Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Miramar’s Para Siempre – Get It While It Lasts

Miramar’s Para Siempre stands out as the most noir album of recent months. The vintage Puerto Rican bolero band’s main instrument is keyboardist Marlysse Simmons-Argandoña’s tremoloing, funereal Farfisa organ, over which singers Rei Alvarez (Simmons-Argandoña’s bandmate in retro salsa powerhouse Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonize lushly, against a backdrop of acoustic guitar, baby bass and drums – and that organ. The result is both completely retro and original at once, a Sam Fuller film set in San Juan, 1955. These “songs about love and anti-love” are up at the band’s bandcamp site as a name-your-price download (that means free if you’re broke).

Interestingly, the most iconic song here, Silvia Rexach’s Di Corazon is done with piano rather than organ, a stately, spacious version with spare guitar that lets the lyrics’ understated anguish speak for themselves. Rexach was reputedly about 15 or 16 when she wrote this; Alvarez and Singh vividly evoke the pain of a girl alone at night wondering whether anyone will ever care about her. The slinky Farfisa rivulets kick in on another Rexach classic, En Mis Sueños, darkly dreamy but more so musically than lyrically. They follow a brief, gorgeous organ solo by a gently spiky one from the acoustic guitar. Tomate Una Copa has a bouncy insistent “gimme a chance” vibe, with the piano and guitar carrying it, Alvarez handling the lead vocal.

Nuestro Juramento is a creepy organ waltz that evokes another retro latin band, Las Rubias Del Norte – the wounded duet vocals are viscerally intense. The best of the organ tunes is the lusciously, luridly spiraling Alma, with its wary, somewhat surreal guy-vs.girl call-and-response and tango nuevo-tinged melody. They follow that with two piano ballads, the expansive Y Etonces and the brooding, bitterly crescendoing intense title track. They close with Estatua (Te Creo), rich with restrained longing. Get this while it’s still online.

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June 9, 2011 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/14/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #656:

Yomo Toro – Música Para El Mundo Entero

A surprisingly low-key but gorgeous and characteristically eclectic studio album from the Puerto Rican Jimi Hendrix, 1982. Playing his cuatro with his signature lush, jangly, watery tone, it almost sounds as if he’s using a twelve-string guitar. His most potent performances have always been live – he’s one of the fastest fret-burners on the planet – but other than his innumerable performances as a sideman with big orchestras, concert recordings by this guy are very hard to find. Stylistically, this one’s all over the map. It opens with the title track, a blazing salsa tune; after that, he offers a joyous, playful guided tour of the entire history of Puerto Rican music in six minutes and forty-seven seconds. The two best tracks here are lush ballads, Virgencita and Alma Llanera. There’s also the jazzy Le Vi Por Primera Vez; the catchy bolero La Cuesta De Josefina; the bouncy dance hit Popurri Sentimental and a salsa gospel tune. Even a Billy Joel cover – which the band manages to elevate a level above pure stench – can’t ruin this. The whole thing is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via bosquesonoro.

April 14, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Psychedelic Romance with Miramar at Barbes

Saturday night at Barbes Miramar put on what had to be the most romantic show of the year, and one of the most haunting ones too. Like a Puerto Rican Las Rubias del Norte, they add swirling tremolo organ to classic boleros from the 1950s and 60s along with some choice originals that fit in perfectly with the old classics. Singers Rei Alvarez (also of Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonized with a sometimes sultry, sometimes chilling chemistry over organist Marlysse Simmons-Argandona’s psychedelic swirl, anchored by an excellent rhythm section with baby bass, drums and bongos plus an acoustic guitarist. Their version of the famous Por Siempre had Simmmons-Argandona following a thoughtful, soulful guitar solo with one of her own that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Electric Prunes song. She switched to piano for a slow, swaying tune where the male singer tries to tell the girl he’s with that he’s not heartbroken – it’s just the hot food. Maybe, a Greek psychedelic rock ballad from the 1960s with bolero tinges, was the eeriest moment of the night, with some nice tremolo picking from the guitarist, maybe to mimic the oud on the original? It sounded like a Greek Chicha Libre.

The rest of the set was just as eclectic: the unexpectedly dark Amorada Madre Mia, with its guy/girl tradeoffs and intense, distorted organ solo; Insatiable, with more of a dramatic tango feel; a romantic island tableau done as a piano nocturne; the stately waltz Estatua, an Alvarez original; and a conversation between a man and woman, again reaching for a tango atmosphere with incisive organ and crescendoing Spanish guitar. They closed with an elegant duet version of Sylvia Rexach’s iconic En Mis Suenos, full of restrained longing, and a number that once again brought to mind Chicha Libre, echoey electric piano vamping hypnotically, with searching, soaring harmonies and a long, spiraling guitar solo. They didn’t play their devastating version of Rexach’s signature song, Di Corazon (they were saving that for the second set), which is available on their pretty amazing new album at their bandcamp site.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/6/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #695:

The Fania All-Stars – Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 2

Conceived as a branding mechanism for the label, the Fania All-Stars were supposed to be the greatest salsa band of their era – a goal that wasn’t all that hard to achieve because virtually everybody in the band was a bandleader. The lineup reads like a latin music hall of fame: Larry Harlow, Justo Betancourt, Yomo Toro, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Baretto, Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and literally dozens of others. From 1967 to the early 80s, they put out one ecstatic, danceable album after another, which makes this a particularly hard choice. The four-cd box set Ponte Duro: The Fania All-Stars Story was awfully tempting, but since this group was first and foremost a live orchestra, that’s where they did their best work. This scorching 1976 set, most of it actually recorded in Puerto Rico (the sound mix there was better than what they had in the Bronx), captures them at the peak of their brass-heavy power. These are long, psychedelic jams: Hermandad Fania, which gets things cooking right off the bat; the eleven-minute Celia Cruz epic Bemba Colora; Ismael Quintana’s first big, soulful hit, Mi Debilidad; as well as Echate Pa ‘lla and the fourteen-minute stomp Congo Bongo. Here’s a random torrent via sogoodmusic.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Vastly Different New Spins on Afro-Cuban Music

For those of you in el barrio – or your own private barrio – the Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s latest album Viva La Tradicion is old news (it came out in September). If you missed it, it’s a treat for anyone with fond memories of the Fania era. Rather than looking forward, it looks back, sometimes as far back as the Pedro Flores classic Linda, represented here with a fast slinky bounce. It’s sort of a collection of new and vintage salsa with a conscious theme: pride of ownership. The Orchestra do not take their name, or the historical weight it carries, in vain, something you would expect from a cast of some of the best latin players in the business, many of them Tito Puente vets. None other than Paul Simon served as co-executive producer. As exemplified by the opening track, written by Cuban bandleader Manuel Simonet, this is salsa dura with modern production values. The blazing brass of trombonists Jimmy Bosch and Dan Reagan and trumpeters Hector Colon and John Walsh sends the conscious dance tune Mi Herencia Latina off into a fiery Cuban sunset. Mitch Frohman’s baritone sax spirals out of an expansive piano solo by bandleader Oscar Hernandez on the jazziest cut here, Rumba Urbana. Salsa vet Gil Lopez, who arranged much of this, has a lush, lyrical version of his ballad Nuestra Cancion here; there are also a couple of slow cha-cha’s, the bolero-flavored, suspenseful La Fiesta Empezo and the aptly swinging El Negro Tiene Tumbao that closes the album, with guest vocals from Isaac Delgado. The percussion trio of Luisito Quintero on timbales, George Delgado on congas and Jorge Gonzalez on bongos rumble, clatter and groove behind the snaky, melodic bass pulse of Gerardo Madera.

Straight from Cuba comes alto saxophone phenom and bandleader Michel Herrera, with a far more modern sound. Although rooted in Afro-Cuban rhythms, especially clave, he and his band – the core includes Roger Riso on keys, Julio Cesar Gonzales on bass, Hector Quintana on guitar, Ismel Witnall on percussion, Yissi Garcia on drums and Eduardo Sandoval on trombone – shoot for a sound that’s jazzier and more deliberately cerebral. His compositions shift shape, sometimes on a dime, go doublespeed, go back in time eighty years (once with a beautifully rustic percussion-and-piano interlude) and give his band – especially trumpeter Julio Regal, whose work with a mute packs a thoughtfully crescendoing punch – a wide playing field. Pequena Historia, the first full-length track on his new album En La Espera, sets buoyant horns over a funky rhythm section, Herrera’s sax moving from balminess to bluster, followed by an eerily fluid, portamento-ish electric organ solo. The slinky clave groove Estaciones surprisingly serves as a launching pad for the most boisterous, bop-tinged playing here; with its sizzling piano cascades, soul-flavored electric guitar and tricky polyrhythms, the title track attests to Herrera’s wide-ranging eclecticism. Sometimes he gets carried away: the electric instruments lend an unwanted fusiony feel on occasion, and the one “R&B” flavored vocal number here is a bad joke. Still in his twenties, Herrera is a winner (and now a judge) of the Cuban Joven Jazz competition: he caught the eye of Wynton Marsalis, who’s become a sort of mentor. As the US hopefully moves toward normalizing relations with Cuba, Herrera and his colleagues deserve more of a presence here: this is an auspicious look at a scene that’s been percolating too far under the radar.

Finally, just in time for the Festival of Lights, there’s Celebrations, by Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble: latinized versions of familiar and not-so-familiar themes for Chanukah and Purim. Hybrids like this are actually more common than you might think – we gave the thumbs-up to the latest album by Kat Parra & the Sephardic Music Experience early this year – and Jews have long played an important role in latin music, especially jazz (Larry Harlow springs to mind). Here pianist Marlow is joined by legendary latin bandleader Bobby Sanabria on drums, Frank Wagner on bass, Cristian Rivera on percussion and Michael Hashim on alto and soprano sax, with pianist Nada Loutfi guesting on a brooding, expansively swinging Marlow original.

Hashim, in particular, gives these rearrangements a sly, genial bounce. Chanukah, O Chanukah gets a funky pulse and then it swings, down to just baroque-tinged piano rivulets. The famous dreidel theme is reinvented as a feisty rhumba with honking sax and inspired contributions from everyone. A Purim melody becomes a Brubeck-esque ballad, goes psychedelic with Rhodes piano and then hits a disco groove. An old Talmudic melody gets a warily nocturnal art-rock piano arrangement; the final number, seemingly a reprise of the opening theme, has a swinging Slaughter on Tenth Avenue vibe. The band are obviously having great fun playing hide and seek with the melodies to the point where they’re completely unrecognizable: all this is as fun as it is creative. Although professionally produced, Marlow’s five-minute spoken-word “explanation” of the band on the last track gives the cd the feel of a demo, an audio press kit for those who might be interested in hiring the band for a simcha. It would have been more effective – not to mention less expensive – to include this in, say, a press release, or the cd booklet.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/18/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #834:

Willie Colon – La Gran Fuga

That two trombones, a piano, bass and three percussionists could create a sound this big is stunning. This one was literally Colon’s big break, and forty years later, it’s taken on iconic status. As bandleader and trombonist, he gets top billing even though his equally gifted collaborator, Héctor Lavoé took all the vocals (and if you search for these songs you’ll find them much more easily if you’re looking for El Canario). It’s also a major moment in salsa history because it’s such a melting pot (that could be said about latin music in general, but especially New York salsa). Surprisingly, the big hit off the album is a catchy reworking of a Guyanese nursery rhyme, Ghana’E. The mini-suite Panameña is a bomba track, a joyous shout-out to Puerto Rican culture – remember, salsa began in Cuba, so the implication here is that the time has come for el barrio. There’s also the swaying dance hit Barrunto; the hypnotically slinky, beautifully brooding No Cambiaré; the gentle, lovingly mocking Abuelita (poking fun at an old lady’s crazy vernacular); and the not-so-gentle faux Mexican dance Cancion por Me Suegra. Both Colon and Lavoé would go on to bigger and more popular projects, but this captures that beautiful moment where Afro-Cuban-based music was just starting to morph into the big, orchestral Fania sound that would become just as iconic five or six years later. Here’s a random torrent.

October 18, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nino Segarra y Su Orquesta Tear It Up Downtown

Nino Segarra may have been big in Puerto Rico in the 80s and 90s but the sound of his big ten-piece salsa band tonight downtown at Wagner Park was straight out of the Fania era. As unexpectedly pleasant as the breeze off the water was while the sun went down behind the clouds, it was obviously hot up on the trailer where the band was playing – this may have been salsa romantica, but as Segarra reminded the crowd more than once, it was definitely sabrosa. With the trombones blazing, the three-piece percussion section rattled and pounded, conjuring up the ghosts of salsa bands past and if those ghosts had been visible, they most certainly would have been dancing. Segarra ran the show James Brown style, counting off the songs briskly: as much as the band (especially the piano player) messed around between songs, they pounced when he gave the signal. The summertime concerts downtown all have themes: the biggest names at Rockefeller Park, trendoid rock at South Street Seaport, with Americana and latin music tucked north of the  Battery in Wagner Park and interestingly, this is where they hide their best sound system. The bass was absolutely booming and so was the baritone sax, particularly during the big, tensely cinematic intro to the salsa anthem Entre la Espada y la Pared.

This was definitely the greatest-hits set. They opened with a couple of big ones: Eres la Unica benefited mightily from the raw, vintage latin jazz-tinged arrangement, as did Esa Mujer (dedicated to all the ladies in the crowd, no surprise). The biggest hit with the crowd was a long Como Amigo Si, Como Amante No, giving voice to a genuine sense of frustration and spiced by a slowly crescendoing tidal wave of a piano solo. Despues de ti que started more quietly, with a plaintive, Dave Valentin-flavored flute solo to kick it off, but built to similarly passionate heights. A more vintage-style number that sounded straight out of the Tito Puente catalog bounced along on a slinky son rhythm. They closed with a homage to Segarra’s native Puerto Rico that put the rhum in rhumba, with blistering solos from bongos, congas and the timbalero, who’d been red-hot all night and made the most of the opportunity with a sizzling, explosive volley of beats. After that, there was no room to take it any higher, and at the end both the band and the casual afterwork crowd took their time disappearing into the evening.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/2/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #911:

Sylvia Rexach – 20 Canciones Inolvidables

Sylvia Rexach was sort of the Puerto Rican Edith Piaf, a doomed bolero songwriter who drank herself to death at 39 in 1961. The sadness in her voice is visceral: fifty years later, she still has a cult following among latin music fans. Much of what’s here is just voice and acoustic guitar (she was a fluent player, also adept at piano and saxophone) with hits from the fifties including Alma Adentro (Soul Inside), Di Corazon (Tell Me, Sweetheart), Olas y Arenas (Waves and Sand) and Nave Sin Rumbo (Rudderless Ship). Unlike Piaf, Rexach’s lyrics (she was also a highly regarded poet) employ simple, metaphorically charged imagery; the resignation in her vocals can be chilling. She partied hard, and it doesn’t seem that anyone was particularly surprised that she died so young. Original copies of her singles (she released many, including her biggest early hits, Alma Adentro and Di Corazon, before any of them were put on album) are collectors items. This collection has some filler (a couple of pointless instrumental versions), and obviously the sonics don’t come close to the warmth of the original vinyl. But all that stuff has been out of print for decades, at least stateside. It’s floating around the web if you feel like downloading it.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú

This is what Spanish Harlem was rocking to forty years ago. What Sharon Jones did for oldschool soul, what Antibalas did for Afrobeat and what Chicha Libre is doing for chicha, Spanglish Fly is doing for bugalu. It’s what happened when Cuban son melodies collided with Stax/Volt and Motown, with fiery horns and a fat midtempo groove over a latin beat. It was a Nuyorican phenomenon and very popular back in the day. If you know Bang Bang by Joe Cuba, this is the same kind of thing. It’s about time somebody brought this stuff back and it’s a good thing it’s this band because they have authentic sabor with a 5-piece horn section, three percussionists, piano and a rhythm section plus Erica Ramos’ casually alluring, soulful voice soaring over it when there’s room. As dance music, it’s irresistible (at a live show, the group will often offer a free dance lesson for anglos or newschoolers who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this).

The cd’s opening track, Think (Pensamiento) is typical of what the old bugalú bands would do, a brand-new latin version of the old James Brown hit with fat low end, tight horns and a suspenseful intensity where the band theatens to completely rip it apart at the end but just manage to keep it together. An original, Latin Soul Stew was obviously made to be played live, with soaring trumpet over an ominous piano groove, the horns coming back in full force after a little vocal break. Another original, by one of the band’s trumpeters Jonny Semi-Colón a/k/a Jonathan Goldman sounds like ska but with a slinkier groove. Like a lot of bugalu hits, it’s a series of trick endings where the intensity builds every time the song comes back, with a gospel-inspired break toward the end. There’s also a joyously rattling cover of the big Ray Barretto crossover hit New York Soul. 

The band is an inspired collection of veteran New York jazzcats: besides Ramos and Goldman, they have Martin Wallace on piano, Mick Santurio on congas, Charly Rodriguez on timbales, Gabo Tomasini on bongos, Atsushi Tsumura on trumpet, Dimitri Moderbacher on bass, Rose Imperato on tenor sax, Jonathan Flothow on bari sax and Sebastian Isler on trombone. Spanglish Fly’s next dance party is April 2 at Camaradas El Barrio, First Ave. and 115th St. at 10 PM; the cd release show is on April 23 at Rose Bar.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments