Welcome to my "guide" to some of my favorite Spanish-language music, stuff from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Latin America and beyond...
This page covers the letter "G"
La Gloria Matancera "El Limoncito: 1948-1952" (Tumbao)
Tito Gomez & La Orquesta Riverside "Bajo Un Palmar" (Antilla, 1959)
Vintage recordings made with the Tito Gomez's longtime band, Orquesta Riverside, which he joined in 1949 and stayed with for many years... The arrangements are punchy and propulsive, full of horns but not too brassy, while his vocals are rich and robust... Swell stuff; like many true-blue, old-school Cuban records, the sound might be a little tinny for modern ears, but the music is pure gold!
Tito Gomez "Con La Orquesta De Enrique Jorrin" (Yerba Buena/Virgin-Spain, 2000)
In a sense, these late '70s recordings could be taken as a template for the path of Cuban pop vocals -- this disc starts out with pure corn, slurpy romantic boleros and some slow cha-cha-chas... The pace picks up midway, with a dash of the new NYC-style hot sound creeping in, and then things start to soften up again with the introduction of modernized, electronic instrumentation. I'm not wild about this disc, but it's okay. Gomez was a pretty strong singer, and if you enjoy the more lavish style of romantic singing, this could certainly be worth checking out...
Tito Gomez "...Con La Orquesta Riverside" (EGREM, 2002)
Ruben Gonzalez "Introducing..." (Nonesuch, 1997)
An ironic title for an album by a man who's been playing in the best Cuban conjuntos for the last fifty years. Recently, though, Gonzales has had rough times, and a reintroduction was necessary. When Ry Cooder was putting the Buena Vista project together, he was continually tantalized by mentions of the legendary piano player: Gonzales was the man he would want, too bad he was dead... Oh, no no no... he's not dead, he just has terrible arthritis and had to quit playing... The truth was, though, that Gonzales was in fine health, he had simply lost his piano after a tropical storm ruined it, and didn't have the money to get a new one. Well, thank goodness for the rich yanquis, and their extra pianos! A deft and supple performer, Gonzales luxuriates in his own virtuosity, and indulges in the roundest, corniest, most romantic phrasings, sprinkling in quotes from Tin Pan Alley themes, along with classic Cuban dance riffs and slow waltzlike tunes. This mostly-instrumental record, cut after the success of the Social Club album, showcases Gonzales at his suavest, schmaltziest, and sweetest. It's a treat.
Ruben Gonzalez (with The Noneto Cubano De Jazz) "Sentimento" (Egrem, 1999)
To be honest, these big band-flavored mid-'60s jazz recordings are not all that great. Gonzales' piano work is not the main focus of the recording, and Pucho Escalante's Noneto was no Sonora Matancera; the horn charts run flat and sound a bit indifferent. This pretty much sounds like a state-sponsored band running through Doc Severinsen riffs for some sort of "international" Eastern Bloc jazz exhibition, rather than the kickass son ensemble we would have hoped for. Of marginal historical interest to Buena Vista fans -- but not something you should knock yourself out trying to find.
Ruben Gonzalez "Chanchullo" (Nonesuch/World Circuit, 2000)
Here Gonzales veers a little away from his affinity for jazz, and into lusher, more elaborately layered, rhythmic dance material. A bigger, warmer sound that's pretty damn nice. Naturally other Social Clubbers are included too, including Ibrahim Ferrer, Eliades Ochoa and Cachaito -- African pop singer Chiekh Lo and Ry Cooder also pitch in. After the album is well underway, Gonzales gets into his trademark sparkling ivory tinklings, and settles into a less heavily orchestrated sound. It rocks.
Ruben Gonzalez & Orquesta America "America Del 55" (EGREM, 2002)
Ruben Gonzalez "Momentos" (Escondida, 2005)
Vintage recordings from 1965 (with Pucho Escanlante's jazz band) and 1975-76, when Gonzales cut his first solo record. The 'Seventies stuff is fairly elegant and flowery; although there are some dazzling flights, mostly it's pretty restrained and a bit lounge-y. The piano work is more in the background on the straight jazz cuts, but they have more spark to them... Although neither set has as much richness or depth as the Buena Vista-era recordings, folks will still probably want to give this disc a spin... It's a nice historical document, and if you like things sweet and simple, these tracks might wow you more than they did me. Worth checking out.
Grupo Caribe "Un Congo Me Dio Le Letra" (CMS, 2002)
Solid, snappy old-school NY salsa that recalls the glory days of Ruben Blades and Willie Colon... These guys have got it all: the rhythm, the playful, extended jams, and the easygoing joy of life that makes this style of music so great. It's cool that there are folks who can still boogie down like this... and do it so well! Vocalists Luis Alaya, Frankie Figueroa, Herman Olivera, and Frankie Vazques all know how to throw themselves into their songs, and the band is right there behind them, urging us all to get up and dance. This is a really nice record, apparently their third, and definitely worth searching out.
Grupo De Experimentation Sonora Del ICAIC -- see Silvio Rodriguez
Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino "Concepts In Unity" (Salsoul, 1976)
Amid the booming '70s salsa scene, Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros and several dozen Puerto Rican nuyoricans plunged into a percussion-heavy project that was at once old-fashioned (heavily based on raw, Afro-Rican drumming) and forward-looking (with a healthy dose of avant jazz tucked in at the margins). Includes veterans of various Cuban and PR bands, including Manny Oquendo, vocalist Caito, of the legendary Sonora Mantancera, and numerous younger players, all in a loose, lively acoustic jam. Definitely recommended for fans of African-derived island drumming.
Ely Guerra "Sweet & Sour, Hot & Spicy" (Higher Octave, 2004)
Mexico's Ely Guerra cuts loose with her most rock-oriented set to date, wailing and playing hard with as aggressive a rock en espanol album as you're likely to hear. The distinctive Latin American themes and electronic music touches of her previous album, Lotofire, are subsumed to driving electric guitars and emotive vocals. While in some ways this may be a less adventurous record, it does keep pace with the harder pop sound of fellow rockers such as Aterciopelados and Cafe Tacuba and, in the English-speaking world, P.J. Harvey and Alanis Morissette. It's not really my cup of tea, but I can recognize the strength of her performance.
Juan Luis Guerra "Bachata Rosa" (Karen, 1990)
(Produced by Juan Luis Guerra)
This album is supposed to be one of the major touchstones of modern bachata music from the Dominican Republic... I found it rather sappy and florid, and quite unlike the ur-bachata from the 1960s that got me into the genre to begin with. Not my cup of tea: too slickly produced and pre-fabbishly pop. I'll pass.
Juan Luis Guerra "Areito" (Karen, 1992)
(Produced by Juan Luis Guerra)
A more dynamic, uptempo album than the earlier Bachata Rosa, but still didn't sound all that distinctive. Reminded me of mainstream salsa from folks like Ruben Blades, with an extra little goosing to the tempo that seems to draw on the cumbia genre. Towards the end of the album, Luis Guerra slows down again and indulges in some more of the slow, florid romantic stuff, which I'm sure sells well, but sure sounds goopy. Didn't wow me.
World Music Index