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Aug 22, 2010

Concert Review / Los Hombres Calientes' return was worth waiting for


A decade ago, Los Hombres Calientes was the hottest band in New Orleans and building a world-class reputation as a global rhythm machine. After the group released its fifth album in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, and co-founders Bill Summers and Irvin Mayfield had to put their musical project on hold.

A decade ago, Los Hombres Calientes was the hottest band in New Orleans and building a world-class reputation as a global rhythm machine. After the group released its fifth album in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, and co-founders Bill Summers and Irvin Mayfield had to put their musical project on hold.

Saturday night, a reformed Los Hombres returned to the Twin Cities with an exhilarating performance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

The eight-piece band didn't seem to have lost any of the fire and precision that made it a world-beat sensation, before its forced hiatus began in 2005.

Los Hombres played several pieces from the five CDs its has recorded for New Orleans-based Basin Street Records.

One was "Fofori Fo Firi," a steamrolling, Cuban-influenced groove Mayfield and Summers composed and recorded on a trip to Havana. It featured a traditional chant led by Summers, who enlisted the audience's help in chanting and clapping the rhythm.

Since Brazilian music is part of the African diaspora, Los Hombres also delivered a unique arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim's samba anthem "The Girl from Ipanema."

The piece had a New Orleans tinge provided by drummer Jamal Batiste's crisp rolls and soaring solo flights by Mayfield and alto saxophonist Aaron Fletcher.

One of the concert's most effective pieces was "Creole Groove," a suite composed by Mayfield and Summers, using a clave rhythm as the common denominator tying together music from Haiti, Trinidad, Cuba, Jamaica, South America and New Orleans.

The piece featured a richly textured arrangement that made the band's four-horns sound like a full orchestra.

Later in the set, pianist Ronald Markham was spotlighted in a medley of New Orleans piano music, and Mayfield summoned the second-line parade spirit with the Crescent City Mardi Gras anthem "Iko, Iko."

Although Los Hombres Calientes has often been billed as a "Latin jazz" band, that glibly inadequate description only hints at the band's uniquely abundant musical riches. Led by Summers, who has a college professor's knowledge of the cultural and ethnic history of the band's various percussion styles, the band deserves more national and international exposure.

Hopefully the "one night only" Orchestra Hall performance organized by Mayfield won't be its swan song.

Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician in Minneapolis.


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