Perhaps the biggest crisis in contemporary salsa is its growing emphasis on pretty faces: as singers like India, Victor Manuelle, and Marc Anthony have risen to prominence, house bands at labels like RMM have begun churning out backing tracks with about as much soul as assembly-line robots. Trombone-wielding bandleader Jimmy Bosch, a Puerto Rican raised in New York, is bucking this trend: there's plenty of excellent singing on his two albums, but the ensemble is the star. Bosch's lengthy resumé helps explain his approach: he's worked for old-school greats like Manny Oquendo, Eddie Palmieri, Cachao, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, and Ray Barretto. (He also served as Anthony's music director early on, back when the kid was a more straightforward salsero.) Bosch explores a range of Afro-Latin traditions, from Cuba's urban songo and rural guajira forms to Puerto Rican plena, and his second album, Salsa Dura, or "Hard Salsa" (Ryko Latino), featured three different singers, whose passionate wailing and fleet vocal runs were integral to but never elevated above the band's rich and aggressive arrangements. Improvisation is an important part of what this outfit does: the singers can spin ad hoc lines into hypnotic riffs, and the brass section can build some spontaneous counterpoint into a dancer-inspiring tidal wave. The album features cameos by Cuban piano maestro Chucho Valdes, jazz trombonist Steve Turre, and Latin-jazz saxophonist David Sanchez--but the core group's performance at the World Music Festival last year made it clear that they were just icing on the cake. Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Taste of Chicago, Taste Stage, Balbo and Columbus, Grant Park; 312-744-3370. Next Saturday, July 8, 10 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marco Glaviano.