Back in the day, the term 'salsa dura' was unknown because all salsa was 'dura'. Since then other forms of salsa; brava, romantica, etc have appeared and so now we use 'dura' to refer to the original New York sound of salsa. However that original sound was never confined to a single country or city, with artists like Alfredito Linares (Peru), Chaparro (Venezuela) all contributing to the development of salsa in its golden-age.
Lubi has compiled here an album of contemporary 'salsa dura', the earliest track is from 1997 with most from this millenium. The artists come from a variety of countries and their music covers both established dura and fresh new variations of the sound.
Cesar Miguel Rondon, in "the Book of Salsa", argues the characteristic sound of New Yorican salsa is the trombone. So the inclusion of Jimmy Bosch, one of the greatest proponents of salsa dura, and the leading trombonist on the scene is a no-brainer. It seems Lubi gives a playful tribute to Jimmy's importance by choosing "El Embajador" (The Ambassador), from his album "El Avion De La Salsa" (2004). Though Lubi also succeeds in giving you the best track from the album, a straight-ahead no-nonsense, salsa dura descarga that will get you on your feet dancing. Its brass-section's opening mona is almost as distinctive as that for "Mama Guela" and it just gets better the further in you get, with a great solo by Oscar Hernadez on piano and a charanga-style violin (Alfredo De La Fe) and flute section.
Louie Ramirez introduced it to Latin music in '65, and Charlie Palmieri memorably played it on brother Eddie's "Vamonos Pa'l Monte". The organ is a trademark sound for Mark 'Snowboy' Cotgrove and on "Bailalo" it plays a swinging montuno which creeps up and hooks you so that the tune will be buzzing around the back of your brain for days. This is arguably Snowboy's most dancer friendly track ever. Its ideal for the the dj who, having whipped the dancers into a frenzy with some fast tracks wants to give them a rest while still keeping the dance-floor simmering. A gem of a track.
Similar in style to Snowboy, this time using a Fender Rhodes keyboard to give that funky organ sound, is Virginia-based Bio Ritmo's "Atrevete". Like Hector LaVoe on "La Verdad", Bio Ritmo incorporate small sections of samba into "Atrevete" while maintaining a solid driving dura sound. Its long jazzy mambo section will please all those dancers who love to shine. (A track that I've already recieved requests-for while dj'ing.)
Most salseros will be all too familiar with La 33's "Pantera Mambo", de rigeur at most salsa clubs in 2005. Fewer know their debut album, comprising salsa, chacha's and boogaloo's didn't contain a single poor track. In 2007 they followed up with the album "Gozalo", from which Lubi includes the title-track. Some may be surprised by the inclusion of a Columbian band, but we aren't talking Sonora Carruseles here. Their music is rooted in the classic New York sound while bringing something of their own to the party. This largely instrumental track features groovy piano montunos, catchy monas for the large brass section, and is underpinned by a roller-coaster of a tune.
New York's La Excelencia has been described by Latin Beat magazine as being reminiscent of early Willie Colon with the raw sound of the barrio. Included here is the hit-track "La Lucha" from their debut album. As with "Gozalo" this track is steeped in the classic Nu Yorican sound, whilst exploring and opening-up exciting new territory. Dura this is, Spanish Harlem Orchestra it isn't, its different, but good too!
Covering songs has a long history in latin music, with greats like Johnny Pacheco, Tito Puente, Sonora Poncena, Ray Barretto, all having done so. Now call me old-school, but when the original recording was a classic, the cover rarely works for me. Actually the word 'loathe' springs to mind.
So I wasn't expecting to be won over by the cover of Joey Pastrana's "Rumbon Melon" by Our Latin Groove. To their credit they have changed the arrangement rather than doing a plain copy. But in doing so the distinctive horn bridges have been toned down and it feels like sipping flat white wine compared to the champagne of the original. 'Flat' is definitely the adjective.
Yet where Our Latin Groove fail, Chile's Santiago Allstars succeed in their cover of Manny Orquendo's guaracha "No Cuentes". Faster-paced, sounding more up-beat and brighter, its seems tailored to suit dancers more than the original recording whilst sticking to the '4 elephant' (trombone) format used by Libre and Mon Rivera. Some might say its alittle more commercial sounding, but its a track that will definitely get people dancing. (An exclusive track.)
While Lubi stresses in his liner notes that dura does not relate to tempo, the album's opening track "Oscuridad" by Johnny Polanco & Su Conjunto Amistad from their third album "Amistad Para El Mundo Entero" (2008) has the fast pounding pace that we tend to associate with dura. This tune will get non-dancers feet tapping, non Latinos trying to sing along to the catchy coro, and dancers burning-up the floor. Just don't tell the NY'ers that the band is LA based!
"Mas Salsa" by Venezuelan Cheo Linares comes from his 2008 album "Aqui He Llegado" that he also wrote and produced himself. An unpretentious track, it is straightforward feel-good upbeat salsa music written for dancers in mind. Enough said?
Grupo Latin Vibe, whose vibe-based tracks are instantly recognizable from both the dance-floor and from use as practice tracks in salsa classes, provide "Me Voy Pa' La Rumba" from their 2007 album "Amanecer". Predictably the track is more polished than the boots of a sentry at Buckingham Palace, no bad thing. While it belts along at a deceptively fair pace, the feel is more of being sat in the plush leather driving seat of a Jaguar than hanging on for dear life on a Kawasaki motorbike. Adding to the refined jazz feel are some scats appearing towards the end.
A Netherlands based band fronted by a pair of singers, one from Columbia and one from Cuban, that's Doble Jugada. Included here is "Esta Rumba" which sounds like a typical modern driving dura song but which includes elements of brava and even a flavouring of timba. Could be a recipe for disaster but it works well, producing a dance friendly and interesting track that perhaps because of this eclectic mixture is fresh and avoids the predictability of more traditionally arranged songs.
Lubi includes another title-track, this time from Ray Rodriguez & Swing Sabroso's 2006 debut album, "Baila Con Swing Sabroso". In doing so he's cherry-picked the best-song yet again and deservedly the band's anthem. An established dancer's favorite its as polished and dura as anything by Spanish Harlem.
Willie Villegas & Entre Amigos are a retro salsa band that seeks to reproduce the authentic NY sound of the 60's and 70's. Willie himself produces and hosts a tv show in NY that promotes the dura sound and his congeuro, Willie Rodriguez, played with cult-band the Brooklyn Sounds. Confirming their intent the band is set-up as a trombanga. Their track "inventamos" is a descarga that at times reminds me of Orquesta Dicupe's "Aguantante" with occasional hints of wackiness running through it. A great track to dance to.
Overall, like every Lubi compilation I've come across, this album is a definite buy. In these credit-crunched times, thats high praise.