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LA TIMBA LA TRAIGO YO - Nuevo Disco + Gira Europa de Robert Armas y los Conquistadores de la Salsa

Interviews & Reviews - CD Review: Infraverde by Papo Santiago

CD Review: Infraverde by Papo Santiago 
(CLP Records 2011)

Papo Santiago y Orquesta Infraverde (aka Orchestra Infraverde ) are rising stars in Chicago's Latin music scene.  Papo himself is originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, and his musical resume includes a stint in the 1990s with Chicago's experimental jazz ensemble Kalinda.  Infraverde is Papo's dance band (he also performs with a Latin Jazz group now and then), and it has become known as one of the more polished and progressive Salsa ensembles in Chicago in recent years, in no small part because many of the members have excellent Jazz as well as Salsa chops, but also because Papo has proven to be a capable composer as well as leader and performer.   
The self-titled Infraverde  is the band's debut recording.  Since we have seen his group live more than once, our expectations for this recording were very high, and most of those expectations were met by the finished product.  In our opinion, this is one of the finest Salsa dance recordings made by Chicagoans in several  years.
Unlike the live shows, which frequently include a number of covers of both Puerto Rican and Cuban classics as well as original material,  most of this album (7 of the 9 tracks) is original compositions by Papo.  Most of the recording is in the Boricua Salsa style most familiar to the majority of Chicago's dancers, but Papo's composition and arranging styles, while incorporating Bomba, Plena and other rhythms into the mix, also use some Cuban rhythms (Don Quijote is a nice Guaguancó, for example).  
This isn't just another Salsa album, however.  Although it lacks the same level of extensive solo work that we love in the band's live performances, the arrangements are otherwise sophisticated enough to be appreciated by musicians while not disorienting dancers or frightening any of the more-timid DJs out there.  Put more bluntly, the album is radio-friendly without being insipid, not an easy trick to pull off these days. At times we are reminded a little, particularly by our favorite track, Corillo , of some of Angel Canales' best work back in the day.  
Although our personal favorite track was Corillo , another one of the songs, Viva Chicago , stands a pretty decent chance of becoming a local Salsa anthem if it reaches enough ears. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the track that Papo posted for public consumption on the web: 
Play Viva Chicago here
We mentioned earlier that this album was missing some of the extended solo work that really makes this group stand out in live performances, but fortunately,  it is the only one of the "great expectations" we had that wasn't met, and in fairness, even some epic bands like Irakere didn't seriously break loose with their full solo potential in the studio until after they had some recording successes under their belt, so we'll give Infraverde a get out of jail free card this first time out, especially since we find ourselves replaying a few tracks already in spite of that observation. Not only is this one of the best Salsa dance recordings to come out of Chicago for a while, it's also good enough that it deserves exposure on the coasts as well.   
The CD is available through a few outlets including ITunes, CD Baby and Amazon.com as well as some Chicago area stores like Disco City on Milwaukee Av.  The band's website is http://chicagolatinperformers.com/

August 2012 Update:  Infraverde has been getting some well-deserved radio rotation in the area and in Puerto Rico.  We also want to set the record straight about something.   Since we said a lot more than "great CD, buy it" in our review,  a few people have asked us how much we really like this recording. The correct answer is: a LOT.   When we said that this was one of the best Salsa dance recordings to come out of Chicago in a while, we meant it.  Yes, you want this in your Salsa collection.  Enough said.  

Monday, 06 August 2012, 03:26 PM