It's 11 pm on Saturday night in downtown Richmond, and this town is getting its salsa on: Bio Ritmo is about to take the stage at Balliceaux, a restaurant near the VCU campus.
Stylish and a little chaotic, this crowd has a casual, anything-goes approach to dance culture. People are here to socialize and dance to live music, not negotiate the breaking beats.
Bio Ritmo has been coping with some turnover lately. It's been breaking in new timbaleros since Giustino (Justin) Riccio went on hiatus to pursue his acoustic artrock duo Fuzzy Baby full-time. Some of the new players have been amazing, but I still miss Justin for his quirky, hardass playing and solid backing vocals.
On this gig, Cuban, D.C.-born-and-raised percussionist Rene Ibañez filled in on timbales. He plays with Sin Miedo every Thursday at Bossa in Adams Morgan. Love what Rene is doing with the solo on this fiery descarga "Sombras"; coming in on his heels are "Bobalu" Miller and Mark Ingraham locked in a heated trumpet/coronet battle, followed by Mike Montañez on congas:
NOTE: Balliceaux doesn't have stage lighting, so for best results, go to FULL SCREEN and turn up your BRIGHTNESS to max.
In the brass section, I've really been enjoying what newer members Mark Ingraham and JC Kuhl bring to the band. JC was out on another gig Saturday, so John Lilley played sax. On "Seguiras" John stepped up to the plate with sax solos in the Afrobeat section, while Eddie Prendergast supplied dubby basslines, and Mark doubled on tambourine. Mark's own band, a funk outfit called Beast Wellington, has standing gig on Wednesdays at Bogart's in Richmond.
Gabo Tomasini manages the band from Brooklyn now, where he moved a few years back; he still plays congas on NYC gigs. But in the Southeast, Hector "Coco" Barez is now the first-call conguero. The fully endorsed LP percussionist's main gig is backing Grammy-winning, Puerto Rican hiphop duo Calle 13.
On Saturday, however, it was Mike Montañez' turn to shine. Mike has filled various positions in Bio Ritmo for 7 years, but only recorded on one of their albums: the EP Salsa System. Not a bad album to be on, engineered by Fania legend Jon Fausty, and featuring the still frequently performed "Tu No Sabes," as well as the seldom-heard "Madrugador" and "Orgullo," two great salsa tunes for my money.
SIGHTREADING: Setlist 3.12.11
A couple songs after the break, pianist Marlysse Simmons started soloing on "Muchacho" and my spidey sense tingled. Sure enough, her solo was on fire. I missed videoing that one, but didn't make the same mistake twice. When "Atrevete" rolled around as an encore, I was in position to record:
PIANO SOLO starts at min. 3:50
The next morning, the overnighters got together at The Cookie Monster Cafe for a brunch of corned beef hash, lake trout, dumplings, pancakes and fried apples.
Back at Marlysse's home studio, I got to hear some fabulous unreleased extras: her Brazilian project Os Magrelos, an amazing Bio Ritmo arrangement of "Danny Boy," and masters for the upcoming album, La Verdad. They are considering their options for how the release will come about, but expect it in 2011.
The 45 rpm vinyl single is already out now; A-side "Dina's Mambo," a Persian-sounding instrumental using farfisa organ, named for the "mambo" in the step of Marlysse's cat, which once had a broken leg; and B-side "La Muralla," another dark salsa from long-time trombonist Toby Whitaker, with sonero Rei Alvarez' lyrics.