Paragons of Plena

Plena Libre – Estamos Gozando!
Plena Libre

Estamos Gozando! (Times Square Records TSQCD 9039, 2004)

Ten years and as many albums down the line, Puerto Rico’s Plena Libre continue to champion the musical form their name bespeaks. Plena is one of the two most prominent African-rooted styles (bomba being the other) that originated on the island over a century ago, one that was nearly blotted out by the emergence of salsa as a more dominant force commercially. Granted, there are similarities between plena and salsa, but differences are readily discernible.

Plena has a more distinctly folksy edge, looser arrangements that still make you want to dance your limbs off and a more bottom heavy feel via the use of panderos (frame drums), richer bass lines and, in the case of Plena Libre, multiple trombones. These elements were all part of bassist/bandleader Gary Núñez’s original plan to modernize plena without wiping out its origins.

So on this album you still hear traces of plena in its simpler form, including an accordion sometimes rising to provide some beautiful slip-and-slide around the horns and the steady scrape of the guiro (ridged gourd percussion). Yes, it grooves from start to finish, but it’s heartfelt in addition to being
hot. These songs are Plena Libre’s rearrangements of material by the old masters of Puerto Rican roots, at least one of whom, Manuel “Canario” Jimenez (whose “Lo Que a Ti Te Gusta” gets the sizzle here), began his plena mission as far back as the 1920’s. Lovers of both vintage and modern Latin roots music won’t want to be without this disc, since it draws from each in sumptuous equal measure and comes up short on neither. Sure to be one of the top Latin releases of the year.

Buy Estamos Gozando!

Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.