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Bonnie Rosenstock
Music and Dance Reviews
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Sonido Costeño Heats Up New York's Sounds of Brazil

by Bonnie Rosenstock
October 17, 2014
204 Varick Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 243-4940
Back in July, Sonido Costeno wowed the dancing multitudes at the High Line with its torrid tempos. With the advent of cool fall weather, the band brought its Latin rhythms indoors to SOB's. But the sound was still hot, hot, hot.

SOB's, also known as Sounds of Brazil, is the go-to venue for world music, especially from the Afro-Latino diaspora. Its intimate setting reminds me of two peaks—the long bar rising above on one end and the stage suspended on the other—with the dance floor and eating area as the valley in between. People go there to dance, eat, drink or to watch folks dance and listen to the incredible bands that are the venue's hallmark.

Sonido Costeno did not disappoint. The eight-piece band was on fire, as they played their eclectic amalgam of jazz, rock, Latin and Latin pop. One of my favorites—and a crowd pleaser—is the traditional Cuban "Guantanamera," lyrics attributed to the poet Jose Marti­, and popularized by Pete Seeger and many others over the years. Band leader JuanMa Morales on vocals nailed some nifty riffs on his Dean acoustic/electric six-nylon string guitar. Morales also played the ten-string cuatro, the national instrument of Puerto Rico.

One of the oldest ensemble members is the consummate keyboardist Sam Barrios, who has been with the band for 17 years. He joined out of the Third Street Music School—when it was on Third Street (it's now on East 11th), and when it was a trio. The newest member is David Freyre, percussion and vocals, at almost one year. "These guys are great," he said. " I love the energy of the group. There is no competition among ourselves. We come here, we play, have fun, joke around and give our best."

Trumpeter Ozzy Cardona said that since he has been with the band, about a year and a half, they have only rehearsed once. "It's our instincts and training as musicians," he noted. "We have like minds and know what we want the music to sound like."

He attributes this to Morales' savvy hiring. "JuanMa handpicks guys who have a similar mind, the right temperament and his vision for what the band should sound like," he said. "We all want the same style and sound. Each night we do ballads, Latin rock, jazz, all in a mix. We're not only proud to have the sound we have, but also thanks to all the people, we are working quite often." That includes about three times a year in rotation at SOB's.
When people respond, "that's when it really gets electric," said seven-year band veteran David Ondrick. "Since there's a salsa lesson beforehand, the dancers are psyched. It's always a great crowd. The more they get into it, the more we get into it."

Ondrick, saxophone and vocals, added, "We have charts and arrangements that we follow, but every time we play the songs, we are responding to what we are seeing and feeling, which makes it a little different every time. It's very cool, with us, and the audience especially."

SOB's is a club environment, more of a pick-up place than at the High Line, said Morales. "You see a lot of romancing from the stage," he observed. "Sometimes it gets a little pornographic."

They play shorter numbers here. "Suppose you're dancing and there's no chemistry. If I play eight, ten minutes, I make you suffer. Four to five minutes is tolerable," he said.

Morales acknowledged that playing at the High Line presented some logistical problems. Besides getting blown out in the downpour as they were playing the closer, Celia Cruz's "La Vida Es Un Carnaval," which also closed the SOB gig, Morales said they couldn't control the sound and hear each other. "At the High Line we rely on reaction—and the vibe is different," he said.

But what doesn't change is that Latin dance transcends age, nationality—and stature. You can always find pint-sized senior ladies, with still undulating hips, dancing with tall younger men and long-in-the-tooth men showing off their moves to delighted young women. But no matter what the reason you go to dance, Sonido Costeno will keep the party, and body, swinging.

The other band members included: Enrique Breton, bass; Renato Thoms, conga; and Nestor Villar, timbales.

For more information about Sonido Costeno, visit www.sonidocosteno.com. CD's available on Amazon.com.

Photo © & courtesy of Kristina Clark

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