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Zenon, A New Face In Latin Jazz… Salsa, Timba, And Rueda Take Off… In English Or Spanish, Rosa Deserves A Wider Audience

Zenon, A New Face In Latin Jazz

Ed Morales

January 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Newsday, Inc. All rights reserved.

It does all jazz lovers good to meditate on the Latin tinge in the music - from the traces of habanera in the New Orleans sound to the impact of mambo on Charlie Parker's bebop, to the startling clave rhythms that drove John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme."

But while there are few things more satisfying than watching Jerry González's Fort Apache Band take on Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso," we are entering a new era when Latin players are sublimating obvious rhythmic structures and playing a jazz whose Latin elements have more to do with "feel."

A prime example of this tendency is Miguel Zenón, a saxophonist who has worked with transplanted Puerto Rican horn player David Sánchez since the mid-'90s and will release his second solo album, "Ceremonial" (Marsalis Music/Rounder Records), next week. A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, who attended Berklee College of Music on scholarship, Zenón, like Sánchez, was encouraged by pianist Danilo Pérez to study the bomba rhythms of his native island. While there is a temptation to compare him with Sánchez because of their backgrounds, ambitions and even sidemen, Zenón is unique. Eschewing Sánchez's tendency to set up blistering solos, Zenón emerges from his compositions' dense layering in more subtle fashion.

Pianist Luis Perdomo is the album's virtual costar, but while his playing brings all the percussive feeling of Latin piano, his counterpoints with Zenón focus less on riffing than on embellishing a tune's harmonics. While rumba guaguancó pops up in the title track, and bomba master Héctor "Tito" Matos does some frenetic guest percussion on "Mega," the songs on "Ceremonial" are more of the introspective ballad variety, like the uplifting "Transfiguration" featuring Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza.

The tone he captures in the introductory passages to "A Reminder of Us" is cinematic in quality, a crystallization of a mood that although familiar seems entirely new. While Zenón has clearly learned from masters such as Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie, there are hints here of Debussy. More important, the music on "Ceremonial" has the effect of establishing a sound that could be linked to Zenón himself, a sound that is changing the way we identify Latin music and jazz itself.

Salsa, Timba, And Rueda Take Off

By Ana Morales, Globe Correspondent

April 8, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Globe Newspaper Company. All rights reserved.

Eddie Palmieri makes me think of a good bottle of merlot. He just gets better with age. The veteran pianist, who plays Scullers tonight through Saturday, is a living testimony to the '70s salsa boom, and an ambassador of today's Latin jazz.

Not that Palmieri abandoned his salsa roots. Au contraire, this master of montuno has earned the kind of respect needed to put up a naughty salsa show that emphasizes the soloing skills of his seven-piece ensemble and Palmieri's curiosity in testing Latin music's limits. It's a sound that diverges from the let's-please-as-many-people-as-possible mainstream salsa. Palmieri transports the audience to the very origins of salsa, where rhythm, musical tension, and resistance ruled.

From Miami to New York to Los Angeles, rueda dancing (group salsa) is taking over dance floors. Now Boston, with rueda nights at Sophia's, MIT, and the Green Street Grill, is finally on the map. But for La Timba Loca, a diverse mix of musicians playing modern salsa (also known as timba), "a rueda can't groove to any old salsa. Only good hard-core timba will do," says musical director Gonzalo Grau.

For him timba and rueda belong together like rice and beans. "The funky, edgy style of timba music requests rueda, a more open, somewhat involved dance style that is different from the salsa dancing we are used to dancing." So Grau enlisted the Jamnastics rueda dancers and the MIT Rueda Group for the anticipated "A La Rueda Rueda" show at the Regattabar on April 15.

"A la rueda rueda" is the chorus of a new LTL song titled "Abre Que Voy (Here I Go)." The song lures people to rueda dancing and makes a statement about the evolution of Latin music and dance. The structure of this tune is a clever journey from the African-born guaguanco to LTL's timba sound. The sequence is garnished with quotes from the theme of the science-fiction hit "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Miles Davis (who for Grau represents the evolution of jazz).

In November, LTL sold 190 seats on a Tuesday night at the Regattabar. According to Fenton Hollander, the club's booking agent, these numbers are exceptionally good. That show was yet another example of the band's surprise entrances. In typical La Timba Loca fashion, the 12 musicians made heads turn when they appeared from inside the Regattabar's glass elevators, teasing the audience while going up and down the elevators to the rhythm of a raucous, horn-heavy tune.

Although Grau, who graduated from Berklee with honors, assures that La Timba Loca will catch the audience off-guard next week, this time he will not give it all out. "Those who are familiar with La Timba Loca know they can't miss the show. And those who are not familiar with the band will never want to miss another show again and will understand that LTL always has something else to say."

Another Miles Davis-influenced Berklee grad who plays Boston this month is Humberto Ramirez. The trumpeter debuted in Willie Rosario's orchestra and later climbed the music industry food chain as producer of Gilberto Santa Rosa and Tony Vega. But it wasn't until the release in 1992 of his solo album "Jazz Project" that Ramirez became a household name in his native Puerto Rico. Since then, artists such as Marc Anthony, Tito Puente, Paquito D'Rivera, Jose Feliciano, and Olga Tanon have sought Ramirez for arranging, composing, and producing gigs.

On April 20, Ramirez showcases his 2003 CD release "Miles Latino" at Scullers. With re-harmonization and tempo alterations of Davis's "Four," "My Funny Valentine," "Round Midnight," "Tutu," and "So What," among others, Ramirez turns these jazz standards into rich expressions of Latin jazz. Of special note is "Transcendental," an original composition by Ramirez where Davis's music is combined with Latin rhythms.

Long gone are the years when salsa was just a Latin thing. Any salsa night in the city will draw all kinds of ethnicities. April Genovese, who has been dancing salsa professionally for 10 years, thinks it's time for Boston to have an event that represents the salsa crossover trend. For all salseros on the same page, Genovese and salsa promoter David Melendez are launching the first Boston International Salsa Congress.

The congress, which runs April 23 to 25, is patterned after the salsa congresses that take place annually in big cities around the world. The event will feature more than 150 performers and instructors from the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Among them are Salsa y Control (Boston), Pretty Boys and Girls (San Francisco), Dady and Corinne (Paris), Jayson Molina & Kimberly Flores (Puerto Rico and New York), and Son de Cali Internacional (Colombia). With 24 dance workshops, the Boston Salsa Congress is an opportunity for dancers of all levels to learn a variety of salsa styles including Afro-Cuban dance, rueda, ladies' and men's styling, and performance tricks and techniques.

"We have the Boston Salsa Congress here, which I think is great, but the Boston International Salsa Congress is different. We get out of the local scene and bring performers and teachers from all over the world," says Genovese. The congress will be held at the Hilton at Logan Airport, which has a ballroom capacity of 800.

"The world is witnessing the biggest salsa boom ever, and the phenomenon keeps spreading like fire across all cultures and ethnic groups," Genovese said.

In English Or Spanish, Rosa Deserves A Wider Audience

by David Cazares

January 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Sun-Sentinel Co. All rights reserved.

One of brightest talents in Latin music is again set to release an English-language album, one that should turn the heads of the music industry's establishment.

But with Mad Love on Columbia Records, due in stores on March 2, alternative songwriter and producer Robi Dräco Rosa isn't aiming at crossover. He's simply doing what comes naturally.

Born on Long Island and raised in Puerto Rico, Rosa is one of a number of Latin performers who are equally comfortable in English and Spanish. Unlike some others, however, the former member of the Puerto Rican teen pop group Menudo doesn't have two seemingly separate musical identities. Instead, the thirtysomething performer's moody and rebellious persona is reflected in both languages.

Unfortunately, Rosa is still largely unknown. This is despite the fact that he co-wrote and produced some of Ricky Martin's biggest hits, including Maria, Livin' La Vida Loca and La Copa de la Vida. Rosa also has written for Julio Iglesias and Puerto Rican singer Ednita Nazario. He has a handful of critically acclaimed albums under his belt, among them 1994's Frio, 1996's Vagabundo, 1998's Songbirds & Roosters and 2001's Libertad del Alma.

But it is Rosa's collaboration with the internationally known Martin, his former band mate in Menudo, that has perhaps won him the greatest recognition.

That could change soon, or it should, on the strength of Mad Love. It's a classy and intriguing album that showcases his talent for writing songs of sensuality and despair while also highlighting his singing. Much of the album was produced by Rosa and George Noriega, who encouraged the singer to claim the limelight.

"For years people have been saying `man, you should sing more, you really have a nice voice,'" Rosa said through his publicist. "So George said, `listen, man, you gotta sing; don't hide behind a stack of vocals.'"

And sing Rosa does, with a maturity and range sadly missing in far too many of today's pop stars. The album also derives strength from a variety of rhythms.

Besides rock musicians, Rosa adds touches from musicians in Brazil, Puerto Rico and Spain. The album also features an eclectic instrumentation that includes flamenco guitars, strings and percussion.

Rosa's latest release, which drew inspiration from Miles Davis' classic album Bitches Brew, broadens the scope of rock.

The album, which took two years to produce, includes highly accessible numbers such as Dancing in the Rain, a funky tune made with little accompaniment, and the complex Lie Without a Lover, which blends jazz fusion and metallic rock. My Eyes Adore You is about Rosa's wife, actress Angela Alvarado. Rosa also includes one number in Spanish, Como Me Acuerdo.

The album's songs are a world away from the light and catchy numbers he helped pen for Martin. But their varied nature reflect Rosa's persona.

"I never feel like I'm going to play rock today or I'm going to plan to play reggae," he said. "I just do what feels right. I go by the adrenaline of the heartbeat. I just try to keep the spontaneity, which is what I thrive on."

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