The steamy corner bar looks like something out of a Hopper painting: vintage ceiling fans, a lunch counter bar, dark wood paneling, and cafe curtains on the fishbowl windows. "We debut a lot of our new songs here," says Marlysse Simmons, pianist with Bio Ritmo, on a recent Tuesday night at Emilio's Mexican Restaurant in downtown Richmond. Arriving for the second set, I'm just in time for an unveiling.
Over a vamping montuno, the major fourth of a familiar Cuban rumba coro rises, hailing the crowd of art school hipsters and restaurant roues to attention: "!Senores!" Pretty soon, unheard-of horn lines are weaving in and out of strange, new Spanish-sounding harmonies. "Voy pa'alla,"--I'm on my way--calls the sonero, now with the audience in his vest pocket, the sound of salsa's future in our ears.
"It's like if you collected action figures and you happened to find a prototype that didn't have the paint on it yet," says sonero Rei Alvarez at the end of the rough gem.
Richmond's cosmopolitan ears and creative spirit make this old money tobacco town, just two hours and change up the road from the Triangle, the perfect laboratory for Bio Ritmo's latest salsa experiments. The music scene seems symbiotic with the visual arts here--thanks to Virginia Commonwealth University--and graphic design and a love of vintage fashion are no strangers to select members of Bio Ritmo and their entourage.
Alvarez' original cover art adorns the new self-titled album. Released on the band's Locutor label, the CD has been available on the web for a year now, but you will finally be able to buy it in stores nationwide starting this month. Eight original tracks in Spanish have all the Nuyorican soul you could ask for, and not a single shallow lyric or empty rhyme. The rhythm section (timbales, congas, piano and bass) is innovative as well as killer. Seven of the eight are uptempo, and if your magnetic fields happen to be in Puerto Rico, there's one bolero--not a smarmy love song, mind you, but a soul-baring trip to the dark side of creativity.
The national CD-release party for Bio Ritmo is March 29 at S.O.B.'s in New York City. The Ritmo then heads to Durham to make their first-ever appearance at George's Garage on April 3 . Advance ticket information and details about the show are at www.trianglefiesta.com or www.bioritmo.com .
Trans-Iberian Express: Paco de Lucia at Duke
Getting seated for Paco de Lucia's Feb. 22 concert in Page Auditorium was a lot like boarding a transatlantic flight. Spanish speakers, international fans of Iberian culture, and in particular a noticeable turnout of Russian fans, all made their way into the sold-out auditorium with a sense of quiet expectation.
Maybe the Russian temperament has more duende than most. It does seem to be the case that the flamenco temperament beguiles through its union of opposites: stoicism and passion, precision and anarchy, ecstasy and reserve.
Flamenco creates its own sense of time. It's not happy music, exactly, but elemental--like fire, thunder, rain. The stage was lined with ferns, and overhead spotlighting created the effect of sunlight breaking through storm clouds into the glade below. The maestro walked onstage alone and started playing as if he'd just walked in to someone's living room and happened to find a guitar lying around. With his magisterial dome and simple, somber clothing, the legendary guitarist's unassuming stage presence made him seem all the more Olympian.
The first half of the program was rootsy and stayed simple, with De Lucia soloing or playing with small combos of up to three or four musicians on cajon, guitar, bass, and male voice. The second half was jazzier, adding saxophones/flute, and two amazing, visceral female singers who gestured with opened and clenched hands as they sang, and occasionally danced. Alain Perez Rodriguez, De Lucia's Cuban bass player, sporting a long, thick Andalusian ponytail, deserved special singling out for some jaw-dropping electric bass solos.
De Lucia's concentration was trancelike, and he only sporadically broke a smile or spoke. By the end of the night the collective ecstasy had peaked, and it was hard not to feel that humanity had gloriously succeeded in one way at least. As if induced by the hand-clapping rhythms, the audience applauded back in eerie synchronicity.
A revolutionary force on the flamenco scene since the late '60s, Paco de Lucia entered jazz history in the '90s for his collaborations with guitarists Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin. His latest solo album on Verve is Cositas Buenas.
Insane in the Membrane
When it comes to Durham's upscale singles scene, the First Fridays Latin Party at Parizade is still la Mama de los Pollitos--the mother of all monthly Latin mixers. Now Bakus, the 9th St. tapas bar with classy nudes on the walls and exotic appetizers on the menu, will be providing another monthly haven for tropical dancers. Get "Loco de la Cabeza" every third Saturday of the month, with DJ Vitico laying down a hotter dance groove than Parizade's popified playlist. Salsa, merengue and bachata give rise to some of the steamiest dancing in the Triangle, interspersed with mereng-hip-hop and reggaeton Madonna remixes that keep the dance floor jumping until late.
Because of Spring Break, this month only, "Loco de la Cabeza" is pushed back a week to March 27th (right after Bakus' bi-monthly Bhangra party on Friday the 26th). Cover is $10. Stay tuned for live Latin rock on Fridays, coming up sometime in late April or early May. Upcoming Live Shows
Montas International Lounge in RTP is hosting two live Latin bands this month. Triangle-based dance band Samecumba plays the Puerto Rican Jam on Friday, March 12, and from Floyd, Virginia, the Caribbean/South American dance band Solazo pays a visit on Saturday, March 27. Information at www.montaslounge.com, www.samecumba.net and www.solazo.com.
E-mail Sylvia Pfeiffenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org with your news for Latin Beat.