Septeto Ignacio Piñeiro is in New York
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- Travel and Tourism
- Culture and Traditions
- Politics and Government
- 11 / 24 / 2009
There’s no antiquarian dust on Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro, the Cuban band that got started in 1927 and performed on Thursday night at S.O.B.’s on its first American tour in 76 years.
The septet was a pioneer of the Cuban son (a dance style; son means sound), which is a foundation of modern salsa in this hemisphere and of Congolese soukous in Africa. The Septeto, which has replaced all its musicians through the years — Piñeiro
died in 1969 — still plays the Piñeiro repertory. Its Cuban son, and its rumbas and boleros, are music of transparency, tensile strength and phantom drive.
Piñeiro’s innovation was to add trumpet to the guitars, percussion and voices of previous son groups, bringing songs an ever-changing countermelody and prefiguring salsa’s horn sections. Piñeiro may well have named salsa music with his 1928 song “Échale Salsita” (meaning “Throw a little sauce on it”), which started the septet’s first set at S.O.B.’s.
Its lead singer, the white-suited Eugenio Rodríguez, had a crowd-pleasing bit between songs. He’d start speaking cheerfully and quickly but accelerate from there, until he was articulating as fast as tongue-twisting rappers and auctioneers. In a way
his shtick encapsulated what happens in the course of a Septeto song.
At first arpeggiated patterns are picked on the tres (a guitar with three double strings), often joined in courtly harmonies by the trumpet. Understated bass lines and peppy bongos join in, and Mr. Rodríguez and the harmony singers introduce a lilting melody. Then, elegantly and teasingly, the songs quicken from within. The bongos get busier, the tres changes patterns repeatedly and the trumpet takes off with lines that curl and race and trill: in, around and sometimes across the vocals.
The song segues into its second, faster section and Mr. Rodríguez gets a chance to raise his voice in quavering, improvisatory bursts. He has earned his nickname, Raspa (Rasp). Sometimes the tres gets an extended solo, flinging syncopated, jazzy chords against the beat. Then, signaled by a few insistent cowbell taps, the song returns to its first section as if nothing unruly had happened.
Piñeiro’s lyrics are perennial: lamentations about lost love and celebrations of Cuba, dancing and the joys of rhythm. “The son is the most sublime expression of the soul’s delight,” Mr. Rodríguez sang in “Suavecito,” and there was no argument about
that from the dance floor.