Latin Beat Columns - December 2011-January 2012 Issue

By Nelson Rodríguez

Latin Beat Columns - Credit...Latin Beat Magazine

"Latin Beat Columns" Credit...Latin Beat Magazine"

Looking back at 2011, it's interesting to note that there were virtually no major label releases of Latin music, since the artists that were on major labels have launched off on their own. What we see is more exposure through social media and smaller publicity representatives (mostly for Latin jazz). There were many 2011 releases that we reviewed in Latin Beat and I'd like to give credit to all the great acts that graced our online magazine.

Once again, the releases were equally divided between Latin jazz and salsa, while merengue has taken a back seat to bachata, and the Latin hip-hop nation (reggaetón) has virtually disappeared. Salsa bands adding reggaetón to their songs are beating a dead drum that wore off many years ago…True salsa fans, including the younger aficionados, prefer either the commercial romantic salsa or the hardcore format without the addition of reggaetón.

Some of the best salsa of 2011 included releases by Willy Torres, Walter A. Torres, José Raúl "Lips" Morales, Santiago All-Stars, Frankie Morales, Sonando, Willamsburg Salsa Orchestra, Fay Roberts & Charangoa, Jorge Cordero y Los Gran Daneses, 8 y Más, Son de Tikizia, Willie Panamá, Adriel González, El Maestro Seda, José Rizo's Mongorama, Mambo Legends Orchestra, Lucky 7 Mambo, Caché, Lisandro Torres, Sonido Criminal, Melena, Choco Orta, Sol, Grupo Salsafón, Victoria Sanabria, Moisés Cancel, Tito Rojas, Charlie Cruz, CaboCubaJazz, Villariny Salsa Project, Wito Colón, Marco Toro y su Emsemble, Nelson, Janeen Puente, Rumbaché, Rumbankete, Montuno Swing, Henry Fiol, Johnny Ray, Javier Plaza & Son-Risa, Grupo Arcaño, Tiempo Libre, Timbalive, A&C La Banda, La Contrabanda, La Surcusal SA, Héctor Iván Rivera, Carlos Cascante y su Tumbao, La Más Orquesta, Lázara López /Gerardo Rosales, Orquesta Changüí, Doble Jugada, Don Adolfo, Son Del Salón, Alex Wilson, Calle Facción, Rey Ruiz, Mi Solar, Sammy García y El Poder de Puerto Rico, and Sirak & Sonora Antillana.

And the Latin jazz world was graced with some great recordings by Latineo, T.K. Blue, Nelson Rivero, Newton Velázquez, Kevin Hart's Latin Jazz Quintet, Michel Herrera, Arturo Sandoval, Dave Valentín, Michel Camilo, Miguel Zenón, Guisando Caliente, Henry Brun & The Latin Playerz, Bobby Matos' Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble, Wayne Wallace's Latin Jazz Quintet, Mark Weinstein, Arturo O'Farrill, Edwin Clemente, Panchito, Daniel Smith, The Curtis Brothers, Luis Conte, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Roberto Quintero, John Santos Sextet, Steve Kroon, Adam Cruz, Kiki Sánchez, William Johnson, Silvano Monasterios, Jane Bunnet/Hilario Durán, Harold López Nussa, Jerry González, Sammy Figueroa & Latin Jazz Explosion, Bill O'Connell, Maraca, and Claudio Roditi.

During my tenure with RMM, I became a huge fan of Michael Stuart, who has recorded the best CD of his entire career: "Tribute to Louie Ramírez- Amanece y Sigue," which offers something that is not commonly found in the recordings made nowadays in Puerto Rico: The solos provided by Luisito Quintero, Alfredo de la Fé, Raúl Agraz, Yomar Méndez, and Jesús Menudo. These improvisations may not be long as the ones found in Ramírez's original recordings, but they are refreshing indeed. Michael Stuart delivers a great project when you consider what is happening on the Puerto Rican airwaves. It's a good tribute to Louie Ramírez, and it is hoped that a younger generation will now be able to discover this great man's musical genius.

As we approached the last month of 2011, we received an EP released by Marc Bishoff's Doble Jugada, featuring the vocalists Nando Vanín and Fabián Nodarse. "Me Lleva y Me Eleva" can easily become a huge commercial hit.

Jesús Alejandro Pérez (Niño Jesús) has dedicated himself in the past few years to the exploration of his Cuban roots, starting with the CD "Cafecito Cubano," which included the awesome jam "Te Juro, Suelo," followed up by his most recent recording "Regreso a Casa," in which Niño combines his voice with those of Ariel Betancourt and Gilberto Naranjo.

One of today's best jazz bass players is Christian McBride, who just released "Conversations With Christian," a project that unites him with Sting, Roy Hargrove, Regina Carter, George Duke, Dr. Billy Taylor, Hank Jones, and Chick Corea, among many others. My favorite Latin jazz track is "Guajeo y Tumbao," featuring Eddie Palmieri.

Bio-Ritmo has proven over the years its capacity to produce a consistently creative sound. In its latest CD "La Verdad," the band excels on "Verguenza," "Caravana del Vejigante," and the title track. This is by far Bio-Ritmo's best CD (It is also available on DVD and vinyl formats).

The recognition awarded to flutist Carlos Jiménez (leader of Mambo Dulcet) has been growing with each of his recordings, making a name for himself in the Latin jazz world. His latest album ("Red Tailed Hawk") includes names like Alfredito Valdés Jr., Orlando Marín, Edy Martínez, Lewis Kahn, Sonny Bravo, and Pete Nater.

Another good Latin jazz release is "Mr. P.," recorded by pianist Rick Arroyo's Latin Jazz Ensemble as as tribute to Eddie Palmieri, with special guests Artie Webb and Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez. My picks include "Flight to Jordan," "Song for My Father," "Equinox," "Blue Bossa," "Feeling the Change," and the title track.

Last month we mentioned the Berlin-based band Mi Solar, whose 2008 debut ("Amistad") contained the hits "Amistad," "Mi Solar," "Dile a Catalina," "Profundo," and "Tal Como Eres." Mi Solar is one of Europe's finest bands.

From France comes the self-titled EO of Conga Libre & Reynier Silegas (formerly known as Banda de Santiago de Cuba.) This EP is a good preview of what the band will be offering in 2012.

Plena is in good hands with Anibal De Gracia & Batukealo's CD "50 Años de Fiesta," which includes some very nice salsa versions of "El Negro Bembón" (with vocals by Osvaldo Román) and "Besitos de Coco" (with vocals by he late Giovanny Lugo).

A new voice from Venezuela is presented by the composer identified as Nestor (Guaniré), whose debut ("En Caracas") includes the potential hits "Somos Víctimas," "Dueño de tu Amor," "Me Quiero Refrescar," and "Ven Que Te Invito".

Percussionist Louie Cruz Beltrán offers his latest CD ("Paint the Rhythm"), backed by a cast of talented artists, such as Hubert Laws, Poncho Sánchez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Justo Almario, Abrahám Laboriel, Ramón Flores, Otmaro Ruiz, Oskar Cartaya, René Camacho, Joe Rotondi, and Eric Jorgenson.

The Curtis Brothers (Luques and Zaccai) delivered one of last year's pleasant Latin jazz surprises, and now are back with the disc "Completion of Proof," featuring Brian Lynch, Ralph Peterson and Donald Harrison (former members of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers), along with Pedro Martínez and Joe Ford.

The Santiago All-Stars, led by conguero Jorge Hasbun, have released a beautiful CD/DVD combo that not only confirms their credentials as the hottest band from Chile, but must also be regarded as one of the best recordings of 2011. "Joya y Rareza" credits Ricky González as musical director, as well as soloist on the track "Bochinchosa," which also includes Jimmy Sabater as guest vocalist. Ricky González and Angel Fernández handled all the arrangements. Para más información, visite su página de, o el canal de YouTube de

One of the best Christmas releases of the past decade must be the CD "A Very Latin Christmas," recorded by Henry Brun & The Latin Playerz, who managed to create the perfect blend of traditional and party music that everyone will enjoy throughout the holidays. The musicians do a superb job, and Judi D'Leon shines on vocals.