Saturday, August 9, 2008

Salsa On The Move

Orquesta GarDel played three sets at the Mosquito bar in Raleigh Thursday night; I missed the first, but heard blazing reports. The gathered assemblage included most of the usual usuals, but it appears Tim Smith has recently replaced Jason Gabriel on saxophone. (Or Saxapaphone, if you live in Alamance County.) The club is a little cryptic to approach, since the street address, 311 S. Harrington St., doesn't face the actual door. But, the bouncers were super cool, there's a great smoking balcony, inside there are a few semi-private dens and a small red-glowing dance box as the main salon. Dancers turned out, along with slickly dressed downtown folk. A few well-known DJs showed up to check out the band. Betto Herrera (Mambo Dinamico) was there representing and having fun, as were a lot of Paso A Paso dancers, who rigged up a rueda by the middle of the third set. Also, the Puerto Rican hometown crew was out in significant force, up through the second act, fanfriends of trumpeter Alberto Carrasquillo and backing vocalist Jaime Roman. Was it just me, or did Nelson Delgado put his own emoción into "Cuando Uno Se Enamora"? ("It's appropriate," he says, "the song calls for it.") I always get extra relish out of Andy Kleindienst's badass moñas. Eric Hirsh claims it was a Monk citation that floated past me on his piano solo in "La Agarro Bajando," I could have sworn he was in a Gershwin mood. He nearly had a sprained wrist by the end of the evening from performing keyboard runs. (Check it, the dancers still fall for the false ending they added to that Santa Rosa arrangement, right after Brevan Hampden's bombastic timbales solo.) There is no more sublime tumbao leader playing salsa here and now than bassist-of-the-sky Peter Kimosh; dude played half the night oblivious that he had lipstick traces on his cheek. Wayne Leechford blew mighty mighty, doubling on sax and flute, and Jose Sanchez did his reliable thang on the congas like it needed to be done. Ramón Ortiz took a bongo solo on the final descarga. Another new character was on trumpet, Al, a roommate of Brevan's but I didn't catch his last name. Anybody? Who or what else am I missing?

Gentlemen take heed: Some of the dancers were pleading for slower tunes by the end of the night. It will be interesting to see how they fit into George's Garage for the NC Salsa Festival on Saturday.


Eric said...

Al Strong was subbing second trumpet for Jay Kaufman. He has M.M. in Jazz from Northern Illinois University, a grad school oft attended by NCCU undergrads.

Sylvia P. said...

Gracias, Eric! Credit where credit is due.

jackhwolf said...

GarDel did well at NC Salsa. They definitely slowed it down and made it shorter.

When I dj salsa for dancers I keep it from 170-200 bpm and fade any songs over 4 1/2 min. When I had seen GarDel at Shakori and ArtsCenter they were definitely playing longer and faster then those numbers and about killed this one abuelo salsero, but the George's set was good and the musicianship excellent.

Sylvia P. said...

Wolfy Jack, thanks for weighing in. These bpm debates always make me think of hummingbirds. At 170-200 bpm a hummingbird's heartbeat would be nearing torpor, but of course that's presto allegretto in human terms. All things are relative.

My dream is Eric's going to write some timba and funk things up a bit. I haven't done a bpm check, but some of those timba tempos are not breakneck. It's more about stirring the pot.

jackhwolf said...

Hey Sylvia:

I am going to do the salsa DJ at Night of the Living DJs August 30. James Cobo is doing a lesson and demo.

I'd love to share tracks with you sometime. Always looking for dance music.

I have used Steve Shaw's list of good on 2 salsa and cha cha at precisely at

He also has a lot of good thoughts on salsa dj. Check it out. Hope to see you and all the other salseros at NOLDJ.

Besides the bpm as a dance dj I try not to do songs that change up a lot, where they do a five measure phrase or something and so your foot is on the 6 when the music is on the 2.


Eric said...

Hey guys, it is definitely enlightening to get feedback for the band from the dancer's perspective. As Andy and I continue to forge the identity of the group (both in terms of chart writing and business plan) we find we are facing two dualities: dance band vs. listening band, and entertainment group vs. original artist. Each of those for elements has its own artistic, audience, cultural, and marketing requirements. And we are figuring out how much of each we want to be.

As a composer I really appreciate properly connecting with one's audience. I want to serve the people, and if that means 4-minute 170bpm songs, then so be it. But the expressive artist in me feels otherwise about the situation. What happens when I want to write an epic Los Van Van-style chart that sprawls over 15 minutes of rhythmic extacy? What about all those live concerts where Eddie Palmieri or Isaac Delgado's bands stretch out for 9 minutes? When is GarDel justified in doing that? Even when a punk band plays live, they don't play the 3minute radio-edit versions of their songs. Though, of course, punk bands don't have to deal with a tradition of paired dance partners and the social aspect of dance.

thinking, thinking,


Sylvia P. said...

Eric, I'm going to take more of stand here regarding length and tempo. That should always be determined by the song. Basta.

How dancers feel about it sometimes has a lot to do with context. Are they dancing to different styles of music in one place, is it social dancing, do they speak Spanish and understand the lyrics, did they learn in their kitchens or in dance schools? I don't want to make a negative judgment, it's all good if it brings people to salsa. His pleasure and her pleasure in salsa are just as valid as my pleasure. But I will come down more clearly on where I stand on this.

Longer songs is part of the joy of: salsa, period, and a live set, in particular. I, personally, would never pot down a salsa song due to minutes length. That might be appropriate in some dance contexts; it gets on my nerves. I do not like salsa medleys for the same reason. Just when a song is about to get cooking is usually, what, 3.5 minutes in? When you get to the call and response section. The coros and inspiraciones.

It probably helps if you know Spanish, the art form has another layer of meaning for you then. But it's still impossible not to recognize the musical integrity of the song unit, and how these coro parts function, building energy and intensity, building in speed, giving an outlet to verbal and musical improvisations on the song's theme. As a dancer you must, MUST, listen for it. Feel inspired by it, or don't. But the music comes first. If you are a salsa song, what happens "in the middle" and until the end is your reason for being. A salsa song is not a melody in the way that most pop songs are melodies. What is Eddie Palmieri's "Adoracion," without the screaming coro, call and response section? That's what you remember first, that's what lifts you up when you are dancing into an ecstasy or another reality. In that moment, the dancer is A PART OF the song, the singer, the musicians, the man or woman who wrote the tune, and every man or woman who has ever danced to it and been lifted up by it.

That is why I dance salsa, and I don't give a damn what the next tune is, I'm not going to get BORED in the middle of "El Cantante" or "Soy Todo."

I hope you would never feel that you couldn't write a song (especially a 12 minute timba song, that sounds AWESOME!!!) and give the song what the SONG needed, because you were so worried about what dancers need.

Re: speed: variety, timing, that's what it's all about. Late in the evening, it's sometimes cool to have tempos that reflect the hardass dancing that has gone on all night previously. That's all. I admire the young stallion, chomping at the bit energy your band emits, your ambitious charts and thrilling executions. You have the cha cha fusions that are more relaxed but a lot of salseros sit those out. And some charts of GREAT slamming exciting salsa songs are more regulated in tempo, i.e. not as fast as, say, your showstoppers, settoppers, etc. You would probably develop other skills as a band by finding and perfecting a few of these kinds of songs.

Whatever you do, don't lose the fire in the belly, man! ;-) It's a sign of what a great musician you are and aspire to be (both equally important qualities) that you LISTEN to the dancers, and I'm sure both Jack and I thank you for that.
Que dios te bendiga, Sylvia

Eduardito said...

Eric and Sylvia, before I even post my comment you both probably know where I stand on this issue.

Syliva, I cannot WAIT until GarDel puts out those Timba charts!!

Eric, let your songs rip. Every time some of our students hit your events they are beyond stoked.

Change everything and anything. Make them long. Make them short. Go from fast to slow and back again. Clave changes..?

Even better.

We love complexity of sound! Our dance requires it.

For this reason you will hear almost purely Cuban Timba in our school.

Challenge me as a dancer. As a Casinero.

Force me to open up my toolbox of interpretation in order to give life to what you are playing.

If you constrain your creativity you will most positively bore me.

The dance we call Salsa these days lacks the interpretive/physical rigor that is an innate part of the modern and ballet dances. In ballet, it's not cool to ignore the layers of music. Take a look at the average "Salsa" club, you see nothing but this.

What happened?

The musician challenges the dancer..provokes him to do things he never knew/thought he could do.

The dancer provokes the musician in turn with his movements. They feed off of each others energy. It is a basically a feeding frenzy!

In my humble opinion, to put too many constraints on this wonderful relationship CHOKES both artists.

We like to breath when we dance, even if it is a little winded!