Tinder Records, 42859592
label website

Inventor of a unique style known as Salsaioli -- a play on two kinds of sauces (the Spanish tomato/cilantro relish and the spicy French garlic mayonnaise called aoili) -- front- and timbales man Jean Francois "Oscar" Hammel returns. Having given us the wildly popular Fatal Mambo recordings Malediccion, Fatal Mambo and Rumbagitation, he now romances connoisseurs with Tell Mambo. Because two former band members have since moved on to explore different styles, the present album, three years in the making, was released under the new banner of Oscar & Company. It's Fatal Mambo's second incarnation.

Oscar enjoyed early exposure to Tito Puente in Paris and subsequently became a huge fan of Ruben Blades and Cheo Feliciano. With its native mix of French, Manouche and Spanish cultural influences, his hometown of Montpellier in Southern France proved fertile ground to translate his infectious musical enthusiasm for all things Latino. The resultant stylistic hybrid combines Puerto Rican salsa with Reggae, Rai, Calypso, Gitano, Afro-Cuban son, Colombian cumbia and very clever French lyrics ripe, like bursting Limburger cheese, with smelly double entendres. Underlying immaculately tight ensemble playing, Fatal Mambo always exhibited a phenomenally high degree of artistic wit. The new album's title continues the tradition again and already by name - a literally laden-with-meaning play on the French 'tellement'.

Alas, what's slightly different with this newest effort is a distinctly new degree of stylization and exclusive focus on Hammel's vocals. It replaces some of the earlier informal freedom with nearly inhuman precision of execution and high-gloss polish. The astute listener feels as though the former street fare vibe had moved uptown into the concert hall, replete with a different dress code of dry-cleaned, sharply pressed suits and attitude - though the shirts' two top buttons still remain open. Still, some of the hot while laissez-faire earlier spice has been watered down. Meanwhile, the level of intellectualization and lyrical sophistication has increased. It's a bit like early Jazz played by white boys. While the notes were all right, the depth of the inner groove was lacking. Aficionados could tell le difference. It's also what often happens when classical musicians try to swing - they're never quite loose enough. Here the equivalent of 'no loose goose' is the tight rhythmic, instrumental and vocal articulation, the carefully modeled arrangements, the diabolically precise ensemble interplay. It's nearly all a bit too slickly quoiffed to be natural - musical mousse.

This taming of the shrew is, however, relatively mild. Thus it's not necessarily a backwards step. One simply refocuses, from the former dance with unhinged brilliance to delighting in the heightened new cleverness:

"You are roi de la castagne, you are ready for the bagne, you are digne des Cro-Magne, explique-moi what you gagne..."
"Indiana" combines cineast cross-dressing ("J'étais comme Indy, Indiana, tout au bord de la falaise, je regardai en-bas vertigineux malaise et de filet d'trapèze") with the actual theme from Indiana Jones rendered by searing Cuban trumpets over heavily syncopated Latin piano. Heads shake in wonderment. How seamlessly and cleanly has this stunt been pulled off.

"Enamouré" adapts the classic "Bilongo" with a brilliant African "kikiribou kiribou mandinga" chorus while the high-speed "Cumbanchero" is adapted to a hilarious story - about "A froma-froma-froma-ge de chèvre, a gros pé-gros pé-tard au coin des lèvres, voilà l'inspecteur Gadjo incognito sur le marché, il est content ça va pas durer longtemps. Il a pris les picodons les pelardons, le pain rassis, et maintenant au cannabis en avant!..." Call it Francophone salsa by intellectuals for intellectuals. L'inspecteur Clouseau meets l'Orchestra de la Luz. This closely brands this latest beast from the Hammel corral. It's sort of what would happen if les professeurs d'acadamie were to teach Latin music at the conservatory. Not exactly the real thing, but damn enjoyable, 100% real on its own terms and the beneficiary of broad education and technical über-competence.