May 2003 By Christopher Porter
In an era where CDs are routinely padded out, conceivably to give the consumer extra value—though I’m not sure where the value is in having half of an 80-minute disc stink—I approached Los Hombres Calientes’ latest epic with caution. There are 27 tracks and a nearly 80-minute run time on Vol. 4: Vodou Dance, which, when I do my finely tuned editor’s math, means that the album is probably 17 tracks and 40 minutes too long. Not so with this CD, as the high numbers don’t subtract from Vodou Dance, an audio travelogue through the African diaspora in the Western world. And as any experienced traveler knows, it sometimes takes a long time to get from place to place, especially when you jump around as much as this band does.
Group leaders Bill Summers and Irvin Mayfield traveled from their New Orleans homes to Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad to make Vodou Dance. Los Hombres Calientes made recordings of and with various local musicians, some of which they found by asking around in a record store (Trinidad), some through a friend of a friend (Haiti) and some through long-established contacts (Cuba). While it may seem like Vodou Dance was thrown together like some sort of New Orleans cultural gumbo, the purpose for Summers and Mayfield’s field excursion was not merely to mix and match but rather to show the common elements in these musics, primarily in the African-derived rhythms.
Los Hombres Calientes easily traverse these American, Latin and Afro-Caribbean cultures in their music, and their ever-growing fanbase reflects the band’s melting-pot approach. Fans of Latin, straightahead or contemporary jazz, reggae, African drums, Cuban vamps, Brazilian grooves, New Orleans brass and jam-band funk can be found in their audiences at festivals worldwide.
Regina Carter is reaching a similarly diverse audience because of her eclectic music, which encompasses classical, Motown, funk and Latin while being distinctly jazz. During a recent performance in Italy, and on her new CD, Paganini: After a Dream, she used the famous Cannon violin, on loan from the city of Genoa, and she won over the country’s skeptical classical lovers through her personal charm and universal music.
Los Hombres and Regina Carter are musical ambassadors of good will, and that’s something we could all use a little more of right now. So if Los Hombres Calientes need 80 minutes to spread their sound of togetherness, so be it. I’m willing to put down my calculator.
Originally published in May 2003