René Ibañez and Eddie Santiago

An die Musik Opens Up the Dance Floor for New Latin Jazz Series

January 30th brought the inauguration of a new series at An die Musik (AdM) — Latin Jazz Night with live music and dancing. Although there may be a thriving Latin jazz scene in Baltimore, I wouldn’t know it; apart from Latin jazz mainstay Rumba Club (featured at our first Baltimore Jazz Fest, in 2016), I have not heard of much going on in this space until recently, when percussionist Joel Santiago started a weekly series in Jessup. That series ended before I found the time to pay a visit, but Santiago has now started up a new monthly series at AdM, featuring his group Cuaba Latin Jazz, and I was happy to check out the opening night. 

Eddie Santiago
Eddie Santiago (photo: Liz Fixsen)

Cuaba Latin Jazz features Santiago on percussion, with Bienvenido Dinsey-Peralta on piano and Chuco Mendoza on bass. For this concert, they were joined by Washington percussion master René Ibañez and Eddie Santiago on guiro and other hand percussion (pretty much all of them did some singing as well). The event started out with a dance class with salsa diva Tabitha Hitchye, who runs the Baltimore Salsa Dance Company, and while I didn’t make it to that segment, I heard it was quite a treat. Based on what I saw from her and many other dancers later, I have no doubt that it was.

The music was what I think of as Cuban style Rumba — I am by no means an expert in this style of music, but the instruments, rhythms, and vocal styles were reminiscent of such Cuban greats as Los Muñequitos and Los Papines, focusing on the guaguancó style of fairly fast, intricate rhythms with extensive use of polyrhythmic improvisation, as opposed to the more languid Son and Danzón styles known to many from the Buena Vista Social Club and other such groups.

The piano in this style is a key element, playing repetitive patterns often in parallel octaves, and often with romantic classical stylings floating over the top of the percussion, and Dinsey-Peralta played beautifully, including a long rhapsodic solo that led into one of the night’s slower numbers. The bass, as common in this style, rarely played on the downbeat, but instead meandered around it, providing a complex counterpoint to the percussion. Besides the band, several audience members were invited up to sit in, including a formidable bongo player and another excellent conguero.

The piano in this style is a key element, playing repetitive patterns often in parallel octaves, and often with romantic classical stylings floating over the top of the percussion, and Dinsey-Peralta played beautifully, including a long rhapsodic solo that led into one of the night’s slower numbers. The bass, as common in this style, rarely played on the downbeat, but instead meandered around it, providing a complex counterpoint to the percussion. Besides the band, several audience members were invited up to sit in, including a formidable bongo player and another excellent conguero. 

Joel Santiago
Joel Santiago (photo: Liz Fixsen)

Santiago and Ibañez traded duties on drum kit, congas, and bongos, and both played beautiful complicated improvisations that kept the music constantly moving. In one particularly inspired solo, Ibañez transitioned from congas, to bongos, to both, then got up and began playing on the drum kit from the front even while Santiago continued holding down a groove, and eventually playing the floor, the music stands, and anything that could make a sound. 

To accommodate this lively music and its close relationship to dance, the usual layout of An die Musik was modified by eliminating the usual center aisle and instead leaving the left half of the room open for dancing. In fact, there were so many audience members that several extra rows of chairs had to be brought out to fit us all in—a testament to the excitement for such music in Baltimore! But even so, there was plenty of room for dancing. Besides Ms. Hitchye, there were a few more who obviously knew their dance moves well, and others who felt so moved traded off as well, everyone feeling the rhythms and energy of the evening. Even those of us that don’t have the dance bug couldn’t help from moving in our seats. 

René Ibañez
René Ibañez, with Chuco Mendoza in the background (photo: Liz Fixsen)

Based on the sellout crowd, the great energy, and the great music, I would say that this series is something that Baltimore has needed for a while, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. The next installment is scheduled for February 27th, and future dates are planned, mostly for the 4th Thursday of the month: March 26, April 30, May 28, June 25, July 30, August 27, Sept 24, Oct 29, Nov 19, Dec 30.Check the AdM website (http://andiemusiklive.com) or the BJA calendar (https://baltimorejazz.com) to see details.