Travelling can be fun and stressful at the same time…especially when travelling internationally and learning new regulations and procedures. It can also require a vacation for the vacation when you get back. Good thing music always seems to bring me right back to normal if there is such a thing as NORMAL anymore.
In Birmingham, UK I got to experience a Salsa club night taking my daughter Melissa, who is legal in Europe, to her first Salsa experience. The DJ and the cover band, Del Camino, had an array of very popular tracks and not a very good place to hear any new music. Pub nights were basically the same thing.
It has been a long minute since my last music review. The year began with a bang and a flurry of new releases, and I got so busy that I did not realize we were into the first three months of the year, so what do you do in a 14-hour flight, you write an overdue article. The start of the year has been just fabulous with many powerful recordings that are innovations for both dancers and listeners who love great music. Here are some of the candidates for my ‘Best of 2023’ so far. I reached out to Joaquin Arteaga of Tromboranga to see if we could meet during my Barcelona, Spain portion of the trip since the band just dropped the new CD and a vinyl titled “Salsa Con Golpe”. I did not meet with Joaquin but the band’s new CD “Salsa Con Golpe’ is a sure winner that continues their flawless sound the world has come to love. Lead single “Kumbele Kutimba”, “Fania Guche”, “No Llegues Tarde”, “Despachada” and “Honesto y Trabajador” are just a few of the excellent tracks that will make this recording an international sensation throughout 2023.
I conducted business with vocalist David Millan & Amistad, ex-vocalist with Johnny Ray Salsa Con Clase, on his new CD that combines Salsa with English lyrics with his favorite pop/rock classics along with Producer/Pianist/Arranger Adan Perez. Songs like Hall & Oates “I Can’t Go for That” (the lead single with a nice trumpet solo by Richie Viruet), Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out”, Toto’s “Africa”, Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright”, The Kinks “You Really Got Me”, that includes a fantastic line-up of musicians that include Alfredo De La Fe, John Benitez, Luisito Quintero, Richie Viruet, Ivan Renta, Itai Kriss, Jonathan Powell, Ruben Rodriguez, Marcos J. Lopez, Jose (Juicy) Jusino, Kaisel Jimenez, Rey David Alejandre and many more.
Another CD that is a heavy contender for my ‘Best of 2023’ list is veteran trumpeter Richie Viruet that makes his recording debut as Richie Vee, “Clave Con Blue”. Here we have a beautiful mix of some fantastic Latin Jazz (“Simon” and “A Night in Tunisia” two favorites on my show Jazzeando En El Valle) some Romantic Salsa that includes the lead single “He Vivido Esperando Por Ti”, a huge hit for pop star Alvaro Torres, as well as Salsa in English starting with the huge hit originally from the movie “A Star Is Born” (sung by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper) that blew me away when I heard it was Richie himself on the vocals with the delightful Nina ‘Dilet’ Rodriguez. Richie has been performing and travelling the world with some of Salsa’s best bands and brings a unique flair to his debut that will work well at traditional radio & clubs and World Music Radio Stations. What first surprised me about the CD was Richie as a lead vocalist (a talent I did not know he had and that pleasantly surprised me).
Venezuelan Gil Tower (Gilberto Torres), now in Los Angeles, has been busy the past few years recording various projects and is versed in both the Salsa & Latin Jazz scene and has had an extensive career that has him producing more. His latest is a live EP titled Gil Tower and His Guapacha Latin Jazz band “Live Recording” with “El Negro Bembon” (with Gil on vocals and the baritone sax of Dan Kaneyuki), “On Green Dolphin Street” ( the Miles Davis classic with horn solos by Steven Wade, Leonardo Valverde & Mike Briones), “Todo Tiene Su Final”, “Grooved Pavement’ (Boogaloo with piano by Carlos Ordiano, flute by Gil and Dan K. again on baritone) and “Tive Sim” (a Brazilian flavored Cha Cha). He has already completed a Latin Jazz EP with with the lead hit “Balboa Park”! New recordings due or in the process of being released include the Javier Fernandez Big Band, Benjamin Lapidus, Jimmy Bonilla’s tribute to Cortijo y su Combo, Carlos Cascante, Conjunto Imagen, flutist Karen Joseph, Edwin Perez, Nils Fischer, Osmany Paredes, and La Picante Orquesta, all scheduled to debut on my shows at Alma Del Barrio & World Salsa Radio.com soon.
One of the best early Latin Jazz contenders is Giovanni Hidalgo’s long awaited “Tribute to the King”, in tribute to Tito Puente, which I quickly loved because of the choices of songs that include not the ones other artists cover from Tito’s catalog. Songs like “4 Beat Cha Cha”, “Mambozzoka”, “Havava After Dark”, “Cuyi”, “Traigo El Coco Seco”, and “O Che Che”. This one features names like Johnny ‘Dandy’ Rodriguez, Sonny Bravo, Jose Madera, Richie Viruet, Jorge Maldonado, Mitch Frohman, Cita Rodriguez, Jerry Madera, Kevin Bryan, Pete Miranda & Frankie Vazquez that are better known as MLO (The Mambo Legends Orchestra) and two of Giovanni’s childhood friends David Rosado ‘Cuba’ & Anthony Carrillo. The CD is pure magic!
One of my mentors as a Latin Jazz instructor/historian has always been Drummer/Bandleader Bobby Sanabria from whom I learned quite a bit about the legendary pioneers Mario Bauza, Chico O’Farrill and Machito & His Afro-Cuban Orchestra (Frank Grillo). His recordings with Ascencion, the Manhattan School of Music and the Multiverse Big Band have been true gems and extraordinary examples of his immense talent.
His latest, by the Multiverse Big Band, “Vox Humana”, is a new venture for Bobby that highlights three vocal talents in Janis Seigel (Manhattan Transfer) who is no stranger to Latin Jazz rhythms in her music, Antoinette Montague a blues & jazz favorite and Jennifer Jade Ledesna. This recording marks Bobby’s 25th anniversary celebration recorded live at Dizzy ‘s Club Cola in NY. The CD has only one original and 12 pop remakes including music by Steely Dan, Christina Aguilera, plus Joe Cuba’s “To Be With You”, Eddie Palmieri’s “Congo”, Rafael Hernandez’ “Capullito De Alili” and the first single “Caravan” spiced with a new arrangement.
The Chembo Corniel Quintet is back with another huge Grammy worthy winner for 2023 “Artistas, Musicos y Poetas” where he showcases artists in the CD package, some great musicians and two of the best poets I have ever met, Felipe Luciano & Ismael Carlos East.
After a 7-year hiatus since their last recording the quintet is back with their 6th release, that does not disappoint, with some amazing performances & arrangements that will land this CD in the ‘Top Ten’ list. My favorite tracks are “Dalila” written by drummer Joel E. Mateo that features Joel on drum, Henry Paz on Tenor Sax and Carlos Cuevas on piano, the Bomba “P.R.I.D.E.” (Puerto Rican) that features Ismael Carlos East, at his best, with improvisations from Cuevas and Tenor Saxophonist Paul Carlon. “Red Hook Bomba” is all about Chembo with Felipe Luciano as special guest and you can hear Chembo as an arranger on Thelonius Monks’ “Evidence’. The opener “Con Don Pancho Terry” is a rare treat where Chembo was able to get a mentor Don Pancho Terry to play the Skekere, that has made Terry a legend. with additional performances by Paz, Cuevas, guest pianist Elio Villafranca, Ian Stewart on bass, and guest Vince Cherico on drums. The CD also includes Andrea Brachfeld, Ivan Renta, Mike Viñas, Adan Perez (David Millan), Ben Lapidus, Ruben Rodriguez and Yasuyo Kimura amongst others making this an all-star effort.
Rumba Calzada, led by timbalero Raphael Geronimo, is situated in Vancouver, Canada but with roots in Manila and originally led by his dad Boying that began in the year 1991. The band is a fan favorite in the US, Malaysia & Philippines. The CD, titled “Feel the Sun”, opens with the funky “Rumba Eh”, the well-arranged “Cumbia Para Mujeres” that starts as a cumbia and kicks into a bad -ass dance number and the swinging “Bobby Rodriguez” a tribute to the bass legend that features a slamming bass solo by Allan Johnston. “Suena El Timbal”, “Feel The Sun”, Pantalon Negro”, and “Eddie in The Park” will also get plenty of radio airtime and club spins.
Another international smash hit is the new CD by Sydney, Australia’s # 1 Salsa band Mucho Mambo, led by Martin Taylor, that has been wowing fans in Australia as well as vacationers for many years now. Martin has always sent me his CD’s since my days at Latin Beat Magazine in New York since the 2011 release “Moorish”. Mucho Mambo is a 14 piece band that takes you through a time machine to the era of the 50’s & 60’s Latin rhythms & Jazz genres with a funky beat and an exciting live stage show with its unique pleasure for all who go to see them.
Their latest “Plaza De Mambo”, their 4th release that also celebrates the band’s 20th anniversary has placed them amongst the international elite with sure shot hits “El Padrino”, the Latin Jazz tune “Peter Mambo” (Peter Gunn TV series theme from the 60’s), “Coolcha”, “En La Calle”, ‘Mil Veces”, “Se Formo El Bochinche” and “Cucuruchito De Coco”.
Upstate New York Boricua bassist/bandleader Alex Torres celebrates his 40th (actually now 42 after the pandemic delay) in the industry and is simply titled ”Son 40” with excellent vocal performance by William ‘Wilo’ Rodriguez. Alex is another one of those artists that was fast at getting his recordings to me for my reviews and airplay as all artists should do. The title track ‘Son Cuarenta” has become a huge hit as has “Retrojo” and “No Insultes A Los Cueros”, the second and third releases. Soon you can add “Carmen La Ronca” and “No Me Pares El Tambor” to the hit lists at clubs and radio.
Pedro Bermudez, renown pianist, composer & arranger, has had two amazing CD’s….one Salsa and another Latin Jazz but his latest “La Revelacion” may ne his best and a big contender for #1. Hardcore Salsa lovers will be blown away with these 12 tracks that include vocal performances by Victor Garcia (“Soy El Bongo” & “Justicia Ciega”), Joe Gonzalez (“El Tiempo Que Paso”, “Tu Guion de Fantasia”, and “El Terror De La Mar”), Luisito Carrion (“Para Los Pollos”, & “La Cosecha”), Kayvan Vega (“Dime Tu Si Eres Sonero”) and the Latin Jazz track “Pedro Bermudez Ramon y Mercedes Mezcla” that are all swinging numbers. All the songs are composed by Pedro except “Soy El Bongo” (Edwin Clemente). Top three contender for 2023!
Another pianist from Puerto Rico but that also has lived in Colombia, where he was musical director for Guayacan Orquesta and also Alfredo De La Fe is Israel Tanenbaum that with his band the Latinbaum Jazz Ensemble makes his debut with the CD “Impressions”. It has Latin Jazz boleros, cha cha’s and some great dance music. My favorites when I first heard it were “Mambo Raro”, “Strange Destiny”, “Vaya”, “Prime Flight” and “Hot Bridge”. Great Latin Jazz destined to be one of the year’s best!
This veteran has played with Grupo Niche, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Marvin Santiago, Tommy Olivencia, Grupo Clase, Lalo Rodriguez, Brenda K. Starr, Batacumbele, Santos Colon, Cheo Feliciano, Roberto Roena, Zaperoko, Dave Valentin, Giovanni Hidalgo, David Sanchez, John Benitez and Juancito Torres Jazz Ensemble. For Sonora Ponceña he arranged the classic “Tanenbaum a La Lucca” for the LP “On Target”.
Rigoberto Rodriguez is a veteran percussionist who has had a series of recordings dedicated to the dancers and his latest, “Me Gusta Guarachar”, that features vocalist Betsy Lopez (who Rigo discovered while she recorded with Julio Albino y su Orquesta Secreto a Voces) marking the 9th release by Rigo y su Obra Maestra. I was only aware of 8 but the first one is so rare that Rigo himself had to buy it from Viera Records in Santurce. Betsy kills it on the numbers “Me Gusta Guarachar”, “Mi Guaguanco”, “Soy Original”, “Manique” (misspelled on the CD), “Esto Es Amor”, “Quiero Ser Feliz” and the cha cha “Buscandome”.
Pianist/Producer Henry Benavides, who has been very active in the past few years has a new CD, “Por Cuenta Propia”, in tribute to some latin greats like Cortijo y su Combo with Ismael Rivera’s “Volare”, Joe Cuba Sextet’s “Cita A Las Seis”, Tito Rodriguez’ “Cuando Cuando”, El Sexteto Juventud’s “La Carcel” to name a few. Kudos to the two vocalists Orlen De Leon and Johan Trinidad.
Luis Damon who had some nice hits in the late 90’s presents a new 4 track EP “Mis Mañanas” that fans of Marc Anthony will love. “Mis Mañanas”, “Realidad Necesaria”, “De Que vale Mi Amor” and “Por Mas Que Intento” will all do well at radio if given the chance. Expect big things on radio with these tracks.
After the success of his releases titled “Desde La Loma” Norbert (Velez) is back with a studio album “Transicion Y Cadencia” with collaborations from Carlos Garcia & Jose Jota Ruiz and some great tracks in “La Vecina Lola”, “Que Lindo Fuera”, “Naci Para Cantar”, “La Locura” and “La Cartera”. Norbert has become one of the of Puerto Rico’s most respected artists showcasing artists and making a name for himself at the same time.
Colombia vocalist Willy Garcia (Grupo Niche & Son De Cali) has a new seven track CD of mostly Salsa Romantica numbers where he thrives as a vocalist of Salsa Romantica but he can also do ‘Salsa Gorda’ as he does on “Sin Salsa” where he teams with Tirso Duarte (one of Cuba’s hottest vocalists). Lovers of Salsa Romantica will truly enjoy “Pienso En Ti”, “Mor”, “Amor Me Rindo”, “Como Tu”, and “Me Volvi a Enamorar”.
Rey Montañez su Conjunto Akangana’s new CD is a combination of folkloric (Bomba y Plena) with Salsa Gorda with a special appearance of his brother Andy on the song “Alfa y Omega”. During the holidays the popular song was “Pa’ Picar No Pa’ Jartarse” featuring Fabiola Muñoz & Candido Reyes. A very good party CD for the entire year!
There’s a song people ask me about called “Yo Soy Sammy Marrero” (2020) created by producer Richie Viera y La Orquesta De Las Americas that features Alex D’Castro, Tony Vega, Domingo Quiñones, Andy Montañez, Victoria Sanabria, Luis ‘Perico’ Ortiz, Rafy Andino (Mulenze), Charlie Aponte, Marcial Isturiz, Willie Garcia from Colombia, El Topo, Lusito Carrion, Carlos Garcia, Willito Otero, Wilfrido Vargas, Felo de N’Klave, Pedro Brull, Rafu Warner and Jorge Yadiel Santos. This was put together by Viera in support for Sammy Marrero that was having problems with the family of Ralphy Leavitt and Sammy’s use of those hits they recorded together.
Check out my tributes to Tito Puente’s 100th at Alma Del Barrio, Sabor Boricua Radio and World Salsa Radio.com at the end of April.