Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Psycho Mambos with Gato Loco Saturday Night at BAM Cafe

Gato Loco got their start putting a punk-jazz spin on classic old Cuban son and mambo styles, with low-register instruments: baritone and bass sax, tuba, bass and baritone guitar, among others. Snice then, they’ve expanded their sound with a rotating cast of characters: it wasn’t long before they’d added originals to their set. They had long-running residencies at the old Bowery Poetry Club and the late, lamented Zirzamin. Since then, gigs have been somewhat fewer and further between, especially since frontman/multi-saxophonist Stefan Zeniuk is so highly sought after as a sideman. It’s never exactly certain just what Gato Loco lineup is going to show up, but it’s a safe bet that their gig this Saturday night, November 21 at 10 PM at BAM Cafe will be a party.

Their most recent show at another frequent haunt, Barbes, was this past June, where they were joined by a hotshot Strat player along with Tim Vaugn on trombone, Tuba Joe, Ari F-C on bass and the brilliant Kevin Garcia (also of another similarly estimable noir band, Karla Rose & the Thorns) on drums. They opened with an agitatedly pulsing chase scene of sorts that rose to a wailing, enveloping forestorm as the rhythm went completely haywire along with the rest of the band, faded down into cinders and then sprang up again in a split second. Zeniuk’s ghostly bass sax mingled with lingering, reverbtoned Lynchian licks from the guitar as the slow, slinky second number got underway, then shifted shape into a warmly moonlit tableau before rising toward macabre Big Lazy territory. From there they segued into a dark clave groove, Vaugn punching holes in the sky, Garcia tumbling elegantly in the background as the horns joined forces, terse and somewhat grim as they went way down low. The careening, axe-murderer sprint to the finish line was one of the most exhilarating moments of any show anywhere this year – and probably one of the loudest ever at little Barbes.

From there the band went epic, making a slow, big-sky highway theme out of a wistful Gulf Coast folk-inspired tune, slowly elevating to a lively, scampering fanfare, then down again, Vaugn pulling the rest of the group along with a long, tightly unwinding staccato solo. The low instruments’ murky noir sonics contrasted with the guitarist’s spare, sunbaked blues  and Memphis soul lines as the next number got underway, Zeniuk finally signaling with a snort that it was time to build another funeral pyre on top of the serpentine groove. The best song of the night was a gloomy bolero, played in a dynamically shifting vein as Sergio Mendoza might have done it, featuring a muted trumpet solo, another pyrotechnically noisy interlude and an unexpected, clickety-clack dixieland outro. Name another band with as many flavors as these crazy cats.

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November 19, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elio Villafranca Brings His Blazing Original Afro-Cuban Grooves Back to JALC

Eclectic, intense Cuban pianist Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators have made Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center pretty much their home in NYC. They’ve got another weekend stand coming up June 13-15, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. The lineup is pretty much the same as their last stand here, the notable change being Steve Turre on trombone and his signature conch shells in place of trumpeter Terrell Stafford. Which probably means more time in the spotlight for saxophonist Vincent Herring, always a good sign. Here’s what they sounded like in the room about eighteen months ago:

“You might think from their name that Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators play New Orleans second-line marches, or hot jazz from the 20s. In actuality, that’s just how the word for their music is pronounced in Spanish. Last night at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Cuban pianist and his allstar lineup romped through an expert and exhilarating blend of salsa and hard bop with richly melodic interludes and the occasional plunge into third-stream sounds. That’s been a common trait among Cuban pianists practically since the days of Ernesto Lecuona – at least those evil conquistadors left one good thing on the island, the “classical tinge,” to twist a Jelly Roll Morton phrase. Much as that is one of Villafranca’s signature characteristics, this show was all about the party: watching the couples sit and sway rapturously with the lights of Manhattan glimmering from high across the park, it was surprising that there wasn’t anyone other than guest dancer Mara Garcia undulating up there with the band.

Throughout the night’s early set, Villafranca for the most part eschewed flashy soloing in lieu of an endless groove, whether that be a frequently polyrhythmic salsa slink – Villafranca is one of the most rhythmic pianists anywhere – with straight-ahead swing, a couple of detours into rumbling Puerto Rican bomba and a long, fiery mambo at the end. Locked in with the tumbling piano, tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy alternated between hard-driving flights and warm melodicism and a wryly smoky bourdoir jazz interlude toward the end of the bomba tune. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford blasted through bop grit with rapidfire glissandos and trills…and a descent into genial blues at the end of his last solo, when he’d taken it so high that there was nowhere else to go. Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring served as a powerful foil to all the goodnatured wailing, adding a biting, sometimes haunting, modally-fueled gravitas. Bassist Carlos Henriquez held to a purist, terse groove – and took one of the night’s most memorable solos, voicing a horn. Drummer Lewis Nash seemed to be having the most fun of anyone up there as he swung through conga riffs, artful clave variations that leaned on the off beat, and a jovial bounce that was all the more powerful for its simplicity.

Augmenting the rhythm was an excellent two-man team of congas and bongos, Puerto Rico’s Anthony Carrillo and the Dominican Republic’s Jonathan Troncoso. The attractively lyrical opening number, Incantations, had Villafranca staking his claim to nimble, hair-raising polyrhythms. The band bookended a brightly pouncing, riff-driven tune with dark streetcorner conga breaks, following with a song ‘dedicated to politics,’ A Great Debater, Villafranca driving its insistence to a clamoring crescendo followed by a playful Nash solo. They wound up by taking a new, untitled bomba tune and swinging it with bisected, lyrical/frenetic solos from the horns, and then the big mambo at the end where Villafranca finally took off for the upper registers with a breathtaking tumbao assault: as cruelly as he hit the keys, the groove never wavered. It was every bit as adrenalizing to watch as it must be to dance to.”

June 5, 2014 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elio Villafranca: Blazing Original Afro-Cuban Grooves at JALC

You might think from their name that Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators play New Orleans second-line marches, or hot jazz from the 20s. In actuality, that’s just how the word for their music is pronounced in Spanish. Last night at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Cuban pianist and his allstar lineup romped through an expert and exhilarating blend of salsa and hard bop with richly melodic interludes and the occasional plunge into third-stream sounds. That’s been a common trait among Cuban pianists practically since the days of Ernesto Lecuona – at least those evil conquistadors left one good thing on the island, the “classical tinge,” to twist a Jelly Roll Morton phrase. Much as that is one of Villafranca’s signature characteristics, this show was all about the party: watching the couples sit and sway rapturously with the lights of Manhattan glimmering from high across the park, it was surprising that there wasn’t anyone other than guest dancer Mara Garcia undulating up there with the band.

Throughout the night’s early set, Villafranca for the most part eschewed flashy soloing in lieu of an endless groove, whether that be a frequently polyrhythmic salsa slink – Villafranca is one of the most rhythmic pianists anywhere – with straight-ahead swing, a couple of detours into rumbling Puerto Rican bomba and a long, fiery mambo at the end. Locked in with the tumbling piano, tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy alternated between hard-driving flights and warm melodicism and a wryly smoky bourdoir jazz interlude toward the end of the bomba tune. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford blasted through bop grit with rapidfire glissandos and trills…and a descent into genial blues at the end of his last solo, when he’d taken it so high that there was nowhere else to go. Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring served as a powerful foil to all the goodnatured wailing, adding a biting, sometimes haunting, modally-fueled gravitas. Bassist Carlos Enrique held to a purist, terse groove – and took one of the night’s most memorable solos, voicing a horn. Drummer Lewis Nash seemed to be having the most fun of anyone up there as he swung through conga riffs, artful clave variations that leaned on the off beat, and a jovial bounce that was all the more powerful for its simplicity.

Augmenting the rhythm was an excellent two-man team of congas and bongos, Puerto Rico’s Anthony Carrillo and the Dominican Republic’s Jonathan Troncoso. The attractively lyrical opening number, Incantations, had Villafranca staking his claim to nimble, hair-raising polyrhythms. The band bookended a brightly pouncing, riff-driven tune with dark streetcorner conga breaks, following with a song “dedicated to politics,” A Great Debater, Villafranca driving its insistence to a clamoring crescendo followed by a playful Nash solo. They wound up by taking a new, untitled bomba tune and swinging it with bisected, lyrical/frenetic solos from the horns, and then the big mambo at the end where Villafranca finally took off for the upper registers with a breathtaking tumbao assault: as cruelly as he hit the keys, the groove never wavered. It was every bit as adrenalizing to watch as it must be to dance to. Villafranca and his “jass” band are back at Dizzy’s Club tonight and tomorrow if you’re in the mood.

October 12, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 7/29/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #550:

Machito – Kenya

A landmark of latin big band jazz. Hard to believe, but this stuff was actually mainstream in 1957 when the album came out (one of Machito’s most popular albums was marketed as being recorded at the Catskills resort where he held an annual summer residency for years). On one hand, this doesn’t have the raw bite of his stuff from the 30s and 40s, but the songs and the charts are killer. All of these are originals save for percussionist Chano Pozo’s noir classic Tin Tin Deo. Lots of flavors here: the brisk, blazing guaguanco of Wild Jungle; the slinky, suspenseful Congo Mulence; the lush, majestic title track; the stop-and-start intenstiy of Oyeme; Holiday, with its surgically precise Cannonball Adderley solo; Cannonology, a sideways Charlie Parker tribute; the sinister-tinged Frenzy; proto-ska Conversation; bustling Minot Rama; hypnotically soulful Tururato, and Blues A La Machito, which is more Machito than blues. Here’s a random torrent via Hasta Luego Baby.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/23/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #556 – on a day like this, we figured this one would be especially appropriate:

Arsenio Rodriguez y Su Conjunto – Sabroso y Caliente

Rustic yet cutting-edge for its time, this is an update on classic Cuban son. Bandleader Rodriguez, blinded in a childhood accident, played the Cuban acoustic guitar known as the tres. Highly sought after in his later years as a sideman, he was a major influence on the great salsa bands of the 70s. This flavorful, hot 1957 session carves out a niche halfway between the blazing big band sounds of Tito Puente or Perez Prado, and the Cuban country music that Rodriguez grew up with. Some may find the vocals a little over the top, but the band is cooking. The dozen tracks here include the soaring, upbeat Carraguao Alante; the lush, minor key Hay Fuego En el 23; Buenavista en Guaguancó, an old song from Rodriguez’s small-combo period in the 40s; the slinky Blanca Paloma; the sly mambo Mami Me Gusto, the hypnotically insistent La Fonda de Bienvenido, and Adorenla Como a Marti, which evades the censors by allusively referencing the notorious 1912 massacres of Afro-Cubans on the island. Here’s a random torrent via Global Groovers.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yorgis Goiricelaya Looks Forward and Back with Afro-Cuban Music

Cuban-American bassist Yorgis Goiricelaya’s new album Elegance lives up to its title. Yet it’s just as gritty in places, setting cerebral improvisations on both classic and original songs alongside joyously rustic streetcorner soul vamps, immersed in the rich history of Afro-Cuban music yet pushing the envelope at the same time. Behind him is a hall of fame lineup of latin jazz players, among them Hilario Bell on drums and percussion, Orlando Guanche on piano (and harmonica on one tune), Aldo Salvent on tenor sax, Eddie Trujillo on guitar, Carlos Puig and Omar Peralta on trumpet, William Paredes on trombone, Reinier Guerra on drums, Eduardo Rodriguez on congas, along with with cameos by rustic Afro-Cuban group Los Herederos, pianist Osmany Paredes, Cuban sax legend Paquito D’Rivera, pianist Tony Perez and singer Issac Delgado. Such a heavyweight lineup doesn’t usually come out all at once for a single project, testament to the imagination and quality of the compositions. Latin bassists tend to be an especially melodic bunch, and Goiricelaya continues that tradition: he doesn’t waste notes, his melodic hooks are consistently strong, and it’s obvious that he was able to clearly communicate his ideas to the rest of the cast here.

Los Herederos open the album with some old-time streetcorner rhumba soul, drums and vocals hypnotizing with their tricky polyrythms. Then the full band takes Aniceto Diaz’ Rompiendo la Rutina in an unexpected and richly complex direction highlighted by D’Rivera’s expansive, carefree solo. With its bossa pulse, Annalis Elisa Suarez’ Delirios is a richly melodic song without words, Salvent’s swirling tenor delivering one of several tasty solo spots. Blue, a Goiricelaya original, is a blustery cha-cha elevated by shimmering piano from Guanche, who emerges as the MVP of this session. He quotes Chopin on a lengthy, intense version of El Manicero and adds an incisiveness that’s sometimes austere, sometimes downright aggressive throughout the rest of his tracks, notably a version of Echale Salsita where he plays against some period-perfect muted trumpet from Peralta.

Bell’s Juego de Tiempo is done as vintage 70s funk, with a playfully trippy electric guitar solo by Trujillo. The band turns Jaco Pastorius’ Teen Town into a gleefully purist big band bossa romp and rips through a bubbly, hypnotic version of Bell’s Se Acabo. After the last of Los Herederos’ call-and-response interludes, the album closes with a terse, genuinely beautiful piano-and-bass arrangement of Tony Perez’ ballad My Love. The cd comes with a DVD (subtitled in English) which chronicles the recording process, including an endless series of rap video-style cameos from the musicians which occasionally provide some insight into the music. The most interesting of these are when Goiricelaya explains how he came across Los Herideros – and when D’Rivera shows off a considerable sense of humor. Goiricelaya is currently based in Miami; this album should go a long way toward getting him the broader audience he deserves.

January 26, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/19/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #772:

Machito y Su Orquesta – Esta Es Graciela

By the time the legendary Cuban-American bandleader and his sultry chanteuse sister released this album in 1964, he was in his fifties and she was getting close. But neither show their age. Only the arrangements are more lush and sensual, by comparison to the animated intensity of the band’s work in previous decades. Machito may or may not have invented salsa, but his orchestra was the one that everybody imitated, right through the end of the 60s and even beyond: the Fania era never would have happened without him. Likewise, Graciela Gutierrez-Perez, who died earlier this year at 94, set the standard for salsa divas. She could be brassy or coy and she could work a song’s innuendo the same way she worked a crowd. This one shows off both her sides: El Albanico, a slinky, sly duet with Machito; the crafty, sexy Mi Querido Santi Clo; the fast, bubbly mambo Estoy A Mil; the downright seductive Ay Jose; the lavishly orchestrated son montuno of El Gato Tiene Tres Patas; the sad, brooding Ya Tu No Estas; the characteristically tongue-in-cheek, risque Celos Negros, and the balmy tropicalia ballad Si No Eres Tu, and four others ranging from lavishly lush to swinging dance numbers. Frequently reissued and often bootlegged, later versions constantly turn up in used record stores that sell latin music. Otherwise, Fania has the cd; here’s a random torrent.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Septeto Nacional Make the Buena Vista Social Club Seem Like New Jacks

How’s this for oldschool: Septeto Nacional have been around since 1927. The current incarnation of the band made its US live debut last year; this album, Sin Rhumba, No Hay Son, their debut recording outside of Cuba, makes the Buena Vista Social Club seem modern by comparison. Their founder, bassist Ignacio Piniero (1888-1969) is credited with introducing horns to Cuban music: sin Ignacio, no hay Machito? It’s rustic, roughhewn, often joyous but also plaintive oldtime latin music. The African clave beat is there as it is in so many latin styles, but Crispin Diaz Hernandez’s deft percussion lurks behind a thicket of richly jangly acoustic guitar from Dagoberto Sacerio Oliva and tres by Enrique Collazo, spiced with Agustin Someillan Garcia’s trumpet, with Raul Acea Rivera on bass and the aptly nicknamed Eugenio “Raspa” Rodriguez on lead vocals. It’s a mix of originals along with a couple of vintage Piniero numbers in several vintage styles including son montuno, rhumba, guaracha and the sad, pretty bolero that’s the third track here – did Willie Nelson hear that before he wrote Let It Be Me?

Collazo steals the show here, particularly on the album’s best cut, El Plato Roto (The Broken Plate) and its stinging, spiky solo at the end. The catchy, sly minor-key dance number, Mueve Tu Cintura (literal translation: shake your hips) has the tres casually whipping through a long, biting series of chords at the end. And his incisive jangle drives the sassy La Mulata Rumbera (featuring an inspired vocal by guest Bertha Portuondo) and the bouncy Me Dieron la Clave (They Gave Me the Clave), with a solo that literally snarls. The Piniero tracks share a vibe that’s antique yet ahead of its time: Arrollo Cubano foreshadows what will become calypso, while Donde Andabas Lanoche (Where Did You Go Last Night) is an island take on flamenco. La Rhumba No Es Como Ayer is actually so ayer it’s not funny and it’s a fun trip back in time: what mento is to reggae, this is to salsa. There’s also the slow stately swinging bolero En Tus Ojos Yo Veo (I Look in Your Eyes), the wry El Discreto (a cautionary tale – be careful who you confide in) and the boisterous, jazzy La Fiesta de los Animales that closes the album. It’s a lot of fun and it’s out now on World Village Music.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, Uncategorized, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Larry Harlow’s La Raza Latina at Lincoln Center

Saturday night out back of Lincoln Center was a mob scene, as crowded as it’s ever been in recent memory. There was a good reason for that: a major moment in latin music history, the live premiere of Larry Harlow’s visionary 1977 album La Raza Latina. An ambitious, epic suite, the legendary bandleader and Fania All-Stars’ pianist wrote it as a history of latin music and the people who made it, via every rhythm that’s ever come out of Africa via Cuba. With only two rehearsals, Harlow worked like a santero out in front of the band, whether leading them in a hypnotic conga vamp that went on for minutes on end, or shifting in a split second from a salsa bounce to a slinky rhumba, or toward the end, into some of the wildest big band jazz this city’s seen this year.

The reason why the suite hadn’t been played in its entirety live since being recorded is because staging it is considerably more cumbersome than putting a ten-piece salsa combo together. For this performance, the massive latin big band and orchestra, including a string section, were accompanied by several pairs of dancers who spun ecstatically throughout several of the longer segments. The first part, Africa, began with Adonis Puentes on vocals, which from the VIP section (the catwalk across the street on 65th, where those sufficiently agile or ambitious to climb up could actually catch an occasional glimpse of the band from across the way) weren’t easy to hear, but they resonated with the crowd. The band romped through a rousing, vintage 70s Fania era salsa anthem, a long, hypnotically mysterious Afro-Cuban drum vamp, and back into the blaze and swells of the horns. The second section, Caribe chronicles the cross-pollination that happened in the Caribbean (heavily influenced by the then-obscure Cuban big band Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna), where the rhumba rhythms first made their appearance. By now Ruben Blades had joined the festivities, one of the concluding segments featuring several prominent and dramatically crescendoing, Dave Valentin-inflected flute passages.

Nueva York 1950s & 1960s was the most diverse and intense section, especially an ominous noir latin funk groove that cut out much too soon in favor of another blazing dance number. The final part, Futuro envisions salsa growing to further incorporate elements of jazz and even the avant garde, moving through two surprise endings and a long, intense timbale vamp to a whirlwind cauldron of noise, then back again several times, the percussionists somehow managing not to let go of the piece as it spun completely off its hinges: imagine an army of Charlie Parkers at their craziest. The piece wound up with one last salsa number that they finally took all the way up with a big crescendo that was sort of the equivalent of Afro-Cuban heavy metal. Considering how exhilarating this show was – and how visibly out-of-breath Harlow and his band were afterward – one can only imagine how good they’d sound after more than the two rehearsals they’d managed to get in for this one.

And a big shout-out to the Bobby Sanabria Big Band, whose equally epic, tectonically shifting textures and bracing, striking charts gave Harlow and his crew a hard act to follow.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some Sweet Retro Cuban Sounds for Summer

Sierra Maestra were one of the original son revivalists in Cuba back in the 70s. Had that era’s Cuban music been widely available for export – or widely available island-wide, for that matter – they would have beaten the Buena Vista Social Club to the punch by about twenty years. What differentiates Sierra Maestra is that they mixed classic covers with original compositions done retro style. With all but two of the original members still alive, their new album Sonando Ya continues in that vein. Their sound is a lot more rustic than the Fania-style salsa that everybody knows and loves, more rustic than Machito, for that matter. This is Cuban roots music, bouncing and shuffling along with a clatter of a four-man percussion section, guiro, tres, guitar, bass, trumpet and vocals. But unlike what the title suggests, it’s not really dreamy at all. There’s a joy and swing to everything here – this is dance music, after all, and it’s no less vital than the stuff the band was doing thirty years ago.

Vocals rotate around the band in a sometimes exuberant, sometimes sly call-and-response. The opening son montuno tune is a tribute to mountain roots, with a characteristically catchy trumpet chorus. A trio of voices resound throughout a bouncy, dramatically tinged guaracha son ballad, reminding not to hate on them for their good fortune. A cautionary tale about a gold-digging girlfriend works a contemporary salsa tune quietly and bucolically, fretted instruments taking the place of the piano; a plaintive oldschool son number pleads for forgiveness, lit up with a long tres solo that vividly underscores son’s contemporaneous relationship with jazz. The rest of the album mixes bustling  dance tunes with a handful of ballads. Maybe it’s the time of year, but this cd has a visceral heat to it, evoking a Hemingway-era milieu, rum and sugarcane and heavy Caribbean night air. With summer going full blast, albums like this makes more and more sense. It’s out now on World Village Music.

July 8, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment