Since around the mid 90s, the influx of fresh Latin American talent in Canada has grown exponentially. Cuban-Canadian singer-songwriter Adonis Puentes is one of those artists. He settled in Victoria, British Columbia in 1998. Born in the city of Artemisa, Adonis and his fraternal twin brother Alexis grew up within a musical family, being their father a well-respected musician and educator. Naturally, they developed their musical talent from a very early age.
Back in 2001, Adonis and Alexis released an award-winning album entitled Morumba Cubana. Some of their collaborators on that project: León Torres Quintero, Pancho Quinto, Horacio “El Negro” Hernández, Hilario Durán, Jane Bunnett, Javier Zalba. Since then, the Puentes brothers have come a long way, now leading their own solo careers.
Right after his participation as lead singer on José Rizo’s ensemble Mongorama, Adonis did get to work on his own project. He carefully crafted Sabor a Café, putting together an amazing team of collaborators.
Sabor a Café – The Production
Sabor a Café was produced by Alberto López, along with Adonis. Born in Colombia and settled in Los Angeles, López is a graduate of the New England Conservatory (Boston) and the Juilliard School (New York). He’s an active performer and educator who has played, recorded, composed and/or produced with many laureate artists coming from a diversity of musical genres.
Arrangements – Who’s in charge?
- Oscar Hernández: pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader with Spanish Harlem Orchestra.
- Joaquin Betancourt: violinist, composer, arranger, musical director and orchestrator who has worked with many Cuban and international singers.
- Francisco Torres: trombonist, composer, arranger and clinician who hails from Mexico, based in Los Angeles. He is equally at home with jazz, classical, latin, funk, reggae, ska, and studio work. He is better known as the trombonist and musical director for the Grammy-Award winning Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band.
- Jeff Goodkind: pianist extraordinaire, arranger, composer. He is not only one of the most sought after Latin pianists on the west coast, but is also an accomplished Jazz and Classical pianist.
- Justo Almario: saxophonist, clarinetist, flautist, clinician, composer, contributes one arrangement together with Oscar Hernández.
The Band Members
The core of the ensemble is formed by Adonis Puentes on lead and background vocals, bongó and clave; Larry Vásquez on bass; Ramón Stagnaro on guitar and tres; Justo Almario on saxophone and clarinet; Miguel Valdés on Trumpets; Denis Jirón on trombones; Fausto Cuevas on congas, timbales, cowbell and maracas; Oscar Hernández on piano; Jeff Goodkind on piano and Rhodes; Alberto López on guiro, guacharaca and background percussion; James Zavaleta, Alfredo Ortíz, Caro Pierotto on background vocals.
- The opening track, “Sabor a Café,” sets the tone for the recording. Arranged by Oscar Hernández, this is a hard salsa number with driving bass lines and blaring horns, in the best New York style tradition.
- “En Cada Jornada,” arranged by Joaquin Betancourt, is a hymn to love. “Que Viva El Amor!” An infectious track that embodies the spirit of this recording. A delight for the dancer, slowly builds up to a musical climax that makes it impossible to stay still.
- “Que Vacilón,” a tremendous charanga/jazz inflected arrangement by Francisco Torres.
- “Antojos del Firmamento,” arranged and performed by the legendary Septeto Nacional de Cuba Ignacio Piñeiro. A classic song that pays tribute to those Maestros of Cuban Son.
- “Tumbando Mangos,” arranged by Alberto López is an uplifting track. An inebriating concoction of Afro-Colombian and Afro-Dominican rhythms with a distinctive Caribbean flavor.
- “Se Desata,” arranged by Joaquin Betancourt is a soulful and jazzy ballad that features Adonis’ fraternal twin brother Alexis (better known as Alex Cuba).
- “Mi Negra Santa (La Compasión),” a beautiful song con aires de bolero arranged by Jeff Goodkind and Adonis himself featuring arousing clarinet work by Maestro Justo Almario.
- “Dará la Vuelta,” arranged by Oscar Hernández in collaboration with Justo Almario.
- “Mi Dulce Cariñito,” another wonderful arrangement by Oscar Hernández. A mix of Cuban salsa with a New York tinge that segues into modern boogaloo.
- “La Inspiración,” a very modern, danceable number arranged by Francisco Torres.
- “Llegar a Quererte,” tastefully arranged by Joaquin Betancourt. I can hear influences of Rubén Blades, smoothly transitioning into a Latin jazz tune displaying great piano improvisation by Jeff Goodkind.
- “Ura,” the closing track is a lyrical composition with elements of filin’ and Nueva Trova. Written by Adonis and Jeff Goodkind, and arranged by Jeff.
Sabor a Café strikes a chord with jazz/latin jazz lovers, and primarily of course with dancers who have a taste for salsa con clase. It is an album you like from the very first listen, but it keeps growing on you. The more you listen to it, the more enjoyable becomes. It was created with a winning formula: original compositions richly imbued with tradition; superb arrangements with an international flavor; a world class band that delivers with great precision; witty, intelligent lyrics inspired by everyday life and by the greatest power of all: Love.
The recent wave of music being created by Cuban artists living abroad, while being enriched by varied influences, remains deeply immersed in the Cuban tradition. Adonis is a gifted vocalist and songwriter, a true sonero with clear intonation and powerful projection. I believe this recording is an award-winning project. Watch out! Adonis Puentes’ time has come.
Tracks: 1. Sabor a Café; 2. En Cada Jornada; 3. Que Vacilón; 4. Antojos del Firmamento, featuring Septeto Nacional de Cuba Ignacio Piñeiro; 5. Tumbando Mangos; 6. Se Desata, featuring Alex Cuba; 7. Mi Negra Santa (La Compasión); 8. Dará la Vuelta; 9. Mi Dulce Cariñito; 10. La Inspiración; 11. Llegar a Quererte; 12. Ura.
*All songs written by Adonis Puentes, except “Ura,” written by Adonis and Jeff Goodkind.
Personnel: Adonis Puentes, lead and background vocals, bongó and clave; Larry Vásquez, bass (except on track 4); Ramón Stagnaro, guitar and tres (except on track 4); Justo Almario, saxophone (except on tracks 4, 9) and clarinet on track 7; Miguel Valdés, trumpet (except on track 4); Denis Jirón, trombone; Fausto Cuevas, congas, timbales, cowbell and maracas (except on tracks 4, 12); Oscar Hernández, piano on tracks 1, 9; Jeff Goodkind, piano (except on tracks 1, 9), Rhodes on track 5; Alberto López, guiro, guacharaca, background percussion on tracks 1, 2, 5, 8, 11; Craig Handy, flute on track 3, 9; Eduardo Martínez, guira and guacho on track 5, ; James Zavaleta, Alfredo Ortíz, Caro Pierotto, background vocals.
Personnel on track 4, “Antojos del Firmamento” featuring Septeto Nacional de Cuba Ignacio Piñeiro: Adonis Puentes, lead vocals; Raúl Acea Rivera, bass; Dagoberto Sacerio Oliva, guitar; Enrique Collazo Collazo, tres; Agustin Somelian Garcia, trumpet; Eugenio Rodriguez Rodriguez “Raspa,” clave and maracas; Francisco David Oropeza Fernández, bongo and bell; Eugenio Rodriguez Rodriguez “Raspa” and Dagoberto Sacerio Oliva, background vocals.