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Nottingham Castle

Live: Salerosa

11 September 08 words: Ian Kingsbury
Sultry, always expressive vocals swooped and soared equally brilliantly over Latin Jazz, Afro-Cuban Salsa, Blues and Pop

 Salerosa - photo by Dom Henry (c)

If you should find yourself at a gig and the band play numbers by John Coltrane and Beyonce Knowles, then it’s fairly certain you’re watching, hearing and enjoying Salerosa, an Afro-Cuban Latin Jazz 6 piece, currently touring their debut album The Cuban Fusion Project

At the risk of feeding a big fat slice of inaccuracy pie to anyone reading this in ‘the future’, Salerosa are one of two outfits on the Huddersfield-based independent label Jellymould Jazz. A somewhat paltry rostrum of artistes, as John Shuttleworth might say, but their website alludes to the imminent addition of more. Jellymould Jazz is run by musicians (absent tonight due to their own gigging commitments) and is funded by the Arts Council England with some additional mutual help from Opera North, which means that the label is able to fully support its artists in rehearsing, recording, promoting and touring their albums. 

Chris Sykes of Salerosa - photo by Dom Henry (c)

Salerosa is led by drummer Chris Sykes, although such a narrow definition does him a disservice – not only is he a talented arranger, but also an impressive percussionist. Sans singer, the boys launched into Typico, a jam with a Cuban vamp and rotating solo duties. Andrzej Baranek tickled the piano, Richard Hammond stroked the double bass, Pete Williams caressed the congas and Howard Jacobs…groped his bongos. Seriously, the standard of musicianship was incredibly high, but especially impressive on the part of Howard, who seemed to play every piece of percussion imaginable, plus alto sax and bass clarinet. Setting the tone early on, Chris kept us entertained with his wry humour all night: “that tune is on our new album. If you like it, buy it, if you don’t like it…buy it for someone you don’t like”. 

Howard Jacobs of Salerosa - pic by Dom Henry (c)

I have it on unimpeachable authority (some Brazilian woman spewed up by google) that ‘salerosa’ is an expression meaning ‘graceful/spicy’, and I can find no fitter word to describe vocalist Sulene Fleming, whose powerful, sometimes sultry, always expressive vocals swooped and soared equally brilliantly over Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban, Salsa, Blues and Pop. While the record company blurb refers to her “stage presence”, I’ll jettison such coy euphemism – she is one sassy, vivacious, sexy performer. 

Sulene Fleming - photo by Dom Henry (c)

The atmosphere was a little tentative at first – we were more respectful jazz audience than rambunctious party crowd – but the funky stew of percussive polyrhythms soon had me main-lining on a surge of pure Latin American musical morphine, and I noticed much toe-tapping and head-bobbing around me, so I think everyone else enjoyed it too. 

Salerosa’s debut album must be a diverse listen, if their set was any indication: Jazz standards such as John Coltrane’s Naima (with beautifully sung Santana lyrics) went back-to-back with the jazz fusion of Used To Be A Cha Cha by Jaco Pastorius, the (old) R&B voodoo of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You and the (new) R&B of Beyonce’s Déjà vu. I particularly enjoyed Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Stone Flower, a rollicking slice of Latin jazz with lyrical piano from Andrzej, as well as a hauntingly doleful Spiritual, Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, which began as a funereal Blues, only to metamorphose into a driving percussion-laden Afro-Cuban workout. 

One last thing, apropos of nothing - during a chucklesomely convoluted, meandering introduction to one of their own compositions, Rose of Pelagrosa, Chris adumbrated the plot of a film about a girl who eats rose petals, and takes a shower but lets off so much heat that all the water evaporates and she is obscured by steam and…I can’t remember the rest, but it sounded ludicrous and is called ‘White Chocolate’, so check it out. But not before buying Salerosa’s album, ‘The Cuban Fusion Project’, a cornucopia of genres and styles, brimming with energy, ideas and brilliant ensemble playing.

Salerosa played at the Bonington Theatre in Arnold on 4 September 2008.

 Jellymould Jazz website


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