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Tuesday’s main event was a CD release party at Bohemian Caverns for Soul Con Timba, which recorded the disc at the venerable U Street club. It’s the first-ever release on the festival’s DEJF Records imprint and the first live album at the Caverns since Ramsey Lewis‘ 1964 classic. I couldn’t make the party, but I did get the CD.
“Soul Con Timba” refers to the fusion of American soul and timba, Cuba’s variation on salsa; the lineup features players from North and Central America (including Baltimore saxophonist Antonio Hart and D.C. bassist Corcoran Holt). In plotting their set on Live at Bohemian Caverns, the band starts with Booker T. and the MGs’ “Green Onions,” a ’60s soul powerhouse; while the basic groove and every solo insist on Southern soul, the percussion team of Cliff Almond (traps) and Renato Thoms (hand drums) defiantly lay out a fierce timba matrix.
Latin jazz gains momentum as the disc progresses; by the third track, James Brown’s “Soul Power,” the elements of funk and greasy soul are locked in combat with the Cuban rhythms for control of the music’s direction. Latin wins, and the next track, “Oohhh” (an original by director/trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman), drives it home with keyboardist Cliff Korman—who plays Stax/Volt-style organ on the first three tracks—switching to lithe salsa-flavored piano, where he stays until the last tune.
Whether soul/Latin duel or victorious Latin, Soul Con Timba’s musical stew is savory and irresistible—thanks to the amazing chemistry between percussionists Almond and Thoms, who drive the band through a whole fleet of Latin rhythms: rumba, cha-cha, mambo, and son. They dazzle on Mossman’s “Mia’s Groove,” establishing a distinctly Afro-Cuban beat, but one that’s street-tough. The other players follow their menacing lead, even the soft instruments taking edgy solos. Ricky Padron’s guitar is dark and suspicious, and even the dance-y piano is a little threatening.
Hart and Mossman shine, Hart reaching his peak when he plays soprano on “Bro’ Ray,” Mossman with his Dizzy-fied marathon on Horace Silver’s “Sidewinder.” Korman is a monster; Padron is entrancing, but so subtle he’s almost invisible. Holt is invisible, taking no solos at all, but he does what a bassist should do: anchors the music.
Electrifying as Live at Bohemian Caverns is, I’m certain Soul Con Timba was even better actually live at Bohemian Caverns. Anybody make it to the release party?