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Luis Conte: En Casa De Luis

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You sure are in Luis’ house when you put this CD on. It is all about the percussion, and lots of it. Congas, bongos, bombo, timbales, maracas, shakers, guiro, cajón, quinto, pandeiros, shekere, cajita, qraqab, surdo, sabar, djembe, cymbals, claves, cowbell, cymbals, triangle, African water pots, bottle caps: If it’s not nailed down, Luis Conte is going to smack it. In fact, Conte plays multiple kinds of percussion on each song. Unless he grew eight extra arms, overdubbing is used liberally on En Casa de Luis, and there’s no shame in that. It only makes for a livelier album. And this album is, indeed, a party on a platter.

Conte has been making music since he was a child in Cuba, and though he hasn’t recorded prolifically under his own name, he has gigged and recorded with many, many, many artists, from Pat Metheny and Dianne Reeves to Joe Cocker and Madonna. These days he’s the percussionist in the orchestra on TV’s Dancing With the Stars. But what joy to hear him lead a session! It’s as though he’s been waiting his entire life to bust out like this.

The title track is just percussion and voices-but at least four overdubs of his own playing plus vocals, some of them ambient, provided by several people, including Conte’s kids. Serpentine trumpet and flugelhorn (both by Walt Fowler, overdubbed) wiggle around Conte’s Afro-Cuban percussion on “The Last Resort.” He retools the Peggy Lee staple “Fever” with rapid-fire conga and clave, supported by Barry Coates’ relaxed guitar line and Conte’s coolly detached singing. For all the wild percussion, though, melodies-pretty melodies-seep through. The prettiest belongs to Larry Goldings. The tune is called “Dance of the Firefly,” and the story goes that Conte heard the pianist mess around with it backstage at the Oscars while waiting to take the stage with James Taylor. But soon enough we’re back in the drum circle: Conte ends the disc with a literal bang, in a percussion duel with his buddy Daniel Willy.

Originally Published