Music Review: Smokin’

Smokin', opens a new window by Las Siete Potencias
It’s hard to know just how many Latin bands formed in the wake of 1972 cinéma vérité documentary Our Latin Thing. It could be stated that this gritty, yet celebratory film had a similar catalyzing effect that A Hard Day’s Night had on the kids out in the Anglo neighborhoods.  It’s quite possible that Las Siete Potencias (The Seven Powers) were set in motion by Our Latin Thing. This Bronx band was led by the versatile Louis Sanchez on vibraphone, who composed and arranged the majority of these songs that are not merely Smokin’, but are a sizzling wildfire of polyrhythmic proficiency. Sanchez clearly demonstrates that he was the prime mover and creative force behind this vibraphone-driven Latin Jazz, which incorporates salsa and pachanga with shades of exotica.

The opener “Los Seneros” may seem like standard-issue salsa upon initial listening, but additional listen reveals the subtleties and a summoning to dance. “Free Wind” sweeps in like “Flute Thing” by the Blues Project, which the Beastie Boys would sample on their “Flute Loop.” Ricardo Marrero, the co-producer of this album and who is still going strong, plays the stately piano melody on "Speak Like a Child." Vocals and instrumentation converge into a seamless whole on “La Juventude De Chango'' and are reinforced by the band’s strength of not sacrificing melody for the sake of rhythm. This 1976 album, released by Tito Rodríguez's TR Records, ends on an extremely strong note with two cosmopolitan instrumentals. “The Continental” features snap and crack percussion with dashing vibes that joyfully kick into gear to reach a panoramic crescendo. “Las Siete Potencias Theme/Green Dolphin Street” sounds like a theme for an ‘60s international espionage flick, but with a tropical twist of the sun breaking through.

Smokin’ not only stands up as a stellar seventies salsa album, but the skillful arrangements allow the songs to stretch out and radiate some vibrant edged exotica in the realms of Afro Blossom Westby the Andre Tanker Five and Percussionata by Monte Moya & The Surfers. In addition, the top-quality recording captures the percolating propulsive elements along with shifting layers of subtle touches. Overall, the incendiary Smokin’ continues to excite and endure as it's tuned to Bronx ‘76, while emanating a lasting glow. - Ted (Downtown)