K'Che's first performance was a party to remember. That's a good thing, since the memory stick in my camera failed last night. I have no photos or video from the show, but since professional cameraman Gustavo De Los Rios was there videoing the event, I trust some interesting documentation will survive. I'll just have to rely on words.
The stage was set when I arrived, around 11 pm, as band members hunted down the last music stand they needed. "Todo listo," musical director Andres Leon told me with a smile. Organizing and rehearsing since last fall, the band exuded the kind of calm that comes from months-long preparation. Carmen's was as packed I've ever seen it, so anticipation on the dancefloor was great.
K'Che's repertoire is well-chosen and eclectic, from NG La Banda/Issac Delgado's "Necesito Una Amiga," to Ismael Rivera's spiritually deep "El Nazareno," Pete El Conde and Johnny Pacheco's tipico son classic "Catalina La O," and Grupo Niche's biting anthem "Sin Sentimiento."
Jaime Roman and Nelson Rodriguez shared vocal duties, with Jaime sounding strong on the salsa covers, including a nice salsa romantica. Meanwhile, Nelson's electric tres wasn't just there for show; he sang and played a long, tasty tres solo on "Catalina La O," taking me and my dance partner back to Salsa Carolina days. Sabroso! Nelson's more tipico style on the son, cumbia and merengue is a great foil to Jaime's smooth, romantic lead, giving the band a winning vocal combination.
I had the pleasure of meeting newcomers to the Latin scene, Channing McCullough and Matthew Parunak. Channing deployed both alto and tenor saxes; her guajeos added authenticity to the merengue. Matthew has a great trombone tone for playing Latin. The section played well, hitting a lot of tricky entrances, aided and abetted by trumpeter William Villalba; I see only great things in this brass section's future as they pick up speed.
Right from the start, you could feel that the band's rhythm section was on solid footing, thanks to the percussion tripod of Billy Marrero on timbales, Julio Correa on congas, and Pako Santiago on bongos. All three are talented multi-percussionists, but that's probably my favorite instrument to hear each one play individually. Whether they are playing at a dance-friendly mid-tempo, or exhilarating breakneck speed (like on Larry Harlow's "Señor Sereno"), the sweet trio kept its sealegs, as expected. No surprises there. The rhythm section held its own with completing members Levy Vargas, electric bass, and Andres Leon, piano/keyboards.
Playing classy, disciplined arrangements, not aimless descargas, with tasteful soloing but no overplaying, K'Che isn't trying to reinvent the wheel; but it is trying to build a smoother ride. So far, so good; I like its professional approach and elbow grease. K'Che has definitely arrived. As it continues to polish and expand its repertoire, expect this band to invigorate competition in the local salsa scene.
SIGHTREADING: A View From the Bongo Chair
In light of my camera mishap, I did pick up one souvenir to document the night--Pako's setlist. The bongocero and backing vocalist doesn't typically use charts, but with these handwritten notes, he keeps track of a lot of information like set order, coros, solos, breaks, and which bell to play.
Bongocero's setlist, A-side
Bongocero's setlist, B-side