When you translate the word salsa into English, you get "sauce." The musical form of the same name comes in many flavors, from cheesy synth-pop to buttery jazzy jams. The salsa cooked up by Bio Ritmo is picante ("spicy"). The nonet features a vocalist (Rei Alvarez), a brassy four-horn front line, and a cohesive rhythm section consisting of piano, bass, and two drummers. It's a classic lineup and a classic sound, but never boring and never difficult.
At its roots, salsa is dance music. Period. Even if you only dance in your head, the clave virtually begs motion. Bio Ritmo exemplifies the rule perfectlythese are pure grooves from start to finish. The band, now on its fifth release, makes a big point about three things: first, this isn't the cheesy salsa your little cousin likes; second, the lyrics aim for fun and word play; and third, the group likes to incorporate musical elements that lie outside the mainstream.
All three are fair given the music here. Not being much of a Spanish speaker, I can't vouch for the poetic intricacies of the lyrics, but a Mexican friend assures me they are clever and fun. One thing many people neglect with this sort of music is the way the Spanish language lends itself to song. With short syllables that can be stretched out wherever desired, sharp consonants that never tie up your tongue, and that picante rolled double-r, it's insistently rhythmic and colorful.
The lineup is traditional, as is the sound, for the most part. Tim Lett's trumpet flies high, boosted by trombone and bass trombone, sharp and bright at all times. Vocalist Rei Alvarez exudes masculine energy and a certain suave sophistication. Bassist Jon Sullivan often settles into a groove with the percussionists, as is most appropriate for this music, but he does step out on the wack effected guitar (actually bass) on "Fabula." The outer space jam on "Para los Romperos" goes a little bit out before it returns solidly to two feet. The rhythm section takes the stage at the end of the song.
It's hard for me to remember a salsa experience that has been more light and fun than Bio Ritmo. This record came to me out of the blue, but hopefully listeners of all stripes will perk up their ears. It's pretty close to mandatory if you like yours picante.
Visit Bio Ritmo on the web.
Personnel: Reinaldo Alvarez: Voz, Guiro;
Giustino Riccio: Timbal, Bongo, Coro;
Gabo Tomasini: Conga, Our President;
Bob Miller: Trumpet, Coro;
Tim Lett: Trumpet;
Tobias Whitaker: Trombone;
Stefanos Demetriadis: Bass Trombone;
Jon Sullivan: Bass;
Marlysse Simmons: Piano, Rhodes.