Nunca Tarde – A round-up of recent new albums (Claudia Meyer, Ivan Llanes, La Yegros, Bruno Berle, Salsa Suprema and more)

By 14 April, 2024

“When that April with its sweet showers…,” as waxed the poet Chaucer, with lyrical words to that effect. Indeed, when April cometh and music bubbles forth from all corners of the Latin world to add its sweet chimes to the harmonious sounds of spring… Forget it man, and get on with the music!

Claudia Meyer: La Negra – Tribute to Mercedes Sosa, The Voice of Latin America (Kobbiprod Productions)

Quite right. Much to discuss. Let’s start with this delectable tribute to the late, great diva from Argentina. Despite the fact that Spanish is not her native tongue and apart from some technological trickery that allows her to sing a duet with “La Negra” on “Siempre en Ti”, Claudia Meyer does it straight, relying on her acoustic guitar and other stringed instruments like the charango, her long-time collaborator Marc “Marquito” Benabou’s delicate percussion and a voice as pure as the driven snow. Born in Morocco and raised in Marseille, this is the singer’s fourth solo album to date and it’s dedicated to her friend, the late Belgian singer Maurane, with whom she shared a love and respect for Mercedes Sosa. It comes over loud and clear on this lovely, simple and heartfelt tribute.

Los Guayabo Brothers: PsychoTropical (Self-released)

While in France… These boisterous brothers are not birth-siblings, but Colombian expatriates based in the Toulouse area (I believe). Their musical raison d’être is to create a blend of their native folkloric music and instruments with the guitars, synthesisers and brass of psychedelic rock. Pink Floyd are apparently an influence, but the resulting stylistic mix reminded me (inevitably really) of the Franco-Colombian group, Yapunto. The brothers may lack the je ne sais quoi of Alexandra Charry’s glorious voice, but their music shares a similar exuberance and joyful spirit. Gaitas and guitars a go-go!

Melissa Aldana: Echoes of the Inner Prophet (Blue Note)

The same expatriate theme, but a complete change of style now. Melissa Aldana is a Chilean tenor saxophonist based in New York. Her second album for the legendary Blue Note label is just out, following her 2022 debut which prompted my interview with her for this site. With echoes of Wynton Marsalis, the title and description as “a musical voyage to explore the depth of the spiritual journey” suggest the kind of cerebral jazz to be found within the cover. In the company of guitarist, arranger and co-producer Lage Lund, Fabian Almazan on piano, Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums, the saxophonist pays tribute to Wayne Shorter on the title track. In fact, his influence pervades the album in its “use of space, the storytelling, how you communicate, how you paint,” as Melissa suggests. Like its Grammy-nominated predecessor, 12 Stars, this album will repay many a listen.

Ivan Llanes: La Vida Misma (Vydia)

And while in New York… The young Cuban expatriate has featured in at least a couple of my singles round-ups, as he and his group The Syndicate purvey a very polished form of Latin jazz. The singer, songwriter and percussionist hails from Camaguey, Cuba, and before relocating to the U.S., he toured with the great Cuban flautist, Maraca. Subsequently, he has performed and/or recorded with Arturo O’Farrill and Carlinhos Brown, and cemented a burgeoning reputation with jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker’s quartet and as lead vocalist of the Latin “supergroup”, People of Earth. Married to a Brazilian woman, his love for her country and culture is evident in the track, “Cubahia”. It’s representative of the range of styles and influences that make this both a promising and most rewarding album.

La Yegros: Haz (X-Ray Production)

Enough of the Latin diaspora. Here’s the Argentinean artist who marries the sounds of Buenos Aires with the more rural and folkloric genres she assimilated while growing up in the border province of Misiones (the polka-infused chamamé, for example, and Andean carnavalito, as well as good old Colombian cumbia). Try this glorious sonic mélange on for size and then plunge headlong into an album that La Yegros describes as “a ride through love, heartbreak, celebration, and everything in between.” It’s a new sensation/A fabulous creation…

Bruno Berle: No Reino dos Afetos 2 (Far Out Recordings)

It may not be the most imaginative title for a follow-up to the dreamy debut from this poetic minstrel from Maceió, the capital of Brazil’s Alagoas state – but hey, who cares. Anyone other than a sociopath or a mass murderer will surely welcome some more tender, delicate songs from the “realm of affections”. Bruno Berle is an important voice in what seems to be a contemporary Brazilian movement blending folk music, MPB and ethereal electronic pop: Sessa, Tim Bernardes, Bala Desejo, Arthur Melo, Ana Frango Elétrico, they’re all busy beguiling us with the stuff of the most delightful dreams. This ravishing album opener really says it all.

Valebol: Valebol (Otherly Love Records)

Fear not, pop-pickers. Here’s more classy pop music to tickle your fancy. Valebol have featured in a couple of recent singles round-ups and, truth be told, one could argue that they’re here under false pretences because the duo’s aesthetic is much more international pop than Latin music. It’s only the fact that drummer Daniel Villareal is Panamanian by birth. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it, because their debut “express-pop” release is as succulent as a ripe mango. Villareal and multi-instrumentalist and singer Vivian McConnell (aka V.V. Lightbody) have whipped up a delicious chocolaty dessert of wispy, wistful songs hitched to electronic keyboards and sung with the kind of ethereal, fragile voice recalling Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins and Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne, with a hint of Donna Janssen of a now probably largely forgotten turn-of-the-century German trio, Donna Regina. How I love chocolate desserts!

Salsa Suprema: En la Conquista del Mundo Latino (El Palmas)

Too many, however, tend to give me mouth ulcers. Nothing that a bit of salsa dura can’t cure, though. Two fine reissues now from Venezuela by way of El Palmas Music of Barcelona. The first thing to say about the Salsa Suprema release is that it came out originally in 1979. The second thing to say is that it probably didn’t conquer the Latin world, but not for want of some splendid brassy salsa and the notable voice of the near-legendary Caracas-based vocalist, Larry Francia (who poignantly died two days after Salsa Suprema signed with El Palmas). The Venezuelan music collector and archaeologist Miguel Ȧlvarez says of him that “he never stopped being a musician, even though his living conditions were never the best. And the legacy of Salsa Suprema is key to Venezuelan popular music.” Listen to “Tamborilero” and you’ll probably agree that this outfit could have gone toe to toe with some of their Nuyorican Fania equivalents.

Sexteto Caracas: Ritmo y Sabor de Fiesta Con El…(El Palmas)

More from Caracas and Barcelona. Hand in glove with the Salsa Suprema comes this slice of salsa con guitarra eléctrica from the Venezuelan capital circa the late ’60s. It’s almost as good – in a more stripped-back kind of way, with the emphasis more on the sound and fury of boogaloo. Again, you can gauge the album’s vibe from this one number. And what a number! Roll over Barretto.

Various Artists: Ansonia Records Presents – Salsa Con Estilo – Dance Floor Gems From the Vaults: 1950s – 1980s (Ansonia Records)

Here’s my compilation of the month, nay the year thus far. It’s a delicious dive into the vaults of “Ralph” Pérez’s family-run label, which helped – along with Alegre and Tico Records – to pave the way within the Nuyorican scene for Fania. The great strength of this compilation is that the 26 tracks are divided between the twin categories “Roots of Salsa” and “Salsa Boom”, which means that you can listen to the way the genre evolved without getting stuck in a repetitious rut along the way. Here’s one of three numbers by Frankie Figueroa, just one of several lesser known artists to juxtapose with bigger fish like Tito Rodriguez, Cortijo and Mon Rivera. A delight – and a fascinating one at that.

Well, that’s it for another month. My head’s spinning with all these new sounds, and I’d better make some space for the next batch. It’s like the laundry, in that respect. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. A bee and a toe, as they say in France. Kind of.

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