Salsa Hard and Fast
On one typically addictive track of trombonist Jimmy Bosch's upcoming album, piano and brass embrace like an inspired couple on the dance floor, shimmying together then breaking apart for some saucy solo moves. Congas keep the rhythm, and a male chorus chants, "Keep the tradition," words that have been a mantra for Bosch, who admits he's an old-fashioned kind of guy.
"I'm committed to using a lot of the rhythms I grew up with," says Bosch, a 39-year-old Puerto Rican raised in Hoboken, New Jersey. "Bolero, descarga, guajira, mambo. A little bit of everything. And I dare to do it the way it was done way back when, in the Sixties and Seventies. When people listened to a record then, they'd play the whole record. Mine is the kind of record you can play in its entirety." A veteran sideman who started performing professionally at age thirteen, Bosch finally released his first album with his own band this past year.
Soneando Trombone, on Rykodisc Latino, has sold about 25,000 copies. Not much by chart-maker standards, perhaps, but more than respectable for an album that shows a definite disregard for commercial trends in Latin music. "What separates mine from other salsa bands is that other bands revolve around the singer," Bosch explains. "Mine is an open format, so everyone's featured. It's not about Jimmy Bosch, it's about the ten guys onstage."
In creating a environment in which his musicians spread out and play, Bosch is carrying on the tradition of New York's legendary Latin bands, who in the Sixties and Seventies combined Afro-Latin rhythms with jazz and funk to make the fierce good-time music that came to be known as salsa. Today that eclectic, exuberant Latin fusion is known as old-school salsa or salsa dura (literally "hard salsa"), a far cry from the smooth romantic salsa-ballad style that took hold in the Eighties. Bosch's music is just the opposite of the perfunctory pop fusion that has recently had Anglo journalists and trendspotters rabidly crying, "crossover."
And in these days of formulaic Latin hits, some would look at Bosch's spontaneous spirited music as jazz, a genre that has always been a shelter for musical self-expression. "Salsa dura is a format that encourages improvising and soloing," Bosch explains. "We have lead vocals and chorus, but musically the format is very similar to Latin jazz. Everyone comes to really play. I think because of that some people would be quick to call what I'm doing Latin jazz."
Along with others who've discovered their elders were on to something, Bosch is determined to blow with the same feeling and swing that popular Latin music had when he was a boy. He started playing trombone at his public elementary school after a teacher suggested he take up the instrument to fill a vacant slot in the school band. The young Bosch had never even heard of a trombone, but by the time he was eleven years old he was playing by ear. Two years later he was performing professionally in salsa and merengue bands. "I played local bars and weddings," he says. "The band leaders would ask my mom for permission."
Bosch had regular gigs from then on, playing with Manny Oquendo and his Orquesta Libre in the Seventies, and later joining Latin greats such as Ray Barreto and Cachao. "I was content being a sideman," Bosch says. "I was playing with band leaders who just let me wail and blow and I absolutely loved it."
Bosch also performed with bands whose members didn't customarily take solos and improvise. The trombonist convinced them. "I've participated in salsa romantica," he says. "Wherever I show up I take a stand for wanting to play a solo. I've offered musical directors 40 bucks so bands that didn't have that improvisational format would let me blow, and they'd keep the solo in because it takes the music to another level."
Recorded live in a Brooklyn studio, Bosch's new album, Salsa Dura, to be released in the fall, reaches that level. Twenty-two musicians, including top Latin jazz pianists Danilo Perez and Chucho Valdes, play on the record. Bosch and his regular ten-piece band will perform Tuesday at a concert on the sand in South Beach as part of the MIDEM Americas 1999 conference. It's a chance for Miami audiences to get a taste of salsa dura -- both the style and the album. The band's virtuosity should please jazz fans, and the set will definitely get the crowd dancing. "We'll play the kind of stuff that has everyone kicking sand into everyone's eyes," says Bosch.
Jimmy Bosch performs Tuesday, June 22, at 10:00 p.m. on the beach stage facing the Tides Hotel, Ocean Drive and Twelfth Street. Tickets are available at the door.
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