Chicago-Based Bands - Eliezer y su Orquesta

Eliezer y su Orquesta

(Photo and review by Bill Tilford, all rights reserved)

Background:  According to leader Jose Eliezer "Pepe" Armijos, he came to the United States from Ecuador in the 1970s.  Originally a guitarist, he was interested in Carlos Santana's music in his youth, but eventually learned timbales and piano and played on occasion with several groups over the years including El Gran Combo and Tito Allen.  Approximately 1990, he began leading groups under the name Eliezer y su Orquesta as well as a few variations such as Eliezer y su Combo.  He has also written and published several original compositions.  The core of the current group is Eliezer (leader, piano), Rafael Benitez (vocal),  Ivette Roque (vocal), Jason Matias Baez (congas), Jose Acevedo (sax), Danny Hernandez (timbales), John Rodriguez (trombone) and Victor Matos (bass).  Key strengths of the group are the ability to intrepret older classics such as Cachita along with a tight rhythm section and the vocal stylings of the lead vocalist, Rafael Benitez.

What we saw and heard:  We heard Eliezer in two settings.  The first was a jam session on the occasion of his birthday at Cafe Laguardia (see our writeup about this establishment in the Restaurants with la musica section).  This began with musicians from his smaller combo, but several visiting musicians showed up during the course of the evening.  The second was a regular set at Rumba on Saturday, March 26.  This group included Everado Rey on trumpet and a substitute bassist (John Rodriguez).  Since both of these sets took place in restaurants, in both cases, the music was more laid-back at first with a lot of boleros in the mix.  The lead singer, Rafael Benitez, showed himself to be a capable balladeer.  As the evening went on, more uptempo salsa went into the mix, and the band opened up more as the evening went on in both cases. Some of the salsa in the end-of the-evening set at rumba featured a lot of tipica (cubana)-style call and response work in the horn section along with some nice percussion work.

The verdict:  This is a good band to go catch for a taste of the older Cuba, both in terms of the material, which includes classics such as Sabor a Mi  and Cachita, and the brass voicings with the larger group, which frequently use the call and response style found in tipicas (and used, for example, by Tipica 73 in the 1970s).  The group also does very nice ballads (rumors of the extinction of the bolero were obviously premature) and some nice selections of the Boricua-style salsa from the 60s-70s period.  We aren't calling the material dated - if anything, the fact that these songs have stood the test of the years says a lot about their quality, and the crowds in both sets that we saw were a good mix of younger and older people.  This is decidedly not a Salsa Dura or Timba group, however.  As of January 2012, we were advised that Eliezer has a studio project in progress as well.  

Monday, 09 January 2012, 04:23 PM