|Los Hombres Calientes
Only a year and a half after exploding onto the New Orleans scene, the groundbreaking band Los Hombres Calientes: Irvin Mayfield, Bill Summers, Jason Marsalis, has truly become a force with which to be reckoned, winning over more fans and critics with each performance. Primarily by word of mouth, the band has emerged as an important new voice in the global jazz community.
The Los Hombres Calientes sound is the realization of an audacious vision, a fusion of modern, acoustic jazz, New Orleans soul, Latin grooves and an afro-centric "world music" sensibility. It's a captivating gourmet gumbo that appeals to a wide spectrum of listeners.
Rather than languishing in small jazz clubs along with the majority of so-called "experimental" music forms, Los Hombres quickly established itself as a dynamic live act, drawing large, diverse audiences to larger venues such as House of Blues and Tipitina's. Just a few months after their first gig, the band made waves at the world-renowned New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where their debut, self-titled CD became the top seller.
Soon after, the group was showered with accolades from the local and national press. The New Orleans Times-Picayune named the debut CD the top local release of 1998, and they won "Best New Contemporary Jazz Band" and "Best New Latin Band" in OffBeat Magazine's "Best of the Beat" music awards.
Downbeat Magazine's Critics Poll named them Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in both the "Acoustic Jazz Group" and "Beyond Group" categories, and a New York Times article cited Los Hombres Calientes as an example of how regional, indie-jazz projects can rejuvenate the jazz marketplace. In May 1999, the debut CD made the top 25 on Billboard Magazine's "Top Jazz Albums" chart, an astonishing feat for an album lacking major label support and distribution.
Los Hombres Calientes was invited to open for Santana at the 1999 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and, more recently, the group has expanded its touring schedule to include major jazz festivals in San Jose, Atlanta, Jackson, Birmingham, Dominican Republic and the "Les Rendes-vouz de L'Erdre" in Nantes, France. Los Hombres has also played the legendary Ronnie Scott's in London as well as other club dates in Mexico and other US cities, and have been invited to perform on chef Emeril Lagasse's popular TV program. Notable artists that have "sat in" with Los Hombres include Danilo Perez, Donald Harrison, Ellis, Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo Marsalis and Wess Anderson.
Throughout this rapid ascension, Los Hombres Calientes has consistently demonstrated the ability to transcend genre, geography, venue and expectation, connecting with audiences in both a cerebral and sensual manner. Now, with the release of a second album, "Volume 2", the group continues this trend while making a quantum leap forward. The new record displays a much-increased range and depth, and the myriad compositional possibilities inherent in this talented collective.
Unlike the first album, which was recorded somewhat hastily to be released prior to the '98 New Orleans Jazz Fest, "Volume 2" is the result of months of concerted, intensive labor by the band. The result is epic in scope, including 18 tracks and over 71 minutes of music. All but two of the tracks are ear opening original compositions supplied by Summers, Marsalis and Mayfield. An embarrassment of rich grooves are prevalent, include rhumba, son, mambo, comparsa, samba, New Orleans second-line, blues, reggae, tango, bossa-nova, traditional African poly-rhythms and exciting new combinations such as on the track "Fongo Sunk," which combines funk with songo, a rhythm invented by Afro-Cuban drummer/composer Chongito. The Louisiana Philharmonic String Quartet contributes to the ambitious, 3-part "Cuban Suite" and "Tangeaux-Zon," and a host of New Orleans based talents join in on the raucous celebration "A Comer Y A Descargar."
Taken as a whole, "Volume 2" represents a breakthrough for the band, but also for the music world in general, demonstrating a more fully realized global approach to jazz which draws upon the power of ancient rhythms while also using modern melodies and harmonies as a platform for improvisation. It's an exciting new vision which is really still in its infancy, with much more to come.
"We woke up something that was asleep," Bill Summers said late one night, explaining the dramatic and practically overnight response that Los Hombres Calientes generated in New Orleans in the spring of 1998. Irvin Mayfield's explanation was slightly different. "Everybody kind of knew that this is where the music has to go. It's just something that's known. It's like the world coming to an end or something. You just know."
The world didn't end on February 7th, 1998, when Los Hombres made their debut at Snug Harbor, but the ground did shake. Summers, the master percussionist known for his work with Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Quincy Jones, his own funk band Summers' Heat and others, seemed to have at least five hands that night. Together with drummer Jason Marsalis (then age 21), he created an undeniable groove, multi-layered, dynamic, textured and mesmerizing. His exquisite use of Afro-Cuban, Latin and African rhythms opened the door for the other musicians to explore the Latin roots of modern jazz (that elusive "Spanish Tinge" referred to by Jelly Roll Morton.) The audience was drawn into the nexus of the music, where the solos seemed to play through, rather than at the listener. Mayfield, the then twenty-year old New Orleans native, unleashed a blazing muted trumpet style that night that is wildly creative, yet controlled and somehow elegant. Victor "Red" Atkins alternated between infectious dance figures and dazzling solos on the keys. It was, quite simply, an explosion of creativity.
Fortunately, that show was only the beginning. The ecstatic reviews and word of mouth led them from Snug Harbor to House of Blues to independent record deal in a single month. In the blink of an eye, they found themselves ensconced in Summers' Uptown New Orleans home, working feverishly to capture the newly unearthed Calientes sound on their debut recording. The Los Hombres Calientes project was born a few months prior to that first gig, when Irvin Mayfield and Bill Summers discovered they shared the same vision: a Latin jazz ensemble from New Orleans that would create its own distinctive and ground breaking style. They would play "caliente" (hot), tapping into the ancient reservoir of African and Afro-based rhythms (what Summers calls "African classical music"), but within the context of acoustic modern jazz, with all of its soulful intricacies.
This formula opened up a multitude of possibilities for Mayfield. "Playing modern jazz, you work on the head of the tune and you work on the form. Once you have the form, it's just a vehicle for improvisation. But when you start having the influence of Latin music and African rhythms, like the Bata drums and the stuff from Brazil, the heads are so intricate that they're harder than the solo parts. So this way of thinking about it is just completely new and fresh. It's a great vehicle. The integrity is in every part of the music. Plus, it makes you happy. It's like being with a woman that's fine. You're like, 'Damn, I could be with her every day.'"
Their first move was to enlist Jason Marsalis, the astounding young drummer whose sheer musical ingenuity is a key element in the band. If nothing else, this band presents a scholar of Afro-centric percussion (Summers) conversing rhythmically with a young Marsalis who has the talent to become one of the most influential drummers in jazz. Their vibrant interplay shows why Summers says this project "revitalizes" him. "I have a young Miles Davis in Irvin and a combination of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Chongito in Jason. And they're fresh and full of ideas!"
Indeed, this band's range seems almost limitless, having, as Summers says, "one foot in 2000 BC and one foot in 2000 AD" with a style stretching from "Africa to Hollywood." Whatever spirits were roused on that February night at Snug Harbor, they seem unlikely to return to their resting-place anytime soon.