It's been way too long since I heard West End Mambo in the Triangle. The Winston-Salem-based band is one of NC's most solid and longstanding salsa acts, so it's a pity they don't have an opportunity to play around here more often. Therefore, hearing them at La Fiesta del Pueblo on Saturday was wonderful, although too brief (30 min).
This whole event was indoors, sadly, because of rain threat I guess. The Jim Graham Building with its bare concrete floors was a box of cacophony, with sound bouncing around from various areas and exhibits. This was especially troublesome for a band like Durham's La Tropa de Tierra Caliente, whose oompah synth and pumping valve trombones did not take well to the livestock hall.
A funny thing happened on the way to West End Mambo's set--which may explain why their time was so truncated. One of the musicians (I won't name names!) got busted by security for having a bottle of liquor on the premises. This is streng verboten, apparently, which got him ejected from the Fairgrounds. While pianist/leader Cesar Oviedo scrambled for a last-minute replacement, who should walk by, enjoying La Fiesta, but Billy Marrero and Pako Santiago. Percussion, made to order! This was funny as they were hustled on stage, and sticks and maracas were pressed into their hands. Later, another local musician, the "ilustre Jaime Roman," was spotted and called onstage for a few numbers.
Vocal lead Maria Vasquez has a vocal range suited to Celia Cruz's salsa hits, so we heard a lot of these ("Usted Abuso," "Bemba Colora" "Quimbara"). We also heard a South American cumbia-salsa hybrid, "Mentirosa," popular in versions by Pastor Lopez and Willie Villegas among others.
One of best things about the gig was how SOLID the brass was. Alberto Carrasquillo is still the best there is for Latin trumpet in this area, and it was great (as always) to be reminded of that fact on Saturday. With his taste and experience leading the way, the fiery Ricardo James is a good complement, making for a hot trumpet section. Holding down the deep end, Steve Blake gets the job done on tenor saxophone. Steve does two things I appreciate: he plays Latin without any tentativeness, and he plays saxophone loud enough to be heard over a salsa band.
This video features El Ilustre Jaime trading soneos (at min 3:30) on one of Maria's tunes; Alberto closes it with a blowout trumpet solo.