"The Salsa Never Ends," Susie Hansen
CD Liner Notes - by Zan Stewart
Talk about infectious: that's Susie Hansen's distinctive approach to Latin jazz, captivating to dancers and listeners alike.
Susie's dynamic band sound is unique. Spotlighting her vibrant violin, Hansen blends traditional Cuban charanga, a salsa predecessor that features the violin both melodically and rhythmically, with other Afro-Cuban rhythms and potent straight-ahead jazz improvisation.
Hansen's role is definitely multi-faceted. She plays the melody lines, with her resounding tone and fluid style functioning like a singer or a trumpet, and she delivers jazz solos replete with choice notes and sure-footed rhythms. Hansen also works within the ensemble--playing lead parts in her jazz-based horn section, and playing the rhythmic tumbao that complements the piano's rousing montuno during the coros (vocal chorus).
Couple Hansen's efforts with a superior ensemble and it's clear why her music, with its wealth of spirit, energy and musicality, attracts such a devoted following. One of Los Angeles' top Latin artists, Susie makes people smile and move with the verve and drive of her music.
"The fact that so many people tell me how important my music is to them makes me feel that I'm doing something that increases the love in the world," says Hansen, who has also performed with Tito Puente, Cuban's renowned Orquesta Los Van Van, and the famed charanga group, Orquesta Aragon.
The Salsa Never Ends is Hansen's long-awaited follow-up to Solo Flight, her debut album on the Jazz Caliente label. Here the versatile violinist and her band deliver the kind of exhilarating numbers that have made her an L.A. name.
In her own words, Hansen salutes the excellent players on The Salsa Never Ends. "Drummer Tiki Pasillas, the cornerstone of the rhythm section, has such a driving presence and strong sense of how this music works. Joey Rotondi, who is an incredible soloist, plays the best montuno of any Latin jazz pianist I know. Bassist Rene Camacho's beat is rhythmically propulsive and melodically interesting. Conga drummer Joey De Leon lays down a groove that always makes you want to move. Trombonist David Stout is a great soloist, a strong ensemble player and a terrific arranger. Tenor saxophonist-flutist Steve Marsh's playing is that wonderful combination of melodic and funky. The singers, George Balmaseda and Ruben Esteva, have terrific voices that are distinctive. George is a talented sonero [the singer that improvises the responses to the coros] and has a wonderful melodic sense. Ruben has a voice that people really like, and he has a talent for writing lyrics. And as for guest tenor saxophonist Justo Almario, everyone knows what a marvelous player he is."
The Salsa Never Ends begins with an ear-pleasing mambo, "I Want to Know." Susie's solo reveals both her firm, singing tone and her sure-footed jazz feel.
The invigorating "La Salsa Nunca Se Acaba (The Salsa Never Ends)" exemplifies the mixture of melodicism and rhythmic heat Hansen's band can generate. Drummer Pasillas gets to let loose during the montuno.
Riotously fast, "Blues Con Fuego" is a merengue written by Hansen. "It's so much fun to play," she says. Almario's solo, especially over the horn backgrounds in Stout's vigorous arrangement, is memorable, as is the violinist's.
For the salsa "Que Pase La Tormenta," Susie wrote the melody several years ago but didn't finish it. Recently she and producer Erich Bulling composed the catchy coro. Next, Ruben added lyrics to the verses and bridge and David wrote the arrangement. "It was very exciting for us to create this song together," she says.
The trombonist and Hansen crafted the bolero "La Pregunta" to feature the lyrical beauty of the violin.
Stevie Wonder's "With Each Beat of My Heart" is given a salsa treatment via Susie's smooth arrangement. "I like the way the song fits to a Latin beat, and I love how George sings it," she notes.
Esteva's "Cha Cha Con Maña" is outfitted with a warm melody interpretation by the composer and another redoubtable Stout chart.
David's instrumental mambo, "Alibi," has drive, a fine shout chorus and first-rate solos by our violinist, pianist Rotondi and tenorman Almario.
Though the charanga "Eleguá" was first recorded by the New York-based Ray De La Paz, Hansen and her colleagues make this rendition their own. "The arrangement, with all its rhythmic stops, is compelling," enthuses Susie. Note the spirited flute solo by Marsh.
We close with Balmaseda's forceful salsa "Tambo," a tribute to the drum. It's another appealing dance tune that showcases the composer's beguiling singing and the polyrhythms of De Leon's conga solo.
Susie Hansen is rightfully proud of The Salsa Never Ends. "My band is at a new level and the playing is simply outstanding," she says. "The album represents what we do best: play irresistible dance music packed solid with jazz." Not many bands can pull that one off.
--Zan Stewart, ASCAP-Deems Taylor award recipient, contributor to Stereophile, Down Beat