Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Cubanismo! Discovers Magic Formula

By Los Angeles Times

     The perfect blend between Afro-Cuban beats and good old American rhythm & blues has been a Holy Grail for tropical music practitioners. Acts as disparate as DLG, India, Johnny Almendra and Avance have consumed significant resources on this elusive quest, but the results have been disappointing and corny at best.
     Ending this history of futility, Cubanismo! offered a blistering performance on Sunday at the Conga Room that displayed this ideal in all its glory.
     Led by trumpeter Jesus Alemañy, the 13-piece Cuban group performed songs from its new album, "Mardi Gras Mambo," a collaboration with New Orleans musicians. Gritty son montuno piano tumbaos walked side by side with creamy female vocal harmonies. And such oldies as "Mother-in-Law" were reworked with the clave in mind, disrupted by the occasional timbale solo and embellished with brass riffs typical of modern Cuban salsa.
     It was a celestial-sounding kaleidoscope, and the natural feel of it all made you wonder why so many people before Cubanismo! got it all wrong.
     The credit goes to Alemañy, a visionary arranger whose education includes stints with traditionalist son ensemble Sierra Maestra and progressive salsa powerhouse NG La Banda. Since founding Cubanismo! in 1995, he has boldly conquered a middle ground between old and new styles.
     Vocally, the old is represented by veteran crooner Rolo Martinez (his "El Platanal de Martinez" was a delight Sunday) and the new by the hip-swaying sonero Rafael Duane. The current tour finds the band supplemented by New Orleans singers John Boutte and Terry DeGruy, who helped turn Cubanismo! into a lean, mean machine of sensuous salsa con soul.

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

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