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[whitespace] Los Hombres Calientes Some Play It Hot: Los Hombres Calientes favor sizzling rhythms.

Los Hombres Calientes cook up rhythm and spice and everything nice

By Nicky Baxter

They call themselves Los Hombres Calientes. The literal translation means "The Hot Men." The music is even hotter. An alluring blend of polyrhythms, chiefly originating in Africa and Latin America, and smoldering stateside improvisational forms--specifically modern post-bebop and hipster cool--Los Hombres' sound straddles the past, present and future. This is accomplished without calculation, without pretense.

The group came together two years ago when 20-year-old trumpet ace Irvin Mayfield and hot-shot percussionist Bill Summers hit upon the idea of forming a Latin jazz unit whose base would be New Orleans, a city with its own unique approach to rhythm and improvisation. The musical formula would, on the surface, be straightforward: use jazz's complex, open-ended form to explore the dense, multitextured pulse emanating from the African diaspora. To pull this off, Mayfield and Summers have recruited prodigiously gifted young drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist David Pulphus, whose impressive résumé includes holding down the groove in neo-bopper Terence Blanchard's highly praised ensemble. Pianist Victor Atkins and singer/percussionist Yvette Summers round out the group.

A well-received debut at a Crescent City nightspot solidified Los Hombres' standing as a formidable sextet; Los Hombres Calientes (Basin Street Records) formalizes the group's standing. Co-produced by Summers and Mayfield, the disc is a cogent distillation of Los Hombres' modus operandi.

The collection showcases several outstanding original tracks. "El Barrio" kicks off with an ad-libbed spoken-word introduction by special guest Phillip Manuel. Behind him, Summers shakes out an indolent rhythmic pulse on shakere, while Cyril Neville--who also handles lead vocals--pops away on bongos. The chanted background vocals recall Donny Hathaway's "The Ghetto," an impression reinforced by Atkins' splashy comping on piano. Mayfield's contribution is succinct, muted, more decorative than declarative.

"Rhumba Para Jason" offers some of Los Hombres' most evocative playing: "jungle music" sans the Sambo caricatures of less original minds. Mayfield's growling muted trumpet harks back to Bubber Miley's work with Duke Ellington's classic '30s orchestras. Here David Pulphus' deeply resonant bass sketches out the rhumba's framework, dancing elegantly along its borders. Things get hectic on the tune's outro, led by Summers' charged percussive sizzle. The fireworks continue on "Pulphus Final Frontier" with its reverent nod to mid-period John Coltrane; check out Atkins' darkly thundering McCoy Tyner-like piano and Mayfield's winding arabesques.

By album's end, Los Hombres Calientes have traversed the length and width of Africanized Latin America; indeed, on "Ye Ye O," the group takes the music back home to the heart of the Motherland. When all is said and done, this ensemble reminds listeners of the primacy of the African pulse, a rich groove they locate and circumnavigate with the intrepid spirit of true sonic explorers. Make no mistake: these hombres are indeed muy calientes.

Los Hombres Calientes play on Thursday at Fuel, 44 Almaden Ave., San Jose; 9pm; $12/$10; 408.295.7374; and also on Saturday at the Ford Motor Company Latin Jazz and Salsa Stage at the San Jose Jazz Festival, downtown San Jose; 6pm; free; 888.SAN.JOSE.

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From the August 12-18, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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