Grupo Esperanza

Music seen, Saturday, February 3, 2007, at Bubba's Silky Lounge
By IAN PAIGE  |  February 7, 2007

It’s a bad idea to wear long underwear to the hormone tornado that is a Grupo Esperanza performance. Entering Bubba’s Sulky Lounge on Saturday felt like teleporting to another part of the world (probably in the summery southern hemisphere) not just because of the light-up disco dance floor or the bicycles hanging from the ceiling, but also because, after a few seconds of experiencing the heat emanating from the alternative energy source on the dance floor, the jacket, the hat, the scarf, the gloves all had to go.

Esperanza are another world, a gushing sonic black gold out from the pipeline of musical culture. But their intensely danceable music doesn’t feel imported or exotic. It is of this place because the musicians are in this city and the people smiling, flirting, and dancing to their music are Portland, Maine, through and through. Community music isn’t “over there,” it’s in between the performers, the listeners, and the dancers, filling in all the cracks between participants.

Their secret weapon is in the rhythm section. Timbales and hand drum weave through syncopations around a bouncing upright bass-line. That’s all you’d need to be moving your feet, but the band take it further with the secret-weapon horn section. Two saxes and a trombone effortlessly switch off, bright hooks pushing the groove to evolve. Then there’s the secret weapon of the piano player, confidently taking the lead at times with a vocally expressive touch on the keys. Maybe that’s too many secret weapons. Actually none of them are really secret or violent. How about calling it an open-source ensemble instead? This group plays together. No one hogs the spotlight. Instead, individual players put down their instruments for a moment, listen to the whole, and clap their hands or pick up the claves. That kind of togetherness is something you can dance to.

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