Johnny Bravo Latin Percussion Ensemble Resume

      It's always a joy to hear a band with something new and interesting to say. Indeed, I'm talking about the Johnny Bravo Latin Percussion Ensemble. Of course, we're all aware of the many excellent bands featuring Latin percussion in one form or another, but this one is very different. Recently, I listened to a test pressing of their first CD, ‘Johnny Bravo Latin Percussion Ensemble – 2009', a collection of twelve tracks steeped in Blues, Funk, and Rock and all powered by a classic Afro-Latin groove. Immediately we observe this sort of thing has been tried before in all sorts of contexts and perhaps with varying degrees of success. One might argue Carlos Santana, Tower of Power, Malo, and a host of others have trod this path, and even James Brown used Conga in various incarnations of his band. On occasion, I've also heard Pancho Sanchez dip his powerful fingers into this pot. However, if one listens closely, particularly where Blues and Latin influences are mixed, one is always seen to dominate. That is to say, the music is fundamentally ‘this', and flavored by ‘that'. This is where Johnny's band is unique; they've found a way to fuse Blues and Latin in a manner where neither dominates and yet the whole remains greater than a sum of the parts. This is musical ‘fusion' in the best sense of the word.

The problem is actually of a mathematical nature; traditional clave' found at the root of all Afro-Latin music, and Blues ‘shuffle' just don't fit together all that easily. Further, the aesthetics in terms of tempo and rhythmic phrasing can be wildly divergent. As an aside, physical manifestation of these basic differences can easily be observed in the way musicians move onstage, and of course the way dancers move their hips. Afro-Latin involves lots of side-to-side movement while Blues is all about pelvic thrust on the off-beats. So, what's the JBLPE secret sauce? As with just about everything else in the musical universe, it all comes down an essential feedback-loop whereby musicians listen closely to each other and then respond with creativity and aesthetic sensibility fully engaged. It goes without saying not everyone can do it and those that can will always do it differently than any other.

The JBLPE musical unit centers on two individuals - Johnny ‘Bravo' Acevedo (leader) on Congas, Bongos, and Timbales, and Bobby Brewer (arranger) on Guitar and Vocals. Simply put, Johnny Acevedo is a superb percussionist that has learned to play slowly with rhythmic precision and unwavering taste; Bobby Brewer is a true Bluesman, technically facile and steeped in Albert Collins, Albert King, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. On track after track these gentlemen lead the way. With subtle adjustment to clave' accent on one hand and Blues-phrasing on the other, something new emerges. The CD covers tracks by James Brown, Rufus Thomas, Ray Charles, The Classics IV, Junior Walker, Dyke and the Blazers, Traffic, Eddie Floyd, The Neville Brothers, Luther Allison, and Albert King. For anyone familiar with these artists, it's an obvious statement of purpose. Everything they do on this CD is good but for my money there are some standouts.

In particular, I loved the JBLPE rendition of the James Brown classic ‘Cold Sweat'. The arrangement never abandons the Funk groove; Robin Church's Latin-esque horn-work amps the feeling in a most wonderful way (J.B. would have loved this), and B. Brewer's guitar work puts some serious ‘stank' on everything, (and that's good). I also enjoyed the Blues ‘Cause of it All'; this track has a decidedly Santana-flavored sound and features some juicy Harp-playing by Mike Easton and a very interesting Electric Cello chorus by Laurie Reese. Bobby Fry also does an excellent job on Bass. He doesn't use ‘thump-and-pop' here. Rather, he skillfully ‘lays in cut', using standard fingering technique that allows him to fully support the melodic line. The ‘Oakland Strut' sound of ‘Conga Square' had me dancing in my living room, pumpin' my hips, (don't worry; my children are used to their strange father). Tom Reese does a fantastic job on Flute with counterpoint from Ken McCoy on Saxophones. J. Bravo sets the pace with amazing Timbale work that just doesn't quit. The ‘Spooky' cover was pure delight. J. Bravo's musically subtle Timbale and Bongo work perfectly supports T. Reese's liquid melodic expression on Flute. The entire band gets in on the action on “Walkin' the Dog'; J. Bravo sets it off with a torrid Rumba beat and everyone just surfs that joyful wave. Speaking of Conga-plus-Guitar, J. Bravo and B. Brewer show just how it's done on ‘Funky Broadway'; this is a Funk/Latin fusion that's completely on target with a Montuno rhythm that drives a perfect Funk scratch-riff on Guitar. Overall, I have to compliment J. Bravo's vision, B. Brewer's arranging, and the superb musicianship exhibited by all players. This is a job well done.

I'm encouraging everyone to check out this band. They're fun and sophisticated, and they'll make yo

Updated:  November 30, 2009

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