Album review: "La Verdad"
How do you like your salsa? Sweetened with cooing vocals or fortified by a surging mix of brass, percussion and chants? The 20-year-old Latin dance band Bio Ritmo is clearly drawn to the hard stuff - the horn-powered salsa dura that became popular 40 years ago, before the genre developed a wider audience and sleeker sound.
Bio Ritmo's new album, "La Verdad" ("The Truth"), is a vibrant reminder of the band's fundamental roots, but no one within earshot would mistake it for a purely retro excursion. Bred on not just salsa but also samba, rock, punk, funk, jazz and world beat, the band's 10 members bring an adventurous spirit to the recording, adding an unusual variety of colors and twists to positive lyrics and clave-driven grooves. In fact, the arrangements sometimes are so multifaceted that fans of, say, David Byrne or Charles Mingus will have no problem appreciating the ensemble's broad perspective and energy.
Apart from a hyperkinetic take on "Carnaval," an homage to the late Puerto Rican bandleader Rafael Cortijo, the album's highlights are inspired by original compositions. Several smartly showcase lead singer Rei Alvarez's soulful voice and Marlysse Simmons's small arsenal of instruments - piano, electric keyboards and Farfisa organ. Simmons not only slyly elevates the funk quotient on the title tune and other tracks, but she helps sustain the band's exhilarating dancehall vitality.
--Mike Joyce, Oct. 21, 2011