Grupo Fantasma: Sonidos Gold (2008)
When you've got Prince's seal of approval, little else matters. Austinites Grupo Fantasma have long been the Purple One's band du jour, logging a two-month residency at his Las Vegas nightclub 3121, a Golden Globes after party performance that saw the band joined by Prince, Talib Kweli, Will.i.am, Mary J. Blige, and Marc Anthony, as well as other performances alongside the icon in London, Miami and the Capital City itself.
Sonidos Gold is the best document of Grupo's cumbia-salsa-funk fusion to date. Led by guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada, the Grupo orchestra is in fine form on the dozen tracks that make up Sonidos, and give, as the title would suggest, a golden performance.
Whether it's the Grupo horn section of Gilbert Elorreaga (trumpet), Joshua Levy (saxophones), and Leo Gauana (trombone) leading the way on opening jam "El Sabio Soy Yo," or the percussive force of Johnny Lopez (drums), Matthew Holmes (congas) and quasi-frontman Jose Galeano (timbales) moving and shaking the rhythm, as on "Arroz con Frijoles," Grupo Fantasma is above all tight, operating as a cohesive unit, always in-tune with each other.
"Arroz" is all but a drummer's wet dreamloads of percussion (timbales, congas, cowbells, shakers, handclaps and whistles) all layered on top of one another make for one of the most exciting drum breaks ever. Fania All-Stars arranger Larry Harlow lends his hands to "Rumba y Guaguanaco" along with trombonist and Parliament Funkadelic vet Greg Boyer. "Bacalao Con Pan" shows signs of Grupo side-project Brownout, combining breakbeat funk with Latin soul a la Eddie Palmieri. Rounding out the guest appearances is the legendary Maceo Parker, whose saxophone lights up "Gimme Some," a stick-up anthem that finds the band singing in English for a change.
The production is perfect and exactly what the band requires. The excitement and raw energy of its live shows are translated brilliantly to record, with little if any post-production fluff. Hearing Grupo Fantasma live sounds a lot like Sonidos. The horns carry all the necessary punch, the drums speak to the soul on a spiritual level, and the vocals are just about all that carry any signs of post-production, with reverb adding psychedelic air to Quesada and Galaeno's words.
Grupo Fantasma turns in an inspired performance on Sonidos Gold. Truer to the tradition than West Coast contemporaries Ozomatli, Grupo is one the most exciting bands out there right nowjust ask Prince.
Track Listing: El Sabio Soy Yo; Levantate; Arroz con Frijoles; Rumba y Guaguanco; Bacalao con Pan; Rebotar; Cumbia de los Pajaritos; Gimme Some; Soltero; Se Te Mira; Desconocido; Perso Fra i Mesquites.
Personnel: Adrian Quesada: guitar; Johnny Lopez: drums; Jose Galeano: vocals, timbales; Gilbert Elorreaga: trumpet; Beto Martinez: guitar; Kino Rodriguez: vocals; Greg Gonzalez: bass; Joshua Levy: saxophones; Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes: congas; Leo Gauna: trombone.