Salsa Celtica
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Salsa Celtica
El Agua de la Vida
Greentrax (

Gee, salsa music from Scotland, and with bagpipes and banjos yet! Peculiar, but little more than a passing curiosity if the conception and execution were not up to the standard set by this large combo's 2000 debut, The Great Scottish Latin Adventure. This second outing comparatively plays down the cross-cultural elements of the band's sound, but the depth and richness of the salsa and Cuban motifs is even greater. In particular, the tight brass section and male vocal chorus shine, and overall the musical idiom-mixing is wonderfully successful and entertaining, with the possible exception of the final track, a version of "Auld Land Syne" more culturally confused than cross-pollenated.

The record begins with "Cumbia Celtica," its plinking banjo underlying the bright brass immediately signaling an adventurous musical mix. The large male chorus backs and encourages Lino Rocha's strong, smoky lead vocal. Violin, and at times the chorus, join the banjo in a Celtic background figure artfully integrated into the core cumbia. There is little cultural mixing on "El Sol de la Noche," just fine mid-speed salsa benefiting from dense, tight brass, percussive piano, smooth flute and violin solos, and Rocha's strong, casual vocal. "Guajira sin Sol's" slow, sensuous tres introduction leads to a unison figure on violin and bagpipes, soon joined by brass, glottal pipes solos surprisingly appropriate, an intriguing interplay with the smoother violin solos.

On the title track, a lively violin and bagpipe barn dance is joined by salsa percussion and piano, chorus and brass, the Celtic component clearly in control. "Whisky con Ron" is calmly rolling son, melody carried by violins and male vocal duet, gaining progressive power with brass, male chorus, and trumpet solos. The "Ave Maria de Escocia Medley" commences with complex rumba percussion and humorous, high-spirited jungle sounds, the melodic theme introduced by pipes and flute before being picked up by male chorus. The center is dominated by "Ave Maria Morena," with tightly-scripted brass encounters and a funky sax duet. The medley ends with a dizzy reggae toast and more suspiciously orderly instrumental chaos.

El Agua de la Vida is such fluent and exciting salsa that the Celtic influences will sneak up pleasantly on the listener, ultimately deepening the enjoyment. Jim Foley

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