Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha (Putumayo, 2011)
Empresarios – Sabor Tropical (Fort Knox Recordings, 2010)
Chancha Via Circuito – Rio Arriba (ZZK Records, 2010)
My fondness for Latin music includes the longstanding classic dance styles as well as, admittedly more selectively, newer attempts to bring Latin rhythms to the contemporary dancefloor via remix technology and the like.
A blazing selection of the retro type stuff can be found on Putumayo’s Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, a release as internationally focused as their Salsa Around the World. Artists from Cuba, Colombia, France, Belgium, Russia and beyond hint at how far Latin music has reached and how, in the case of the U.K.’s Salsa Celtica for example, other cultures have made it their own.
The disc has a fairly lean running time of just under 43 minutes, but everything here sizzles, from the superb piano-laden opener by Conjunto Massalia and throwback elegance of Orquestra La Moderna Tradicion’s ballroom danzon to Asere’s moody taste of old Havana and Internationals’ irresistible bit of Euro-Latin zest. Another solid, recommendable Latin collection from the Putumayo folks.
Empresarios, a quintet whose skills include producing, DJ-ing, engineering and the actual playing of instruments, have a clear understanding of and respect for Latin rhythms. Modern though it is, Sabor Tropical maintains an undercurrent that’s true to the roots while bringing in funk, dub, downtempo, trip-hop and house music overtones.
Empresarios blend rhythm, melody and technology with both shrewdness and a sense of the ethereal (check how keenly distant horns and violin compliment out-front percussion on “Pensamiento” and the way trumpet and vibraphone drift in and out of “Sohl”) for a sometimes hot, sometimes chilled Latin dance party that overcomes a few stiff moments and comes up fresh and vibrant.
Argentina’s Chancha Via Circuito takes a different approach, putting aside the customary Latin dance sounds and instead remixing South American folk and traditional music until it’s ready to be danced to in ways that are probably not altogether folksy. Rio Arriba starts off in splendidly hypnotic fashion with a reconfiguring of Jose Larralde’s “Quimey Neuquen,” low key and laced with percussion and bass that converse beneath a sonero-like vocal.
While the bulk of the album doesn’t quite match the brilliance of that opener, there are choice pickings like the accentuated oddball rhythm of “Prima” and the futuristic jungle sounds that animate the title track. Things pick up toward the end as “Amelia” casts high-pitched wails (I’m not sure if they’re provided by a voice, a flute or some combination thereof) into a percussive pit of dreams and “Tremor” cautiously makes its way along a trail of echoing beats, haunting vocals by Wenceslada and the strumming of what sounds like a charango.
Not a killer disc all the way through, but a few truly excellent tracks make it worth having.