’s pulsing four-man horn section and four-man percussion line. Both tracks feature up-and-coming jazz star Luques Curtis (of the Curtis Brothers) on bass.

Spanglish Fly are back in NYC on Jan 11 at around midnight at Nublu after a gig at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.