Latin Beat Columns - February 2012 Issue

By Nelson Rodríguez

Latin Beat Columns - Credit...Latin Beat Magazine

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

How do you follow-up a hot year of great releases? You top 2011 with an even hotter 2012 of new releases, re-issues and many related surprises. As we finished 2011, many new projects emerged from all over the world; while multiple rare recordings surfaced in various websites.

Puerto Rico experienced the celebration of Humberto Ramirez’s 20th Anniversary, along with the release of the Conjunto Puerto Rico CD titled “Así Es…Conjunto Puerto Rico” with special guest Rafu Warner (of Bobby Valentín fame). Led by pianist Kevin Figueroa, the band lives by their motto ‘Qué viva el tumbao’, as shown on the tracks “Cachetero,” “El Bochinchero,” “Todo o Nada” and “Mi Receta.”

Another act from the island that has been doing well is Julito Alvarado & Del Sur Al Norte, whose CD “Perseverancia” includes the hits “Olvídala,” “Sí No Te Quieres Tú,” “La Manía de Mi Mujer,” “Por Primera Vez,” “Sin Ti No Tengo Nada” and “Boricuas Unidos” (featuring Héctor Giovanni, Luisito Carrión and Julio Voltio). Combine the vocal talents of Harold Soto and Anthony García with the top arrangements of its leader, and you have, as a result, one of Puerto Rico’s hottest young bands.

One of the best ambassadors of Latin jazz in the world has been Poncho Sánchez, who offers a different concept with each release and always includes some tracks for those jazz fans that love to dance. The CD “Chano y Dizzy”, a collaboration with trumpeter Terence Blanchard opens with an awesome “Chano Pozo Medley: Tin Tin Deo/Manteca/Guachi Guara”; and also contains some of my favorites — “Con Alma,” “Promenade,” “Ariñáñara” and “Groovin High.”

A Hall of Fame musician who has made a name for himself with every CD he releases is Mark Weinstein, who took us all by surprise with his latest CD, “El Cumbanchero”. Considering Mark’s high-caliber flutework and pianist Aurán Ortiz’s powerful arrangements on the title track, “El Mulato Rumbero,” “Aruanco,” “Danzón de Liz” and “Armoniosos de Amalia,” it is obvious that this CD will be regarded as one of the year’s best.

Ukraine’s Dislocados offer their fantastic new release, “Pasaporte Universal”. Surpassing their debut, pianist/director Ilya Yeresko and vocalist Karolina Patocki are back with an award-winning recording. Just listen to “Como Tú” (with Jimmy Bosch), “Discolado,” “Dirty 30,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” “El 29 de Abril,” “Fiesta del Caribbean Club”, “Navidad en Heathrow,” and “Mi Barcelona.”

Bassed in Toulousse, Chámacos is a new band from France, a powerhouse for salsa in recent years. Their debut, “Salsa y Timba”, features the tunes “Alegria,” “Oye Chámacos” and “Boogaloo Diablo Mama.” Here in the U.S., North Carolina joins the salsa ranks with the school band under the leadership of David García’s UNC’s Charanga Carolina, founded in 2004 and comprised of students from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and professional musicians from the surrounding area. Their CD “La Familia” is enriched with the outstanding arrangements of “Noche Como Boca E’Lobo,” “El Avance,” “Ahora Si,” “Esto Te Pone La Cabeza Mala,” “Timboró,” “El Cayuco” and “Nada de Ti.”

José Lugo & Guasabara Combo’s “Poetic Justice” contains five tracks that are going to be huge in 2012: “Alguien Que Me Quiera,” “Hoy Se Cumplen Seis Semanas,” “Parece Que Uno Se Va a Morir,” “Yo No Pedí” and the Latin jazz number titled “Postum Mambo.”

Veteran percussionist Mike Rojas, better known as “El Padre de la Salsa Vallenata” has an extensive resume that includes performances with Santana, The Rolling Stones, Arsenio Rodríguez, Eddie Cano, Azuquita, Juan Gabriel, José José, Willie Bobo, René Touzet, and many others. His incorporation of the vallenato-style accordion to the song “Crescencio” (with a young Yari Moré) was soon followed by Roberto Torres’ ‘El Caballo Viejo’ that arranger Alfredo Valdés Jr. picked up while based on the West Coast, when Valdés and Rojas were members of Hermes Niño and his Colombian Boys. Mike Rojas & La Sociedad’s CD, “Sopa de Ritmo” features names like Henry Mora, Paco Navarrete, Harry Kim, Bobby Loya, José ‘Perico’ Hernández, Willie Mullings, Arturo Velazco, Ralfi Pagán and Yari Moré.

Producer/guitarist Greg Landau has been doing a great job of documenting Latin music from the Bay Area under his own label (Round Whirled Records), as exemplified by saxophonist Enrique Fernández’s “Cantos del Sexto Sol,” a recording that combines the sounds of the Andes, the Caribbean and New York, featuring Omar Sosa on keyboards. On the other hand, Carne Cruda’s “Oakland Tight” combines norteño and banda beats in an array of rock, cumbia, and funk elements, while the music of the late 1960s and ‘70s in the Mission District served as the inspiration for the soundtrack “Songs From La Mission” (with actor Benjamin Bratt) one of 2010’s best CD’s, in my opinion. I loved Greg Landau’s compositional work and the band’s version of “Be Thankful” by William reminds me of the Latin soul style that emerged in New York in the 1960s.

Luis Disla is another saxophone veteran who has made his debut with “The Prophecy,” backed by Abraham Laboriel, Alex Acuña and Steve Gadd, along with special guests Néstor Torres and Tito Puente Jr. My favorites tracks include “Reasons,” “Naima’s Way,” “Stick To It” and “You Don’t Know Me.”

The Swiss compilation “Salsa-Editor’s Choice-Vol.3,” is a must have, with selections by Susie Hansen, Bio Ritmo, René Rodríguez, Oscar Ledezma y Los Okananis, Pibo Márquez y su Descarga Criolla, Sin Miedo, Bernardo Quesada & Rumba Jam, Una Mas Trio, Bryan Vargas & Ya Está, Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra, and Clandestina Orquesta.

Jorge Cordeo & Los Gran Daneses have been a landmark Danish band since their 1993 debut (“Rompiendo el Hielo”) as Los Gran Daneses de la Salsa. In 1996, they had an awesome release titled “Del Norte y Tropical.” Their new CD, “Siempre Pa’Lante,” demonstrates how this band has grown over the years with the hits “Ya Llegó,” “Pa’Lante,” “Qué Pena Me Da”, “Te Perdomo,” “No Vengas a Decirme,” and “El Güiro No.”