Record Rundown with Los Hacheros
by Andrew Mason
The dynamic quintet from Brooklyn has recently released a follow-up to their acclaimed debut album in the form of a long-player called Bambulaye. Once again they explore the traditional Latin styles that collectively form the roots of what became known as salsa, taking things back to the sounds of the ’70s New York City conjuntos of Colón, Palmieri, and Harlow.
As an exclusive for Wax Poetics readers, Hacheros bandleader and tres player Jacob Plasse has put together an annotated list of some of the original songs that had the biggest influence on his group, a list that serves as a primer on what makes up the components of the classic salsa sound, including some intriguing curveballs.
Arsenio Rodriguez “Para Bailar el Montuno”
Arsenio Rodriguez “Errante y Bohemia”
Arsenio Rodriguez, blinded by a mule kick to the head at six years of age, is the forsaken godhead of Cuban music. He introduced the conga, created the general instrumentation and compositional structure of what would become known as “salsa” and also happened to write about fifty percent of the classic salsa repertoire (this is a conservative estimate). As is too often the case with visionary musicians, he died destitute, buried in an unmarked grave outside of Queens.
The opening phrase of “Para Bailar el Montuno” is enough to fall in love with Arsenio; a lick that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Stooges’ Raw Power or Band of Gypsies. It sounds like Arsenio dropped his amp down a flight of stairs and then plugged it into a 747’s engine. The percussion, chorus and bass come in, and it’s James Brown with clave.
“Errante y Bohemio” has another arena-sized lick; I love how tiny and far away the cowbell sounds and the way the trumpets break up in the mics.
Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino “Trompeta y Cuero”
I bought this album a decade ago with [master tres player] Nelson Gonzalez from the row of Latin music wholesalers that have since disappeared from 10th Avenue. It’s my favorite album. The band is comprised of great New York salsa musicians taking a break from their normal gigs to jam in Andy Gonzalez’s basement. This track features the trumpeter Chocolate Armenteros (who died recently). He played in great conjuntos in both Cuba and New York, and his mastery of sound and phrasing is on full display here. I also love the way this album was recorded, the congas are rich and warm and the quinto (the drum soloing) distorting just so. They were recorded in the same room, but always remain distinct. Nelson takes a great solo here that builds so logically; it reminds me of the saxophonist Joe Henderson.
Los Reyes 73 “Baila Que Baila”
“Baila Que Baila” has all these sounds I thought of as cheesy in Latin music: black Sabbath guitar, ice cream truck keyboards, drum set timbales, large saxophone sections—and yet when I discovered it (thanks to this blog), it was the grittiest, funkiest thing I’d heard in a long time. I love the reverb on the horns and the changui rhythms the piano plays at the end. Tipica ’73 also does a great version of this song with El Canario, José Alberto.
Sylvestre Mendez Nueva Oriza
I am a total fanboy for Dominican music, especially merengue and tipico, but I don’t know many recordings that capture the energy of seeing bands like Kerubanda or Toño Rosario live. This song sounds like a Cuban take on Merengue with shakers instead of guira.
Celia Cruz “Yemaya” from the album Santero
I love the long beautiful melodies of Lucumi music, and this record brings out things I had never heard before. The vocal arrangements are hip and the drums so mysterious. I love the slap-back reverb on her voice and although you can tell there are just one or two mics, the pitch of the drums is very clear. I love Celia Cruz and these recordings (some other songs on the album feature Merceditas Valdes) illustrate another facet of her art.
Los Hacheros new full-length Bambulaye is available in physical and digital forms on their website.
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