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Friday, May 3, 2013

Bloque, "Bloque"

Luaka Bop (1988)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Tom Moon paints a double picture when he describes Bloque. On one hand, he depicts a group disappointed in the mainstreaming of Latin American music. On the other hand, he also says that the musicians of Bloque approached their debut album with an attitude influenced by American hip-hop. Neither is entirely false, but Moon overstates the second half. There are hip-hop moments on "Bloque," but that's almost par for the course with modern Latin American music. I live around Washington Heights, and I hear it every day. But Bloque feels its Columbian roots strongly, and tries to introduce it to the '90s without selling the music out.

Moon's statements about the mainstreaming of Latin American music is 100 percent correct. I could have told you this, even as a child, based strictly on the Gloria Estefan albums my parents own. If my parents have an album, it's got some mainstream appeal behind it. And at this point, even the Santana resurgence hadn't started yet. My summary of these pop albums would include a conga and Spanish guitar. They exclude the rest of the percussion and polyrhythms that we've come to expect (based on every other Latin American album we've heard so far). Bloque includes the congas, but "westernizes" with a standard drum set as well, maintaining the necessary polyrhythms.

Instruments like horns and the Hammond organ are things we've heard before on salsa albums, but Bloque uses the instruments to establish a different vibe than they might've during the '60s. Check out the intros to "el Hedor" and "Lo Que Sucede" to feel how funky the tone is. Something completely different is the guitar of bandleader Ernesto Ocampo. His riffs frequently duel an acoustic guitar, but not in stereotypical flamenco fashion, and his solos are right out of the '80s hard rock scene, reminiscent of Living Colour's Vernon Reid. Ocampo's playing on "Lo Que Sucede," shifting from quick-picking to a ballad-style outro typifies how Bloque feels comfortable switching songs and styles mid-track.

If you want a taste of everything that Bloque offers, go to "Descarga." The opening percussion and guitar licks sound like Santana, but everyone gets a chance to shine. There's an excellent organ solo, plus spotlight moments for guitar, bass and flute. The percussion section tops it off with a bitchin' break. The short call-and-response vocal section will comfort those who think Bloque has slid too far from the Latin American music of old.

The hip-hop moments take the form of heavier bass lines and rapped vocals in "Rap del Rebusque," but these don't water down the Latin identity of the album. This stuff is definitely too out there for my parents, but will appeal to rock fans thanks to Ocampo's guitar. The attitude is similar to that of Arepa 3000, but a little more accessible.

INTERESTING FACT: Bloque is probably the only group you'll see ever in this blog that doesn't have a Wikipedia page.


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