The music of bassist, composer, and bandleader Alex Torres has always been anchored in the rhythms of the Caribbean, and in particular, the instrument of the claves. His Reyes Latinos (Latin Kings) are a solid attraction on the festival circuit and his exploration of the musics of these native cultures and their diasporas is relentless. While Torres comes out of the tradition and feeds it with his knowledge and relentless searching for new rhythms and harmonies, his notion is also to explore ways of granting the tradition space as a popular music rather than as a relic. Over two discs, Elementos
does just that. Disc one is a series of merengue tunes reflecting something deeper than the dance; the tunes look toward merengue as modern instructional music, as shamanic music for the modern world. With a band that ranges from 15 to 19 musicians, Torres understands the intricacies and limitless nature of musical texture and dynamic. Whether it's the saucy merengue meets rhumba of "Sirenita," the burning, fire-driven horns on "Fuego de Pasion," or the charging rhythmic innovation on "La Gran Juma," los Reyes Latinos attack the same way -- with humor and force. On the salsa disc, improvisation and tight charts by Kevin Hendrick
provide the band with the necessary framework to create large-scale rambling dance tunes that are as much about instrumental prowess as they are about rhythm and its proliferation. Check "Black Mamba" or "Fiesta de Cueros" for examples. Perhaps the most delightful tune on disc two is a glorious tribute to Tito Puente
on "Descarga en Sol Para Tito Puente," where a knotty, stop-on-a dime front line meets the rhythm collision of Cuban son and rhumba fury head on for a virtual orgy of sonic motion. Ultimately, Elementos
is the most forward-thinking statement yet from Alex Torres y los Reyes Latinos.