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Grupo Fantasma: Problemas

Chris M. Slawecki By

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It took five years and a new producer for Grupo Fantasma, the powerhouse Austin (TX) fusion ensemble that brings together musicians from Texas and Latin America, to follow-up their 2010 Grammy-winner El Existential (Ingrooves/Nat Geo Music).

But Problemas, the first release that the band did not produce itself, proves worth the wait. "We thought a new process would help us find a unique voice and create a story," explains bassist Gregorio Gonzalez. "For our part, we felt that one of the challenges we frequently faced was the density of our sound and avoiding the urge to overcomplicate things, which can be easy to do with so many talented and inspired persons involved in the process."

After a long search, Grupo Fantasma eventually selected Steve Berlin, horn player, keyboard player, and (perhaps most importantly) producer for the best music churned out by Latin-rock band Los Lobos, to helm Problemas. Their collaboration sounds like a Latin cross-cultural exchange which spontaneously combusts into a musical fiesta that you were lucky enough to be invited to (or at least overhear).

The squiggly electric guitar hook in "Nada" connects its cumbia rhythms with mambo big band brass, which jabs the melody back and forth as if sparring with its arrangement. "Esa Negra" infuses cumbia with a touch of New Orleans funk, heavy metal guitar, dancing accordion, and (for some reason) shouts of "Tootsie Roll!" The lush and deep vocal arrangement in "Porque" truly honors the three-part harmonies in The Beatles' original "Because" (the last song written for Abbey Road).

Churning guitar and drums build the 6/8 Afro-Cuban jam "Solo Un Sueño" into a swarming Latin buzz, while "Descarga Pura Y Dura," which translates into "Hard and Pure Descarga," is precisely that—frantic Latin dance music played hard and hot in a whirling blur of percussion, guitars, horns, and solo after solo. You definitely get the feeling that "Descarga Pura Y Dura" was THE highlight of these recording sessions, and would be a real master-blaster in live performance.

Grupo Fantasma and Berlin also let the Latin boogaloo roll: "Cayuco" shimmies in an irresistible Latin boogaloo groove that makes your voice want to sing, and your hips want to swing. "That Night" brings together Latin boogaloo with cha-cha-cha; its resultant dance groove, which throbs from its electric guitar hook core, couldn't rock any harder, or end Problemas any stronger.

Track Listing: Nada; Solo Un Sueño; Porque; Esa Negra; Mulato; Descarga Pura Y Dura; Otoño; Problemas; Cayuco; Roto El Corazon; That Night.

Personnel: Jose Galeano: timbales, vocals; Kino Esparza: vocals, percussion; Beto Martinez: electric guitar, acoustic guitar; Adrian Quesada: electric guitar, acoustic guitar; Greg González: electric bass, upright bass; John Speice: drums; Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes: congas, bongos; Gilbert Elorreaga: trumpet; Josh Levy: baritone saxophone; Mark "Speedy" Gonzalez: trombone; Eric "Skerik" Walton: saxophone; Joel Guzmán: accordion; Brad Houser: bass clarinet; Michelle Alany: violin; Anthony Farrel: Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ; Leo Gauna: trombone; George Shalda: trumpet; Nick Stephans: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone; Greg Wilson: alto saxophone.

Title: Problemas | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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