El Conguero 2020
Respectfully submitted,El CaoboFebruary 2020
For a few years now I have known about the musical prowess of bandleader, percussionist / multi-instrumentalist, Johnny Blas! I initially came to know of Johnny because he resides within the Chicago metropolitan area and hence has performed extensively in the Chicago area; which is my hometown. What I had not realized about him, until recently, was that the accomplished musician has been operating successfully in the Jazz and Latin music industries for more than two decades! Indeed, Johnny Blas has been a long time recording artists for Cubop Records; a sub-label of Ubiquitous Recordings, Inc. The Cubop catalog has recordings from past and living legends from the world of Afro-Cuban and Latin Jazz music; such as Francisco Aguabella, Bobby Matos, Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers, Papo Vázquez, Jack Constanzo, Arturo Sandoval and others. Respected music critic, Stacia Proefrock has called Johnny a "stylish conguero," a title with which I fully agree!
John "Dandy" Rodríguez, during an interview in 2014, speaking of Latin music artists and their relationship with dancers, told me that "For a while we all were playing to fast, but most of us now understand that the dancers want it a little slower and funkier!" I mention this because, first of all, I fully agree with this assessment, from a true veteran of the music. Dancers do want a more moderate tempo, with which they can dance all night without burning themselves out. Secondly, when I think about the many elements of the music being created by Johnny Blas and his team of skilled musicians, the term "funky" surely comes to mind! Johnny absolutely understands saoco(swing) and its importance to the dancers.
It was in 1994 that Johnny Blas and his band released their first album, A Night in L.A., on the Dos Coronas record label; which would be re-released in 2018; with a slightly different title, That Night in L.A. During my radio shows, I have played every track on the album and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but if I were forced to do so, I perhaps would select Don't Change My Song, followed by the mellifluous Dame tu amor. Members of the band during this time were percussionist Ángel Rodríguez, trombonists Humberto Ruiz, Kerry Loeschen, Edwin Blas and Dan Weinstein, guitarist Mark Gutiérrez and bassist Paul Pérez.
Due to their hard work and solid delivery, they were signed to the aforementioned Cubop Records label, and cranked out three more albums: Skin and Bones (1997), Mambo 2000 (1998) and King Congo (1999); the first two of which were critically acclaimed by Jazz and Latin music critics worldwide. KIng Congo featured the songwriting skills of band members Mark Gutiérrez and Dan Weinstein.
After an eight year hiatus, in 2007, Johnny Blas resurfaced with an album, Indestructible Spirit, that departed from his previous work; with nine tracks, and seven of them written by Johnny himself. Johnny also, in addition to his customary conga and timbales work, plays the soprano saxophone on two tracks! Additionally, the number of trombones was reduced from four to now two. New members of his band at this time included bassist and co-producer Jeff Hawley, trombonists Steve Johnson and Leonard Luna, pianist Ryan Prior. Also, on one track each were saxophonists Ray Zapeda (soprano) and Paul Clark (tenor).
In early 2019, Johnny Blas released a rendition of the mambo/salsa standard track Baila que baila; and man oh man was it ever danceable; fully living up to its title! Johnny's version of the track differs from others in that his includes trombones, the bata drum and a very funky bass! This version drives hard from beginning to end and features one of the most succulent flute solos that I've ever heard. As usual, Johnny's percussion work is superb and carries to tune from beginning to end! It is impossible to listen to this track without bobbing your head and wanting to get up and dance!
Now, freshly released in the beginning of February, Johnny Blas has released a track, El Conguero; which inevitably shall become a hallmark of his sound. It features a very jazzy and swinging saxophone solo that will enrapture both cha-cha-chá dancers and Latin Jazz aficionados alike. Then, of course, there is the congo solo carried out by the master himself, Johnny Blas. Once again, Johnny's outstanding percussion work carries to tune from beginning to end! You have to hear it to believe it!
Current members of Johnny Blas' band are:
- Johnny Blas - band leader, conga, bata, other percussions and chorus
- Edwin Blas - musical director, arranger, trombones, chorus
- Daniel Castillo - guest vocalist
- Carlos Ordiano - piano
- Ruben Ordiano - timbales
- Juan Karlos - bongos
- Roberto Zelaya - bass
- Robert Incelli - flute
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Round Midnight coming soon!!!