From the first notes of Latin Fire
, it's clear that the title is accurate. These days the words "Latin fire" are way over-used, applied to anything with an Afro-Cuban beat and exotic percussion. But much of it is too soggy to catch fire. Mauleón's music, in contrast, has that special snap and passion that signals the best of Latin musicas well as the best of music in general, now that I think of it.
All the selections were written and arranged by Mauleón (English translations are provided for her lyrics). An accomplished pianist, vocalist and composer as well as leader, arranger, and teacher, she's clearly a master of the genre (there are 25 years of credits on her web site ), but also enjoys expanding its boundaries. For example, the track ("Cuba Hermosa") that follows the blazing opener, "Batamambo," could be filed under soul, complete with sexy, Luther-like undercurrents. Then things re-ignite with "Fuego" ("Fire"), featuring Bill Ortiz's searing trumpet, a consistent joy throughout. In "CuBrazil," the wordless vocals and piano comp are reminiscent of Tania Maria, although Mauleón's voice is sweeter, and the closing DJ mix would help whip a party to its height.
Each tune has a point to make: most are evocative celebrations of a particular musical/dance style (rumba, conga, Caribbean rhythm) and/or a place (Cuba, Puerto Rico). Two tracks"La Ventana" (The Window) and "Pa'Lante" (Onward)are about opening minds and social themes, but nothing is heavy-handed, and the music is always engaging. Mauleón's band is crisp and first-rate, and its journey transcends national and musical borders. Latin Fire is an intriguing and mood-enhancing CD.