Latin Beat Columns - May 2012 Issue

By Nelson Rodríguez

Latin Beat Columns - Credit...Latin Beat Magazine

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

It's hard to believe that we have reached the lowest level in decades of commercial radio and television support for new salsa and Latin jazz releases, while more and more recordings of these genres are released on a monthly basis.

One of the pleasant surprises of the month is the Miami-based group Iba A Se Latin Jazz World, led by Puerto Rican percussionist Edgar Rodríguez and Dominican saxophonist Víctor Payano, whose "must-have" CD "Opus Mundi" taps the rich history of Latin jazz and the wealth of Caribbean folkloric influences. Some of those that contribute to this project are Charlie Sepúlveda, Giovanni Hidalgo, Edwin Bonilla, Eddie 'Guagua' Rivera, Tony Pérez, and Chucky López Jr. The musical production is superb, as demonstrated on the tracks "But Not For Me", "Boogasón", "Triad Blues", "De Nuevo a La Carga", "Miami Chapter", "Mulata", "Barriada Rosa", "Quacedito", and "I Got Rhythm."

From Ann Arbor, Michigan, comes conguero Robert Mulligan's Grupo Ayé, whose fine debut, "Guajiro del Corazón", is a mixture of salsa and Latin jazz, with vocals handled by Oscar González and Daniel Montejo Velázquez. The band combines original material with some traditional covers like "Químbara", "Summertime", "Todo Tiene Su Final", and others.

La Sonora Libre, led by conguero/composer Mauricio Ochoa, offers one of two recordings released this month in Spain. Their CD "Salsa Dura and Latin Jazz: Pa'l Barrio, Pa'l Bailador" is just that - music designed for fans of Latin jazz and hardcore salsa. The standouts here are "La Bicicleta", "Con Mi Tumbao", "La Controversia," "Pim Pum Pum Pam-Baila Pegao" (with vocals by La Sucursal SA's Marcelo Rosero), "Déjalo Todo", and "El Barrio."

The other release from Spain was recorded by a band led by trumpeter José Chacón: Chacón y Su Son's debut, "La Mejor Salsa", features the hot tracks "Él Que Mando", "Ana Mile", "Tu Loco Loco", and "Llevo Perfume a Tí".

Salsa music with spiritual or religious themes is nothing new, but today it has become part of one of the most rapidly growing Latin music industries, which also expands to the fields of merengue, bachata, cumbia, and Spanish-language ballads. The CD titled Héctor Olmos y Orquesta al Compás de Cristo (produced by Julito Alvarado) is a wonderful example that music can be both rhythmically swinging and spiritually uplifting at the same time. The opening track "Ofrendas de Generales" - featuring vocalists Alex D'Castro (whom I promoted at TH Records before I moved on to RMM in 1991) and Ezequiel Colón -is a scorcher.

Víctor Manuelle continues to be one of the hottest salsa acts in the world, as proven on his new CD "Busco Un Pueblo", including the hits "Junto a Tí", "Como Le Digo al Alma", "Sí Tú Me Besas", "Amar de Nuevo", "Ella Cambió Mi Vida", and "Ella Lo Que Quiere Es Salsa."

Many years ago, saxophonist Mario Rivera recorded the historic jazz-merengue LP "El Comandnte" (Groovin' High,1993), and conguero Alex Díaz has continued that tradition on his awesome CD "Beyond 145th Street", with key performances and compositions by Iván Renta and Pedro Bermúdez, plus great covers of Cal Tjader's "Santo Domingo," Sam Jones' "Unit Seven," Vince Guaraldi's "Ginza Samba," and Jack Lawrence/Arthur Altman's "All or Nothing At All" (popularized by Frank Sinatra).

Reedman/vocalist Nalisco Taveras' debut ("Son Salvaje") is a very nice recording that includes the tracks "Pata Kun Ping Ping", "Ponte a Bailar", "Bounce", El Campesino", "Se Duermen Los Muertos", "Sangre, Sudor y Lagrimas", and "Fuerza Bruta."

Veteran Mike Freeman -leading the band Zona Vibe- produced the CD "The Vibesman", which features Rubén Rodríguez, Papo Pepín, and Harry Adorno, plus special guests Mauricio Smith Jr., Julio Salgado & Jim Gailloreto. You'll enjoy my favorite tracks -"Jigsaw Puzzle", "Vibe Descarga", "Drifting", "Lucky Seven", "So Long, Just Walking By", "Too Groovy", and "Blue."

Chico Alvarez is not only a popular radio show host (at WBAI in New York), a seasoned producer and graphic artist, and a contributor to Latin Beat Magazine; but has also functioned as a top bandleader/performer in New York City for many years. His latest CD, "El Montunero (Country Roots/Urban Masters)", featuring his own Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band, is one of this year's best recordings, as exemplified by its great opening track ("Esta Noche"), the bolero "Arsenio and Linda", and the Latin jazz gems "Macho's Latin Satin", and "Tonight". The CD features Edy Martinez as musical director and a lineup that includes Chembo Corniel, Luis Mangual Jr., Rubén Rodríguez, Ray Vega, Al Acosta, Johnny Rodríguez, Noah Bless, Peter Branin, Enrique Fernández, Roberto Rodríguez, Steve Gluzband, Gene Golden, Mauricio Smith Jr., Sergio Rivera, and many more.

Cuban Jorge Gómez Nava (El Suave) left Cándido Fabré's band in 2008, and now leads Orquesta Suave Tumbao in what is considered by many as one of this year's hot new revelations from Cuba. Their CD, "La Cañonera", is full of great tracks, including "Mala Cantidad", "¿Qué Más Quiere?" "Ella Está Como El Havana Club", "Deja Que Te Digan Viejo", and "No Te Lo Imaginas."

Azúcar Negra hits the U.S. with its timba CD "Se Acabó El Pescao", which contains some potential club and radio hits, such as "A Mi, La Habana", "Sacúdete Que Tiene Arena" "El Simpático", and "No Me Parezco a Nadie" (featuring Tania Pantoja).

Alexis Llenera has played trombone for many bands (Dan Den, La Monumental, Enrique Álvarez & Charanga Latina, Charanga América, Chico Alvarez, Raulín Rosendo, Cubanosón, etc.), but now leads the group known as Alexis y su Sabor Habanero, whose CD "Mi Tumbao" shall be loved by all salseros. Wait until you hear "Para Mi Cuba", "Mi Música", "Mi Tumbao", "Mi Vecina", "El Paralítico", "Deja Esa Locura", "¿Qué Pasa Loco?", and their own theme song -"Tema Sabor Habanero."

Willy García (one of the two voices of Son de Café) went solo with his CD "Sigo Presente", and hit it big with the following tracks: "Tengo Miedo a Enamorarme", "Cariño Bueno", "Sí Me Dejas", "Eso No", "No Escaparás", and "Moriré Besándote." I see this CD doing very well at Los Angeles' K-LOVE.

Another surprisingly good debut comes from vocalist Tony Canales' Con Klase, whose CD "El Comienzo" contains such impressive tunes as "Con-Klase", "Mi Terreno", "La Mujer Puertorriqueña", "Homenaje a Los Que Fueron," and "Rumba Para Los Rumberos."