May 2006

Las Estrellas De Lula / Lula Salsa All-Stars
Presented by Lula Lounge, Daniel Stone and Luisito Orbegoso
May 13, 2006Lula LoungeToronto
Sixteen Musicians, Six bands in One
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
Day 11, Saturday night. Not quite the end of the 12-day Lula World Celebration but the final party. At nine o’clock, people thronged the dance floor for Ana Machado’s dance lesson, preparing to salsa, merengue and bachata their way through the evening. By midnight, dancers had long since spilled over into the seating areas on both sides of the floor. The Lula Salsa All-Stars were a dancer’s dream band. Well after one o’clock, when the last song had been sung and the staff were placing inverted chairs on tables, some people were still dancing to the DJ’s music and others lingered at tables, reluctant to leave.
From a corner of the stage behind the timbales, Luisito Orbegoso dedicated the evening to the great conguero Ray Barretto who passed away in February of 2006. He saluted Lula’s ‘godfather’, timbalero Ralph Irizarry, who, with his band Timbaleye was the first to play on Lula’s stage at the club’s opening four years ago and he thanked the many artists (such as those present) who remain devoted to playing despite the difficulties of making a living as a musician. Many more thanks would be given throughout the night, thanks from the musicians to Lula’s co-owners José Ortega and José Nieves for providing such a great venue, to soundman Howard Laurie for putting up with all of their demands and to all of those who come out and support live music.

The Lula Salsa All-Stars was made up of musicians selected from six different bands who play regularly at Lula Lounge — Caché, who has been playing at Lula since it’s first year, Proyecto Charanguero, Energia Latina, Pacande, Cimarron and Ricky Franco. There were sixteen of them, including the special guests. They all have impressive resumes and many are as familiar on the jazz scene as they are on the Latin scene. They are a diverse group with roots in Cuba, Peru, Venezuela, Columbia, Guatemala and Canada. Open in spirit, and musically tight, they meshed as though they play together all the time. The camaraderie, the joking, the enthusiasm and the cooperation on stage set the mood for everyone present.

The band’s configuration continually transformed as special guests came and went and as the material changed. The music flowed through styles such as charanga (salsa with the horn section replaced by flute and violin) and other Cuban styles, New York 70s style, Columbian style and salsa dura.

To choose highlights is a near-impossible task and to single out individual performers seems almost against the grain of the night. During a particularly exciting solo from trombonist Yankar Gonzalez, singer Juan Carlos Cardenas succeeded in catching a cameraman’s attention with his frantic pointing at Yankar behind him, and bent sideways to give the cameraman a clear sightline, a perfect illustration of the generosity of spirit that filled the night.

The pieces played were taken from the repertoire of all of the bands represented, The first set started with “First Stop” from Proyecto Charanguero featuring the pure sound and faultless rhythm of Bill McBirnie’s flute and Bennie Esguerra on violin. Bennie would later amaze us with his bongo technique but for this tune, it was Alex Godinez whose fleet hands beat the skins. Juan Carlos Cardenas was next in the spotlight as he sang a piece from Caché’s repertoire and the trombones (Jamie Stager and Yankar Gonzalez) joined the band. Wilson Acevedo, also from Caché took his voice front and center next. Diego Marulanda, leader of Pacande ran the show for the next three tunes with his guitar technique and sometimes his voice. I say sometimes because Luisito Orbegoso sang lead on one of the songs. The trumpets were in by now and everyone was going strong, congas, guiro, maracas, bongos, piano. Luis Mario Ochoa of Cimarron sang the last piece, leaving us hoping for more in the second set.

There were a couple of pieces in the second set from Caché and Proyecto Charanguero but this set was centred on Luis Mario Ochoa and Ricky Franco. David Virelles on piano was solidly interesting and unusually relaxed, breaking into smiles all the way through. Ruddy Bolanos on bass and Daniel Stone were pillars of strength, never getting a break and never faltering. There were impassioned solos from the Cuban trumpet pairing of Alexis Baro and Rufino Maceiro trying to outplay each other and an all out blast of power from everyone including Ricky Franco who sent words rioting off his tongue like drum rolls in what had been introduced as the last tune. They continued with two more pieces.

Rufino Maceiro & Alexis Baro

Juan Carlos Cardenas & Luis Mario Ochoa

Daniel Stone

David Virelles

Juan Carlos Cardenas
At the end of it all, when everyone had put down their instruments, the Lula Salsa All-Stars sang Feliz cumpleanos/Happy Birthday Lula a cappella but with percussive sounds à la Vocal Sampling (a Cuban a cappella group). It was a heartfelt tribute.

Hats off to everyone involved, to Lula Lounge, Daniel Stone and Luisito Orbegoso for putting this evening together, for the excellent music and vibe, and kudos to the staff who so patiently threaded their way back and forth through the crowd with trays of food and drinks, ever-courteous and pleasant. Happy Birthday Lula, and many more!

> Click photos for larger views <

Las Estrellas de Lula

Piano: David Virelles
| Bass: Ruddy Bolanos | Timbale: Luisito Orbegoso
Congas: Daniel Stone
| Bongo: Alex Godinez
1st Trumpet: Alexis Baro
| 2nd Trumpet: Rufino Maceiro
1st Trombone: Jamie Stager
| 2nd Trombone: Yankar Gonzalez

Juan Carlos Cardenas (Caché)
| Ricky Franco (Ricky F.) | Luis Mario Ochoa (Cimarron)

Special Guests
Diego Marulanda (Pacande) vocals + guitar
| Bill McBirnie (Caché, Projecto Charanguero) flute
Wilson Acevedo (Caché) vocals
| Benny Esguerra (Projecto Charanguero) violin, percussion

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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