Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro didn’t make their New York debut Friday night at Drom. They got that out of the way around 1930. But this might have been their first time here this century. That the Drom brain trust, Serdar Ilhan and Mehmet Dede had the foresight to bring back the iconic Cuban combo – a major force expanding the roots of salsa music as far back as 1928 – speaks for itself. The latest incarnation of the ensemble opened in a flurry of guitar and tres chords, the recently ubiquitous Josh Deutsch on trumpet, a transformative instrumental addition that in the group’s earliest days brought a jazz edge to what was essentially Cuban country music.
Then they launched into their famous anthem, Echale Salsita, which may (or may not) be the first-ever salsa song, the Cuban counterpart to Toots & the Maytals’ Do the Reggay. Speaking of which, it was also a reminder how much of a vintage Cuban influence there was in Jamaican rocksteady and Dominican bachata.
With his ringing, incisive chords and rapidfire volleys of strums, spirals and some pretty feral tremolo-picking, tres player Enrique Collazo took the most adrenalizing solos of the night. Percssionists Francisco Oropeza Fernandez and Julio Martinez Hernandez set down a slinky groove for gruff-voiced, charismatic frontman Eugenio Rodriguez to rasp and croon over. Meanwhile, Deutsch chose his spots, adding alternately balmy and fiery textures to the rustically bristling tunes. Unsurprisingly, the place was packed, equal parts booking agents in town for this weekend’s big convention along with a boisterous, all-ages hometown contingent who’d come out in full force for a chance to connect with latin music history.
Canadian cellist Cris Derksen opened the evening with a similarly brief, hypnotic, sometimes atmosphierc, sometimes pulsing electroacoustic set, accompanied by a percussionist and dancer. And afterward there was a folkie singer-songwriter whose New Year’s resolution, as she explained to the crowd, was to be kinder and gentler – to herself. Figures. Exhilarating Toronto flamenco/Middle Eastern/Balkan jamband Ventanas were scheduled to headline sometime after midnight – but when you’ve got about 24 hours worth of music to cover over the next 72 or so, and winter has finally stormed in, sometimes there’s a limit to how much more a blog can realistically handle. Next time, guys!