Plena Libre: Evolución (2005)
The twice Grammy-nominated Puerto Rican group Plena Libre has been kicking out records at a rate of about one a year since debuting in 1994 with Juntos y Revueltos. As the group's name suggests, it bases its music on the style known as plena, originally a rural Afro-Rican folk music but now popular everywhere. While the band has paid due respect to traditional aspects of the musicespecially its rhythmic and vocal emphasisit's also hybridized plena by introducing outside sources, creatively expanding instrumentation, and juxtaposing different vocal styles.
The aptly titled Evolución updates plena in a large-group context with several singers, four horns, piano, bass, andof courseheaps of percussion in the form of timbales, congas, panderos, and more. The liner notes don't do much to help non-Spanish speakers understand the lyrics, but the overall mood is enthusiastically festive and upbeat. The peppery shuffle of "La Nota" matches vocal leads and chorus with horn interludes, bouncy piano rhythms, and bright, interlocking percussion. Likewise with the album's manifesto, "Mi Plena Es Libre" ("My Plena is Free"), which celebrates liberation in the catchiest way.
Three exceptions stand out on the album: the Latin jazz piece "Evolución," which gives the piano and drums (especially) much more freedom; "Yenyeré," based on the twistier bomba style; and the closing bonus track, a dance remix of "Tumbao," which is totally out of place (programmed beats??) but ought to bear some appeal to the young club-going set.
A wonderful album, chock-full of identity and optimismand plenty effective to get hips and feet moving as well, should you feel the itch.
Track Listing: Mi Plena Es Libre; El Pañuelo Colorao; La Nota; Como Son Las Cosas; Tumbao; Me Quisiste; Evolución; Yenyeré; Cantaré a Puerto Rico; Aqui Todo Sube. Bonus track: Remix Tumbao.
Personnel: William "Tato" González: timbales; Pedro Bermúdez: piano; José "Bimbo" Cruz: trombones; Cesar Ayala: trombone; Moisés Cancel: trombone; Roberto Calderón: baritone saxophone; Gary Nuñez: director, bass, chorus; Carlos "Kalie" Villanueva: vocals; Hector "Wichy" Camacho: vocals; Rafael "Pole" Ortiz: vocals; Victor "Sorpresa" Vélez: vocals, percussion; Charlie Pizarro: requinto, hand drum, chorus, percussion; Gadwin Vargas: congas, chorus.
Record Label: Times Square Records