Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The Latin Giants of Jazz at Wagner Park, NYC 9/3/08

A sensational, adrenalizing show by the sprawling, horn-heavy salsa orchestra best known for backing the great Tito Puente for years. It took the band’s self-appointed spokesman literally ten minutes to introduce all of them, toward the end of their first set at the edge of the street facing the park, the water and the huge crowd that had come out to see them. Up front, driving the band were percussionists John Rodriguez and Jose Madera, almost a century of playing between them, perhaps rightfully called the world’s two most knowledgeable salsa percussionists. Asked if anybody remembered Tipica ’73, many of the crowd raised their voices knowingly: on piano was Sonny Bravo, the popular, pioneering group’s main songwriter, playing with remarkable terseness and efficiency. Also on the stand: trombonist Jimmy Bosch and alto man Bobby Porcelli, both of who got to contribute with brief, pointed solos.  And the rest, a blaze of trumpets, trombones and sax, pulsing along over possibly the loudest sound ever created by an upright bass: if anybody knows what kind of amp the guy was using, please let us know


This is dance music, after all, although the crowd took their time before they started moving around in any significant number: chalk it up to afterwork fatigue and the sweltering humidity. Like reggae or bachata, the chord changes are usually kept pretty simple, leaving it up to the horns to spike the melody, rising up like a hurricane busting over a breakwater. Best songs of the night: the Joe Cuba composition Trip to Mamboland, begun in English before reverting to Espanol for the final, lingering outro; the kiss-off anthem Ahora Mismo (As Soon As Possible) sung by a powerful, young contralto vocalist who did a job worthy of legendary Machito Orchestra frontwoman Graciela, and the single best tune of the night, the somewhat tango-inflected, darkly percussive Puedo Amor (I Can Love You).


Nice to see such a splendid mix of cultures in the crowd – lots of tourists, English-speaking and not – as well as an unexpectedly young demographic. While there were plenty of couples around retirement age swinging each other around with gusto, there were twice as many in their teens, many of them doing the same thing. If that’s any indication, classic salsa will be around for a long, long time. A great way to wrap up this summer’s downtown free concert series.

September 5, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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