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Nice year, indeed. From salsa to timba to Latin jazz and more, 2011 proved to be one of the most interesting and memorable in recent years. Notice, however, the scarcity of major label projects on this list. The independents are the ones in the trenches and, apparently, are fully up to the task. Superlative projects like Mambo Legends Orchestra, Santiago All Stars, Bloque 53 and Carlos Cascante indicate that what we have here is not simply an abberation, but a real live movement. Great music will be made. And bands like Bio Ritmo and Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra prove that great salsa is being made outside the box, and can speak to a whole new audience. This is major. So, get your head out of the sand and start listening. The times they are a changing. - Bruce, Descarga.com
And the winners are...

8 Y MAS Que Mas
JOSÉ ALBERTO "EL CANARIO" Original Limited Edition
ALEJANDRO Y SUS ONIX Vengo Calentico
BIO RITMO La Verdad
BLOQUE 53 Te Hace Mover Los Pies
DAVID CALZADO Y SU CHARANGA HABANERA Acabaito De Nacer
CARLOS CASCANTE Y SU TUMBAO Hablando En Serio
CONJUNTO PUERTO RICO Asi Es... invitado Especial Rafu Warner
ISSAC DELGADO Y SU GRUPO Supercubano
TOMAS EINARSSON Strengur
JERRY GONZALEZ Jerry González Y El Comando De La Clave
LUCKY 7 MAMBO Chapter 1
JOSE LUGO Poetic Justice - José Lugo Guasábara Combo
MAMBO LEGENDS ORCHESTRA Watch Out! ¡Ten Cuidao! 2-CD Set
PIBO MÁRQUEZ Te Pones A Bailar
ISMAEL MIRANDA Aferrado A Ti...
MONGORAMA Mongorama
CHOCO ORTA Choco Swing
DON PERIGNON Y LA ORQUESTA PUERTORRIQUEÑA A Otro Nivel - Homenaje Al Bailador
CONJUNTO LA PERLA DE PONCE El Conjunto Del Pueblo
RICHIE RAY & BOBBY CRUZ Para Siempre - Homenaje A Una Leyenda Joe Arroyo
FAY ROBERTS Y SU ORQUESTA CHARANGOA Lo Que Quiero Es Charangoa
BOBBY SANABRIA Tito Puente Masterworks Live!
SANTIAGO ALL STARS Joya Y Rareza CD+DVD Set
SONIDO CRIMINAL Crime Payz
MICHAEL STUART Tributo A Louie Ramirez - Amance Sigue Caliente
LISANDRO TORRES Creencias
WILLY TORRES Hardcore
LOS VAN VAN La Maquinaria
VILLARINY SALSA PROJECT En Tu Tiempo
WILLIAMSBURG SALSA ORCHESTRA Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra
FANIA ALL STARS (Best Reissue 2011) Our Latin Thing DVD Plus 2 CD Set
VARIOUS ARTISTS (Best Compilation 2011) La Salsa De Venezuela: 6-CD Box Set
Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


8 Y MAS
Que Mas
8 Y Mas / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Oomph! New York salsa is back, big time, and it's called 8 y Más! This city's best players decided to show the world some muscle, and they ain't kidding. Produced by Bobby Allende (congas), Marc Quiñones (timbal) and Arturo Ortiz (piano), who make up the core rhythm section here, this absolute gem of a release has been anticipated for some time. In fact, it has been five years since their previous release, the hugely successful sizzler Juega Billar. And while the esteemed Frankie Vazquez starred as lead singer then, this time around we have the equally amazing Eddie Rosado. Guest singers include former Conjunto Libre member Herman Olivera ("Llanto de Cocodrillo") as well as Eva Ayllón ("Saca la Mano"). While there is a smattering of original compositions here -- check the swing and groove on the Willie Torres composition "Dices Que Tu Bailas" -- the team takes on some iconic classics like Willie Colón's "Timbalero" and the Eddie Palmieri/Ismael Quintana anthem "Puerto Rico." Also with bassists Jose Tabares and Ruben Rodriguez, trombonists Pablo Santaela and Victor Baro, trumpter Maneco Ruiz. The coro section is filled out with Willie Ruiz, Johnny Rivera, Grizel Del Valle, in addition to Rosado, Ortiz, Quiñones and Allende. Now this is exciting: Salsa just doesn't get better than this, folks. Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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JOSÉ ALBERTO "EL CANARIO"
Original Limited Edition
SelectOHits/Los Canarios / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
El Canario is back with his first release since his 2004 Then and Now. Worth the wait? Damn straight. This release is the singers best yet, his voice seasoned to perfection. Listen to Ella No Está En Na' to get a sense of this superb production. And on Llegó El Sonero Canario rocks the house with none other than Gilberto Santa Rosa. Oomph! Get ready to be bedazzled. There's also a high potency duo with Raulin Rosendo in store. And that killer Mambo Mix. This is a singular gem of a release and, dare I say it? ...one of the best of 2011! A dancers dream album. Very Highly Recommended.
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ALEJANDRO Y SUS ONIX
Vengo Calentico
Colibri (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2010
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA CUBANA; CUBA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Here's a surpise find! Singer and sax player Alejandro Sanchez offers a perfect mix of strong in-the-pocket pop salsa with relentlessly hard Cuban timba. Listen to "Mi Cachumbambé," "La Super Buena," and "Como Le Gusta Lo Goza" to get a sense of the perfect range here. This is sophisticated stuff, with big arms to embrace a worldly audience. "Bajando Pa' Veracruz" and "Vengo Calentico" both make fine use of Pan Carribean styles that reference bomba and other flavors. The final track, "Fiesta Al Son" would make Adalberto Alvarez smile. It rocks.
Superb arrangements by Sanchez, who is joined by singers Mayela Fernandez, Luis A. Chávez "Wicho," Silvio Perez and Angel Alvarez. Major stuff, and a Best of 2011 contender. Very Highly Recommended
(BP)
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BIO RITMO
La Verdad
Fatbeats/Electric Cowbell / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Of all of the working salsa bands today, there are only a few who transcend the conventions established 40 some odd years ago. Bio Ritmo is one of those few post-modern orchestras that turn things a bit sideways. With arrangments that stretch and twist, creative use of electronics, a bit of swanky boogaloo, retro-cool and surreal organ riffs, a touch of dance-trance-world-funk, they mash it all up. Think Eddie Palmieri's trombone based La Perfecta, throw in a bit of James Bond, shades of Zappa's Hot Rats instrumentalism, and, although they might wink at the knowing listener, they jam like hell. They're smart, but definitely not at the expense of the music: very hip, and very danceable. There are gems here, especially the pristine "Dina's Mambo," but it's all primo stuff that should be at the top of your grab bag. Salsa modernism at its very best. DJ Alert and Very Highly Recommended
(BP)
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BLOQUE 53
Te Hace Mover Los Pies
Bloque 53 (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Bloque 53 are back with a superb vibes-based dance album that will but the swing back in your salsa. Something magical happens when salsa dura and the vibraphone engage in musical discourse. Ice melts, clouds part and the soundtrack to a groove-driven life is revealed. The instrument, when handled by someone like Marcel Pascual, makes even the most gritty of urban Latin dance music disarmingly sexy. Like the famous quote from The Godfather, Part III: Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in. And you happily go. That's because pianist-composer Andrew Cañadell and percussionist Joaquin "Joaco" Arteaga know what works. They had tremendous success with their first album, La Ruta de la Salsa, and, with Te Hace Mover Los Pies, they continue to push the envelope. Take no prisoners: move them to the dancefloor. Here's a big DJ Alert: perfect for your next party. Very Highly Recommended
(BP)
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DAVID CALZADO Y SU CHARANGA HABANERA
Acabaito De Nacer
Egrem (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; TIMBA; CUBA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
It's here: The brand spanking new Cuban timba release by the pioneering David Calzado y Su Charanga Habanera! Calzado made huge waves when he released the groundbreaking Hey You, Loca back in 1994, and he's been rocking the boat ever since. This is the band who helped to define timba as we know it -- and that's no small feat. On this incredible session, another timba superstar, Paulo F.G., is a guest singer in addition to singers Lázaro Maya, Junior Pedraza, Dantes Cardoso, Aned Mota, Heikel Valdés, Dairan Perdomo, El Príncipe, and, of course, David Calzado. Very Highly Recommended (BP)

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CARLOS CASCANTE Y SU TUMBAO
Hablando En Serio
Bettrmusik (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Just out: the new Carlos Cascante y Su Tumbao. The 13-track CD features a collection of new material written by its two founders; Julio Jauregui & Carlos Cascante...
"Hablando en Serio es el sugestivo titulo del segundo album del vocalista costarricense Carlos Cascante. Consideramos desde ya que su nueva grabacion sera una de las mejores grabadas en el 2011 a nivel mundial. La calidad interpretativa, musicos de alta factura, la seleccion de los temas tambien, desde boleros, bossa nova, rumba, salsas lentas, con mucho golpe y agresivas hacen que Carlos este hablando en serio. Su primer album Recuerdos (2005) fue todo un exito a nivel mundial. Carlos Cascante es actualmente tambien el vocalista de la afama Spanish Harlem Orchestra de Oscar Hernandez. El album 'Hablando En Serio' tiene un exito asegura en Cali, Colombia. Tragedias es una bomba que hay que arrojar en cualquier salsoteca. Pruebenlo !!!"
- DJ El Chino, Colombia

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CONJUNTO PUERTO RICO
Asi Es... invitado Especial Rafu Warner
Conjunto Puerto Rico/Del Campo Records / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; PUERTO RICO
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Killer salsa with pure swing. Director pianist and arranger Kevin Figueroa has made a finely crafted dance record that will appeal to hardcore salsa listeners as well as those who simply want to light a fire to their next party. With veteran singers Rafu Warner and Paquito Acosta, this one, folks, is a must-have. The compositions, arranged by pianist Kevin Figueroa, are packed con ganas y sabor. Edwin Padilla and Alexis Figueroa on bass. Percussionists include Orlando Rodriguez and Jose Omy Ramos. Trumpeters are Alberto Bermudez and Alexis Fontanez. Packing one of the finest coro sections I have heard in a while, Conjunto Puerto Rico is in the house, and we hope thay stay for a long, long while. Very Highly Recommended
(BP)
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ISSAC DELGADO Y SU GRUPO
Supercubano
Planet (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA CUBANA; CUBA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
The ecclectic Chévere de la Salsa is back, and, as expected, with style. After the critical acclaim of Love, his tribute to Nat King Cole, Delgado returns to his Cuban roots and reminds us of what he does best: Cuban dance music informed by both traditional roots and popular culture. This singer tapped into the fertile Cuban soil and found a rich mix of styles. Salsa, timba, urbano and even bachata are all utilized by Delgado, who is joined here by special guests La India, Manolín, Gente de Zona, El Micha and others. With superb arrangements by Alain Pérez and Isidro Infante. One of the more popular tracks, "Salsa, Timba y Amor" is worth the purchase of this album alone, but there are no weak spots on Supercubano. I can think of only a few singers who have acheived the level of artistry that Delgado has. They know that in Cuba, and it's time the rest of the world caught on. Very highly recommended. (BP)
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TOMAS EINARSSON
Strengur
Blanótt (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: LATIN JAZZ; LATIN JAZZ
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
"I present a new album for you called Strengur ...it is my music and performed by my bass, percussion and twelve different tracks of water (recorded where my forefathers lived). As it is a very personal album I thought originally that I would not send it abroad, but now I have changed my opinion. Strengur was premiered at the Reykjavik Arts Festival in May and here is a link to see a short video example.
- Best wishes, Tómas R. Einarsson Reykjavik"
Einarsson's new album is, like his previous works, is a series of finely crafted gems with deep shadows, crevices, nuance and color that elevates Latin jazz to a new level. Strengur is a reflective work, and requires patience that will not go unrewarded. I keep finding it back on my stereo system. Very highly recommended.
(BP)
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JERRY GONZALEZ
Jerry González Y El Comando De La Clave
Sunnyside (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: LATIN JAZZ; LATIN JAZZ
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Trumpet player and conguero Jerry Gonzalez has spent his whole career taking risks, and as a result, he has contributed some extremely exciting music to the Latin Jazz world... Gonzalez and his brother Andy became core figures on the New York scene, playing with Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri, and the most important figures in the burgeoning salsa scene. The brothers held legendary jam sessions in their house, and their preference for experimentation led to the formation of Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino... Along with legendary timbalero Manny Oquendo, the brothers put together Libre, one of the heaviest hitting salsa bands in the history of the music. While all these groups utilized elements of jazz, Gonzalez still longed for a pure outlet for his connection to hard bop and beyond...the formation of The Fort Apace Band. Unforgettable albums like Rumba Para Monk, Earthdance, and Moliendo Cafe further cemented their legacy... continues. Latin Jazz Corner

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LUCKY 7 MAMBO
Chapter 1
Arod / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Oomph! What a pristine and heavily swinging vibes-based based salsa, mambo and jazzy boogaloo project. This one brings to mind the best of the Joe Cuba / Jimmy Sabater / Cheo Feliciano collaborations of the '60s and '70s. A modern take on the classic sounds of the golden age of Latin dance music. Vocalistas con estilo George Luis Balmaseda, Johnny Crespo and Victor Muñiz are backed by some heavy hitters like bassist Rene Camacho (who has worked with Jack Costanzo, Bobby Matos, Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars, Susie Hansen...) pianist Joe Rotundi (Bongo Logic, Caravana Cubana, Pete Escovedo) and percussionist Angelo Rodriguez (Chino Espinoza) and others. This is the kind of project we wait for here at Descarga. Take a listen to the groove on Por Falta De Compresion ...the essence of sabor. On Chata Kun Kun Victor Muñiz gives props to dozens of iconic influences. After hearing Chapter 1 we predict that future bands will be giving their props to Lucky 7 Mambo.
So, don't just sit there... buy this gem right now! Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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JOSE LUGO
Poetic Justice - José Lugo Guasábara Combo
En Grande Music / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; PUERTO RICO
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Here is the new release from pianist/composer/arranger José M. Lugo, the man who brought us the amazing Guasábara (which was a Best of 2008 Editors Pick award winner). This is some heavily swinging salsa-jazz featuring percussionist Pablo Padín, bassist Jorge Rodríguez, trumpeter Jan Duclerc, sax player Frankie Pérez and others.
With vocals by Jose "Pepito" Gomez, Lugo, Anthony "El Super Achote" Negrón and Roberto Angleró. Coroistas are Jerry Medina, Wichy Camacho, Juan José "Juanchy" Hernández and Gino Melendez. Is another Grammy in the stars? Quite possibly. Very Highly Recommended.(BP)
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MAMBO LEGENDS ORCHESTRA
Watch Out! ¡Ten Cuidao! 2-CD Set
Zoho / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: DANCE TRADITIONS; BIG BAND MAMBO JAZZ
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
The real deal folks. Here are the new generation of mambo artisans, boldly carrying the torch lit by their mentor for over 25 years, el maestro Tito Puente.
John 'Dandy' Rodriguez, Jose Madera and Mitch Frohman have done a singularly remarkable job building on an art that refuses to be sidelined. Can you possibly imagine the vibe -- the excitement -- that went on inside the walls of the Palladium in the '50s? The battle of the bands, the insane and innovative dancing -- forerunner of hip hop, and a musical movement that touched popular culture across all ethnic and economic lines? Can you? Well, here's a new project that was made to help you understand. In addition to the above mentioned luminaries, helping to paint this picture is singer Frankie Vazquez, musicians Bobby Porcelli, Reynaldo Jorge, Lewis Kahn, John Walsh, Pete Nater, Sonny Bravo, Jerry Madera, George Delgado and a whole lot more guys who understand this music on a cellular level. Sabroso con ganas, and a ride not to be missed. (BP)

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PIBO MÁRQUEZ
Te Pones A Bailar
Pibo Marquez (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2010
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA INTERNATIONAL; VENEZUELA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Watch out, kids, Pipo Marquez and his killer crew, Descarga Criolla, have a NEW salsa project. The Venezuelan percussionist has surrounded himself with top-level musicians forming a true international alliance. Together they show how salsa should be made! Listen to the the opening track Pa' Puerto Rico to get a sense for the feel of this smokin' project. Smart arrangements, superb playing and top-notch singers are throughout this session. And for a percussive blowout like you never heard, check out La Placita -- Marquez is on fire. And the swing on Banbanquere will leave you dizzy. Pibo also reinterprets the classic Isla Del Encanto popularized by Hector Lavoe. There are special guests like Luisito Quintero, Paoli Mejia, Teo Hernandez, Fernando "Chino" Suarez, Frederick "El Coco" and Edward Rivas. This album has quickly shot up the ranks to become a Best of 2010 contender. One listen to the cover track, Te Pones a Bailar and you'll know why. Big DJ Alert: Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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ISMAEL MIRANDA
Aferrado A Ti...
IM Records / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Yes! Legendary salsero Ismael Miranda (Fania All Stars, Larry Harlow etc. etc.) is back with a massively killer salsa espiritual release. Be forewarned that the salsa here is a totally potent brew, and makes for a powerful statement by the veteran singer. So, if you are not already, be prepared to become a salsa convert ...big time. Gilberto Santa Rosa, Victor Manuelle and Ezequiel Colón, all high priests of salsa in their own right, join Miranda's team as a coro power trio. Hands down, one of the best spiritual salsa projects to date, joining the ranks of, say, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, and projects by Diego Galé in the same vein. Also with pianist Luis Marin, bassist Pedro Pérez, Sammy Garcia on congas, Charlie Sierra on timbal, and other high ranking members of the ministry of salsa. Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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MONGORAMA
Mongorama
Saungú Records / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: LATIN JAZZ; LATIN JAZZ
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Three Grammy winners are part of this recording: Hubert Laws, Poncho Sanchez and Oscar Hernandez (Spanish Harlem Orchestra). Mongorama is an all star band performing fresh arrangements of early Mongo Santamaria recorded material and original compositions inspired by the work of this legendary master jazz conguero. It's classic charanga/jazz, for dancers and jazz fans.
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CHOCO ORTA
Choco Swing
CBP / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; PUERTO RICO
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Choco Orta never ceases to amaze us: here is a killer capital "S" salsa project, produced by the esteemed Rei Peña with musical direction by the great Willie Sotelo (also on piano here). This project reaffirms Orta's position as the top Salsera-Sonera to contend with, at the very least within the US and Puerto Rico. Her team features the ultimate rhythm players in PR: conguero William "Kachitro" Thompson, timbalero Rafael "Tito" De Gracia and bassist Pedro Pérez. And the not-too-shabby coro section fills out with Jerry Rivas, Henry Santiago and Rei Peña. Just listen "Cuidate de la Lengua," or "Homenaje A Las Soneras" to get a sense of Orta's heart of fire ...a sonera truly inspired. Since Celia's death I really can't think of anyone who has really stepped up. Granted, they are big shoes to fill. Choco, we like your resumé: Go for it. Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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DON PERIGNON Y LA ORQUESTA PUERTORRIQUEÑA
A Otro Nivel - Homenaje Al Bailador 30 Aniversario, Edición Limitada
IAI Andujar / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; PUERTO RICO
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Boom, here it is! Long time readers are well aware of my respect for the work of timbalero and band-leader Don Perignon. His releases of orquesta La Puertorriqueña have consistantly raised the bar for hard salsa dura and have garnered a basket full of "Best of Year" awards not only from Descarga, but from DJs around the world. Guess what? A Otro Nivel: Homenaje al Bailador, 30 Aniversario reaffirms all of this, and justifys those previous Best-Of honors. You won't find any soft filler material on this album, and don't look for duplicate versions of any songs either (bachata version, balada version, blah blah version...). Nope. What you will find here are eight blistering salsa autentica tracks with names like Negrura, Cascara Con Afinque, La Colora and Apenao that all glow with pure salsa heat. It's the real deal, made so by singers Rico Walker, Joe González and Josue Rosado, trumpeter David "Piro" Rodriguez, conguero Antonio "Coqui" Marrero and many other certified salsa ambassadors. Guests include William "Cachiro" Thompson, Pedro Pérez, Lenny Prieto, Máximo Torres, Carlos "El Indio" Rivera and, yes, more. But much of the power, aside from the superb arrangements, comes from the rock-solid coro section filled out by Jerry Rivas, Gerardo Rivas, Luisito Carrión, and Henry Santiago. Man, they are electrified.
Don't wait: Get this one now. A Best of 2011 front-runner, for sure, and Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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CONJUNTO LA PERLA DE PONCE
El Conjunto Del Pueblo
Clap Records / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; PUERTO RICO
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Just what the doctor ordered. No-nonsense salsa dura con inteligencia, fuerza y mucho swing. Led by composer and bongocero Francisco "Chalina" Alvarado, Conjunto La Perla de Ponce was formed in 1976 in, where else?, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Chalina was a member of the original Sonora Ponceña and, in fact, played on their legendary debut album Hacheros Pa' Un Palo. He also composed the hit "Moreno Soy" ("I Am Brown"), a statement regarding Puerto Rico's racial melting pot. Chalina, composer of over 200 songs, also worked with Impacto Crea and many royal figures in salsa.
Chalia has assembled a near-perfect band that features top players like trumpeters José "Pucho" Ruiz (also musical director), Julio Loyola, Ricky Zayas and Angelo "Pacholo" Vélez, pianist Carlos "El Profesor" Sabater, conguero Alvaro Maldonado, bassists Philip Flores, Gilberto Méndez and Edwin Hernández, guest tres player Jesus "Chu" López and many others. The pitch-perfect singers, Ismael "Maelito" Febles, Angel "Angie" Gutierrez and Eric Pabón, are clearly up to the task of giving additional drive to these fiery compositions. With tracks like "Se Le Fue El Tren," "El Templequero," "Yo Propongo" and "Si El Año Que Viene," Chalina is definitely back, and has raised the bar for superb salsa bailable. Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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RICHIE RAY & BOBBY CRUZ
Para Siempre - Homenaje A Una Leyenda Joe Arroyo
Fuentes (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Yes, a NEW Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz release, and the super salsa duo here pay tribute to the great, late Joe Arroyo. Recorded in Colombia with Diego Galé and his team of top notch players including Giovany Montoya, Dante Vargas, Morist Jimenez and others. Not to be missed. Highly Recommended.

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FAY ROBERTS Y SU ORQUESTA CHARANGOA
Lo Que Quiero Es Charangoa
Charangoa / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: DANCE TRADITIONS; CHARANGA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Yum... One of the hardest-driving charanga orchestras playing today, flautist Fay Roberts and her Orquesta Charangoa have just released a smoking album that will make your toes curl. Roberts studied under the legendary Richard Egües, of Cuba's Aragón fame, and the flute master helped to initiate what might be the purest and most essential charanga organization in the US. At times a churning locomotive, at times sublime, Lo Que Quiero Es Charangoa has that rare transformative power to create a state of sensory euphoria. This, folks, is a Must Have. Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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BOBBY SANABRIA
Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! The Manhattan School Of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra Conducted By Bobby Sanabria
Jazzheads / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: LATIN JAZZ; BIG BAND LATIN JAZZ
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Coming off of the success of the Grammy nominated Kenya Revisited Live!!!, multi-Grammy nominee Bobby Sanabria returns conducting the Manhattan School Of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra with an exciting live concert tribute to maestro Tito Puente featuring incredible live re-workings of "El Rey"'s greatest large scale Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz masterworks. Bobby not only conducts but also performs on vibes, drums, and timbales on several cuts. from in your face straight ahead big band swing to jazz with a mambo beat. It's Puente's music like you've never heard it before, reinterpreted with new twists and turns by Sanabria and his young fire breathing dragons in all of its majesty.

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SANTIAGO ALL STARS
Joya Y Rareza CD+DVD Set
Jorge Hasbun Hasbun Producciones (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; CHILE
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
You want swing? We have it for you. But first, think of the best salsa you've heard lately. Where was it from... New York? Colombia? Cuba? Venezuela? Now let me suggest you take a good, hard, listen to the Santiago All Stars from Chile led by percussionist Jorge "Turco" Hasbun. Their just-released Joya y Rareza is, without doubt, one of the best salsa autentica releases I have come across lately, and it quickly shot to the top of our short list for Best of 2011. The album is a salsa dancers dream record, packed with rich, spot-on grooves and filled to its core with savory trombone honey with the help of José Antonio Pino, Raúl Silvestre Olivares, Héctor “Parquímetro” Briceño and Jaime Fredes Serrano. The arrangements make reference to old school classic salsa, and the liners credit influences like Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, and Larry Harlow. But it's a modern record, and the tracks are brought to their full, sparkling, potential by singer Fabian Rosales and guests. Very special guests. How's about the great Jimmy Sabater an a supremely smokin' Bochinchosa - a track that also features the esteemed pianist Ricky Gonzalez!?! How's about the great Frankie Vazquez on an equally fiery Oye La Noticia? There's also a terrific Si Me Vas A Abandonar composed, and sung, by Buddy Richard. Baño De Mar a Media Noche, sung by Cecilia Pantonja, is yet another gem and one of my favorites. Listen, also, to Jorge Hasbun's percussive sabor on tracks like Sabroso Guaguancó. Lovely. And man, that Forma La Rumba Sonero (Fabian Rosales/Jonathan Rosales) morphs into an iconic combustible descarga that is more than worth the price of this album alone. Yes, it's that good. But wait, there's more. Hasbun ends the album with yet another descarga jam, aptly named Descarga Santiago. This jam, with its hooks that conjure the magic of Cachao, Fania and Tico-Alegre All Stars, is pure icing on a devils food cake spiked with rum. Sweet, savory, and intoxicating. That's how I like it. By they way, the project was mastered by the legendary engineer (Fania) Jon Fausty! Don't sit there, press that button. This is one special record, and ...Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


SONIDO CRIMINAL
Crime Payz
Sonido Criminal Productions / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Pow! 2011 starts off right, packing a one-two power-punch. Here is sizzling hard core salsa dura featuring young singer Carlos Mojica, who attributes his influences to old school Fania era singers like Ismael Rivera, Hector Lavoe, Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez, Tito Allen, Ray De La Paz, Ismael Quintana, Chamaco Ramirez and Justo Betancourt. Mojica has seen some serious action, sharing the stage with Ismael Miranda, Brenda K Starr, Luisito Carrion, Hector Tricoche, Lalo Rodriguez, Tito Puente Jr. and Johnny Polanco Y Su Conjunto Amistad. Referencing the classic Lavoe-Colón "Crime Pays" album is sure to generate some skepticism. But a single listen to this bold debut will remove all doubts. Check out Rumba En El Cielo - just one example of the dancefloor burners here, and you will see just why Crime Payz. A big DJ Alert. Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


MICHAEL STUART
Tributo A Louie Ramirez - Amance Sigue Caliente
RLM (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
For you young whippersnappers too young to know the legend that was Louie Ramirez, well, listen and learn. Ramirez was known as El Genio de la Salsa (The Genius of Salsa). Vibraphonist and timbale player supreme, he played with Joe Loco, Joe Cuba, Sabu, and, as a composer, was a major contributor to Johnny Pacheco's first charanga album. He arranged and produced tons of stuff for Fania, Vaya, Tico, and Al Santiago's Alegre label, and was integral to the legendary Alegre All Stars. Later in the '80s Louie teamed up with Ray de La Paz and together they created some of the best salsa of that decade. Louie died of a heart attack in 1993 at the age of 55. A huge loss for Latin dance music.
So, it pleases me that the popular salsero Michael Stuart is giving props to Louie in this way. He is joined by pianists William "Willie" Melo, Alberto Cespo and Jesus "Menudo" Moreno, percussionists Luis "Luisito" Quintero and Yomar "Caballo" Méndez. With Alfredo Naranjo on vibes, violinist extraordinaire Alfredo De La Fé, bassist Hector "Maximo" Rodriguez, trumpeter Raul Agráz and more. Stuart chose some of Ramirez' iconic numbers like Mi Fruto, Lluvia, Mentirosa and, of course, Timbalero. All killer stuff. Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


LISANDRO TORRES
Creencias
Salsaneo / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; VENEZUELA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Nothing but hardcore salsa. The orchestration is of 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and a Baritone sax; with the vocals handled by Efren Avellaneda (ex-Bailatino), Eloy Rios, Gustavo Gerardo EL Pirata (Orquesta Sabadonga), Alexis Martinez (Dimension Latina) and guest appearance by VAN LESTER who sings on the track Puro Sentimiento. This is hard trombone-based salsa just how we like it. Torres open with a statement in the highly swinging "Mi Orquesta y Yo" and he keeps the forward-moving powerhouse orchestra working at 100% capacity. Also check out "Nacio Un Sonero" ...something often claimed but here rings true. And "Mis Amigos y Yo" is destined to be a club favorite. Truly zero filler here... a seriously admirable project packed with seriously enjoyable music made for the dancers. Produced by Francisco Requena, Steve Guasch & Lisandro Torres. Very Highly Recommended!
(BP)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


WILLY TORRES
Hardcore
Latin Street Music / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Sizzling new salsa release by singer-percussionist Willy Torres. The 8 time Grammy nominated and 3 time Grammy winning vocalist delivers his 2nd solo album! "Wonderful music, outstanding performances and great vocals..." -Jose Madera, Musical Director of Mambo Legends Orchestra
Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


LOS VAN VAN
La Maquinaria
Egrem (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; TIMBA; CUBA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Here is the NEW Los Van Van direct from Cuba! Highly Recommended.
La más reciente producción discográfica de Van Van, que continúa las líneas fundamentales del tratamiento del bailable que impone siempre esta agrupación, ya con casi 42 años de fundada y líder indiscutible dentro de las orquestas de su tipo en Cuba. Plagado de sones y songos, este album plantea autorías diversas, compartidas entre Juan Formell, Juan Carlos Formell, Mayito Rivera, Roberto Carlos, Samuel Formell, “El Lele”, entre otros integrantes de la orquesta. Temas diversos contienen los textos; unos más cerca de lo jocoso de la idiosincrasia del cubano, otro de compromiso con el público y como novedad se incluyen dos “remakes” de temas super conocidos y muy exitosos de Van Van en décadas pasadas: Recíbeme y Eso que anda; ahora en nuevas versiones pero con igual arraigo, que mantienen elementos que lo acercan a los originales. Los temas son repartidos entre todos sus cantantes, como se defienden en cada disco y así se colocan en la lista de éxito de las emisoras nacionales e internacionales. El diseño luce la obra pictórica del destacado artista de la plástica Cubana “Kcho”, realizada especialmente para este disco... continues (label)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


VILLARINY SALSA PROJECT
En Tu Tiempo
Villariny Salsa Project / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA; PUERTO RICO
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Puerto Rico shows us how it's done on this sparkling new release by singer, percussionist and trumpeter Oscar Villariny and veteran producer/arranger Tommy Villariny. Tommy has either arranged or trumpeted for the likes of Bobby Valentin, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Ismael Miranda, Cano Estremera and ...well, you get the picture. And Oscar was bongocero for Puerto Rican Power and N'Klabe. Together, there is a lot of salsa know-how here. Some of these tracks, "A Punto De Caramelo," "Estoy Enamorao" and "Quien Bien Me Va" for example are sure-fire danceclub top picks.The final track, "Amigo Es Un Peso En El Bosillo" is the perfect uptempo dance track ending for a debut release that, as a whole, comes as close to salsa perfection as one can get. With additional vocals by Victor Gabriel Rosario, percussion by Jose Santiago, Pedro Morales, Victor Rivera "Quiroga" and Braulio Ayala. Coro includes Max Rosado, Josue Rosado and others. This one is a must-have for the salsa collector. A Big DJ Alert and Very Highly Recommended.
(BP)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award / Best Reissue


WILLIAMSBURG SALSA ORCHESTRA
Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra
Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra / CD
Originally released: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
The Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra is an 11-piece group playing big Latin arrangements of indie tunes that we love. With an ever-evolving set list that includes songs by Arcade Fire, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Yeas, LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective, TV On The Radio, Peter Bjorn and John, Japanther, and many more, the WSO will make a salsa-believer out of you! And if you love salsa, but you’ve never delved into the ultra-creative world of independent music, you’ll want to explore these groups and learn where the great melodies and lyrics originate. Led by percussionist/arranger Gianni Mano, (from the Brooklyn Latin-funk legends Radio Mundial), the WSO contains some of the best young players on the scene including a full compliment of horns and percussion. With the attitude of a rock band, and the grooves of classic New York salsa, the Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra is introducing salsa to a new audience and resetting the boundaries of the art form.
Highly Recommended.

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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award


FANIA ALL STARS
(3 Disks) Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa) 40th Anniversary Limited Edition DVD Plus Live At The Cheetah Vols 1 & 2 (with bonus tracks) DVD Plus 2 CD Set
Fania Codigo / CD
Originally released: 1971
Reissued: 2011
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA: CLASSIC 1960s or 1970s NEW YORK
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
Essential classic New York salsa. This terrific 40th Anniversary package includes the albums "Live at the Cheetah" volumes one *and* two (with extra bonus tracks!), as well as the complete movie "Our Latin Thing" on DVD.This is pretty much the start of the world salsa explosion. In the 70s, the Cheetah Club was home to some of the now legends of salsa. This recording captures the feel of these live shows where almost anything could have happened. Turn the lights down a bit, pop this on and you could easily imagine a very crowded smoke-filled room with wide lapels, platform shoes, and dynamic performances. Guest Stars: Bobby Cruz, Jose Feliciano, Ricardo Ray. Masters of Ceremonies: Symphony Sid & Dizzy Izzy Sanabria.
Originally released as a musical documentary filmed in part at the now defunct Cheetah club here in New York, as well as around El Barrio, the performance aspect is by now legendary (the CDs "Live at The Cheetah" Volumes 1 & 2 have been available separately for some time). The highlight is the performance of the song "Quitate Tu" where all of the singers take turns to out-do each other. This song should be instated in the Salsa Hall of Fame, as should Cheo Feliciano's version of "Anacaona" which should be bronzed and put on a mantel. Very Highly Recommended. (BP)
"These recordings (Live at the Cheetah 1&2) are very important to the history of Latin music, in addition to the film Our Latin Thing and the soundtrack album to the film. This was a night of magic that just happened and I am proud to have been a part of it."
(Larry Harlow, 96/97 Catalog)
"For flashing back to the late 60s/early 70s New York Latin sound. Lots of excitement and great inspiraciones on this live recording. These tunes are like anthems from that era."
(Nina Lenart, 94/95 Catalog)
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Descarga.com's Best of 2011 Award / Best Compilation


VARIOUS ARTISTS
La Salsa De Venezuela: 6-CD Box Set
Velvet (original import) / CD
Originally released: 2010
Category: SALSA/SON; SALSA INTERNATIONAL; VENEZUELA
Editor's Pick: Best of 2011 Award Winner
A simply tremendous goldmine of hardcore Salsa Venezuela, with 6 CDs and 95 tracks by an amazing representation of bands like Porfi Jimenez y Su Orquesta, Los Dementes, Sexteto Juventud, Los Junior Star, Los Kenyas, Federico y Su Combo, La Dimension Latina, Pueblo Latino, Rumbón 10, Nuestra Orquesta La Salsa Mayor, Naty y Su Charanga, Calaven, Orquesta Anabacoa, Orquesta La Amistad, La Orquesta Los Romero, Noche Caliente. Silva y Guerra, Hildemaro, Erick Franchesky, Dayana, Frank Lemus, Pedro Santana, La Década, William Puchi, Orquesta Fortaleza, Pedro Santana and more. A salsa collector's dream package. Limited quantities. Jump on it.
(BP)
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