The big band sounds of Machito, José Curbelo, Count Basie, Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and many others were as natural to New Yorkers as the unrelenting noise of the subway. Nowadays, these sounds are but a distant echo, nothing more than fond memories of a by-gone era for those fortunate enough to have lived it. At the turn of the 1960’s, the New York music scene began to experience drastic changes that within a decade would yield one major casualty, the big band. Because of simple economics, smaller aggregations dominated the club scene as the 70’s came to an end. During the 80’s, the combos multiplied at a rate inversely proportional to the decrease in the number of dance venues. The ensuing conditions generated fierce competition among the smaller groups and practically canceled out anyone’s aspirations of expanding to a larger format. This downsizing trend continued well into the 90’s. Nowadays, it has apparently become the single factor determining who gets the gig for the ever-shrinking number of local dance club owners.
So, what would you think if I told you that there is someone currently in the process of discarding the safety of the small combo for the uncertainty of a big band? In fact, there is already someone who has successfully completed the dreaded transition. He is a well-known New York radio personality, the vocalist and bandleader Ernesto “Chico” Alvarez.
It was just about seven years ago that Chico’s new band, The Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band made a much anticipated debut in front of a packed house at New York City’s S.O.B.’s. As Chico confided between sets, his main focus was to provide a scorching full sound for the sole enjoyment of the dancing enthusiast. He was very excited and noticeably committed to making a success of Palomonte and to judge by the reaction of the crowd at S.O.B.’s that night, they were very well on their way to making it happen. On the other hand, if a dance floorfull of twirling couples is the required exhibit, then Palomonte has so far presented enough evidence to prove it has what it takes. In 2005 they headlined at Lincoln Center’s “Midsummer Night’s Swing” series and appeared in a concert setting at NYU’s Skirball Center.
Palomonte’s repertoire includes original tunes and cover versions of recognizable hits of the past updated, in modern arrangements, to reflect today’s popular styles. The group’s sound is undoubtedly that of a big band that includes a five horn brass section, four reeds, piano, bass, drum set and a full Latin percussion detail with Chico on lead vocals – all of it under the masterful musical direction of the highly regarded Colombian pianist Edy Martinez. Call it salsa or són, Chico and his whole crew have well absorbed the Afro-Cuban idioms and have produced an album’s worth of fine dance music that never loses its true essence. Palomonte’s expression is pure Afro-Cuban rhythms delivered in a highly inviting danceable fashion. Add to this a sprinkling of rhythm ‘n’ blues and a couple of jazz standards and you definitely have a winner.
With the release of this album, Chico has finally gotten the sound of his big band captured. The album charts are definitely designed as music for the dancing crowd, but in fact one could also relax and enjoy the music by just listening to it. Yet, make no mistake, Palomonte is a polished big band playing ten swinging themes that pack enough energy for a vigorous workout if one so chooses. In addition, he has included as a bonus tracka selection that he recorded with the popular Afro-American group Slic’d Bred. The icing on the cake is a neverbefore released bolero by the father of modern day salsa, Arsenio Rodriguez.
Finally, it seems the opportunity is here for everyone in New York and elsewhere to experience the fun and excitement of good times gone-by and the pulsating beat of hot Afro-Cuban music and much more. Now, while listening to the album, just imagine what it would be like spending a night dancing to the captivating sounds of Chico Alvarez and The Palomonte Afro-Cuban Big Band!
About ten years ago, a chance encounter between vocalist CHICO ALVAREZ and keyboardist EDY MARTINEZ at Flushing Town Hall produced a great friendship and a mutual admiration between the two artists, and they have been working together ever since. It also led to a wonderful collaboration, the end result being this big band recording which you now hold in your hands.
“Country Roots, Urban Masters” is already being hailed as a masterpiece of Cuban/Jazz Folklore. Veteran sonero/bandleader Chico Alvarez and jazz pianist/arranger Edy Martinez have each reached the pinnacle of their individual careers with this brilliant collection of classics and never before released big band staples. For over 40 years, their unique blend of jazz, blues, pop, Afro-Cuban and Latin American classics have been delighting audiences and winning awards – and never more so than in this program celebrating the two musical genres. Individually, they have been acclaimed internationally for their endeavors within their respective fields, for their swinging grooves and their superb musicality, each displaying a telepathic connection with their audience and with the musical setting. In this, their first collaborative effort, two distinct styles and two very musical minds have come together. This album stands alone and cannot be denied. It is a first in many ways.
In addition, Mr.Alvarez is supported in this project by twenty nine exceptional musicians. Since the inception of his conjunto in 1995, Chico has diligently sought out musicians with whom he has had the honor of working with during the whole of his career – a sort of payback – for their collective help in crystallizing his unique sound. He has not forgotten all those who struggled with him during his formative years.
All of this has led to an impressive gathering of talent and a feeling of camaraderie among the players. The result is an explosive symbiosis of Afro-Cuban funk and other Caribbean moods, spiked with a pinch of contemporary jazz and blues. The sophisticated sounds of modern jazz and pop music have not been lost in this production.