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Chicago-Based Bands - Willie Garcia y su Orquesta Sabor

Willie Garcia y su Orquesta Sabor

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

Willie Garcia (far left) y su Orquesta Sabor

The Conga Room in the Veranda, 5700 W. Irving Park, Chicago, IL, March 5, 2011

Background:  Chicago's Puerto Rican community dwarfs its Cuban community, and although you wouldn't realize it from the relative output of the recorded music compared to what comes out of New York, Chicago is an important city for the Puerto Rican style of the music, particularly for what is now called "Salsa Clasica".   One of the bands that has been a fixture in that scene is Willie Garcia y su Orquesta Sabor.    In a sense, there are actually  two Orquesta Sabors -- an 11-piece full salsa ensemble  including 2 trombones, a trumpet and a baritone sax, and a smaller incarnation of the group in which the vibraphone handles most of the instrumental end of the melody.  According to director and lead vocalist Willie Garcia, Sabor has been going for 27 years now.  Key influences are Cheo Feliciano, Hector Lavoe, Ismael Miranda and Tito Nieves, and as is the case with those other bands, a key strength here is with the vocal stylings around which much of the material is built.  The band also does some crossover material including  English-language salsa renditions of songs such as "Feelings" and "Fly Me To The Moon"  (in 2001, they released a CD with the title "Fly Me To The Moon").    Willie told us that  the band is currently about halfway through putting a new CD together.  At the moment (March 2011),  the band does not have a regular club date but is doing various special events (weddings, parties, festivals etc)  during the year.

What we saw and heard:  We took in a set by the 7-piece incarnation of the band (Moises Tueros on piano, Nael Jaime on bass, Robert Moreno on Congas, Albert Lopez on bongo, Chito Castro on vibes/flute,  Evian Lopez on background vocal and Willie Garcia on lead vocal) at a Mardi Gras party at the Conga Room in the Veranda on March 5, 2011.  This venue uses a DJ, Martin Zayas, to spin salsa, merengue and bachata most Saturday nights but has a live salsa band once a month,  and he opened for Sabor.  The heavy lifting for Sabor's  set was done by Willie Garcia on lead vocals and Chito Castro on vibes and flute.  The material was primarily  the style of salsa one would associate with the bands we named above (Cheo Feliciano, Hector Lavoe etc), and with the vibes and flute (Chito alternated as  needed)  taking most of the instrumental lead, it was also a  little like listening to how Joe Loco or Joe Cuba might have tackled the material with their bands.  Willie did a  partilcularly nice job with Lavoe's  "El Cantante"  and one of Sabor's  signature English-language tunes, "Fly Me To The Moon".

cuban music, musica cubana

DJ Martin Zayas, The Conga Room in The Veranda, March 5, 2011

The verdict:  This is a partial judgment because we haven't seen the full band live recently and hope that we will have an occasion  to do so some time in the future. (Chicago, like many other cities, is becoming an increasingly difficult place to field a truly full band for this music.)    The smaller version of the band is recommended for fans of the Puerto Rican style of salsa (especially from the 70s and 80s), the English-language material is done well (as we have noted in other places, a lot of bands  just can't pull that off well), and people who are into Joe Cuba and Joe Loco would really like how the instrumentation works in the smaller band.  Sabor isn't working their books, but the overall effect is very similar at times.    We give Mr. Garcia a tip of the hat for going this route with the smaller group as opposed to trying to substitute something like synthesizer "brass", a sin  of the magnitude  of putting ketchup  on a Chicago hot dog (non-Chicagoans might be interested to learn that you can be  ostracized by the locals for the hot dog offense).

Willie Garcia & su Orquesta Sabor's Facebook page is

Willie Garcia y su Orquesta Sabor

lunes, 16 enero 2012, 05:56 am