Candela/TInder - 2003
861092 / label website
The Caribbean. The word alone evokes sultry fantasies. Of rakish buccaneers, sandy coves shaded by palm trees, lilting rhythms on the breeze, mulatto beauties sipping sugar cane juice. With Salsa Creole, the Candela/Tinder label has fashioned a compilation of salsa, son, bolero, merengue, zouk and charanga tunes which, like an intrepid sailor casting anchor ashore the diverse island cultures of Haiti, Martinique or Guyana, bridges the various Colonial genes/genres the English, Spaniards, French and Dutch implanted in the indigenous African soil.

As is true for any compilation assembled by an authentic connoisseur, Salsa Creole introduces us to what, ostensibly, are some of the greatest exponents of its styles. Most of us not in -- well-tempered -- tune with these contemporary island cultures most likely have never heard of any of 'em. That's what so great about compilations - sampler plates in exotic-cuisine bistros. Think French or Spanish-inspired Latin Jazz with a dash of Cuban/Puerto Rican, served with a more light-hearted, tropical vibe. This menu reads infectious merci-la-vie danceable joy.

There's Ralph Thamar's lively "La Nueva Era" opener, a solo/chorus salsa-rumba from Martinique in the French Antilles. Hailed as the "Crooner of the Caribbean", Thamar earned his spurs with the Kassav formation and here leads brass, piano, accordion and a full batteria of shakers, rattles and other hipswayers with his honey-smooth tenor vocals. "Scandalo" is a slower son under the aegis of Shoubou, the lead singer of the Haitian Konpa band who transforms the classic calypso "Shame and Scandal in the Family" by SIr Lancelot into a contemporary Africando dance. "Manman Dada" is a saucy bolero ballad led by Haitian troubadour Boulo Valcourt that conjures up erotic dancefloor moves of glistening raw silk the thinnest of barriers between passionate partners. A timegate halfway through ups the tempo and a Cuban-style high flute dances atop the rollicking piano accents while Valcourt is now backed by typical question-and-answer chorus.

"Adelante" introduces us to hot-house pianist Mario Canonge from Martinique. He grabs large handfuls of uptempo Cucho Valdés-style chords while his left hammers out furiously syncopated bass lines. He's accompanied by mujo caliente conguero Miguel "Anga" Diaz on a shifty, highly virtuoso Latin Jazz romp that literally implodes from rhythmic impossibilities at the end. Edith Lefel's "La Foule" is a Parisian-style bolero with subtle cabaret influences while "Baila Mulata" unites Canonge and the formation Hann' on a Cuban cha-cha-cha. Its sense of formally restrained tempo evokes shuffling campesinos barely moving back and forth, partner in arm at a respectful distance while "Serjÿo" is nearly Brazilian in its Carneval-intensity. It combines Zouk rhythms with piano patterns, blatty brass accents, flute solos and Bago's happy swingée vocals while Henri 'Le Zouk' Guédon's "Afro Blue" is a torrid Latin Big Band arrangement of a Mongo Santamaria track. Massively dissonant brass climaxes and a spine-tingling trombone solo by Glen Ferris roar like a triple-testicled bucks in heat surrounding the Candoble drum interlude - the kind of charged uptempo number a hipper, younger, more dangerous James Bond would move to with a slinky love interest.
The riveting live closer "Carretero" by the fluid Malavoi formation translates traditional Cuban charango strings into a densely contemporary mambo arrangement fronted by Ralph Thamar and Paul Rosine on piano, Before the final applause fades, you'll have unconsciously hit "repeat all" for a second go-around. Outside of 6dB+ drops on certain tracks whose recording levels remain inexplicably undermatched to the average baseline otherwise observed throughout, Salsa Creole is a flawless runaway collection of island hits. Plan your next Caribbean vacation in a hurry. But don't let the missus go by herself - these Latin "el calor" lover types won't have her come back home anytime soon otherwise. There, you're warned! Now get yourself a copy of Salsa Creole and shake some booty. Is you is, or is you ain't hotblooded?