By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Twenty-three-year-old bandleader and guitarist Robert Gomez didn't grow up watching I Love Lucy reruns. But he insists, "I dug the show and still do. I consider Arnaz a role model as much for his style as for his music. He was an entertainer, one of the smoothest guys around. He was in the public eye, and he kept to his roots. And then there was Perez Prado, who had a lot of commercial success with mambo. They produced an old-school sound with the horns, more of a human sound, that really attracted my ear."
The fresh results of those attractions are Rob G and the Latin Pimps, formed in 1997 while Corpus Christi native Gomez and his pals--some of whom have come from Colombia and Venezuela--were messing around in the music program at the University of North Texas. The local press has only begun wetting itself with ecstatic raves about these nine hipsters who specialize in Cuban sounds. Broadly speaking, they are part of an increasingly familiar (and, in some cases, grating) retro trend that includes everybody from BR5-49 to the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. But in the case of the Latin Pimps, the recipe is starting to overshadow the final concoction: handsome young men--in spiffy attire that's only slightly period--who wear their rhythmic chops self-effacingly. They don't try to show off so much as ingratiate you with their effortless stage presence.
One listen to El Borracho, the Latin Pimps' brand-new debut, bears out Gomez's assertion that his orchestra is more about a reaction to trend than a surrender to it. "The salsa coming out of New York these days is so overproduced. I don't want to be produced like that," he insists. "There comes a point when contemporary music gets to be too much, and you're forced to go back to the traditions." To that end, Rob G and the Latin Pimps seem to be seducing more and more listeners (not to mention dancers) as they play to packed houses once or twice a month at the Groovy Mule in Denton (those interested in the latest gigs can check out their Web site at latinpimps.com).
El Borracho is full of supple, swinging original compositions (or, rather, unbounded combinations of traditional Afro-Cuban styles) that can make a white person feel, well, utterly devoid of flash and culture. Rob G and the Latin Pimps lean hard on the jazz influences they got while studying at UNT; listen to the tumbling, slightly awry plunks of Carlos Cuevas' piano near the opening of "Club Fantasia," followed by Gomez's nimble, pinpoint guitar notes fluttering all over the percussion, and you know these guys have spent as much time listening to Miles' albums as they have Tito's. Then, it's a lot safer for a listener unfamiliar with Cuban styles to cling to the jazz touches. When speaking to someone who's completely clueless as to the difference between danzon and son, Gomez is game to get a little technical about music that has all the blood drained out of it when you approach it that way. "All Cuban styles are based in clave," he says. "It's a rhythmic device that ties in everything musically--the horns, the percussion, the bass. It's this two-bar tension and resolution; one bar is on the beat, one bar is a little off the beat."
In the end, though, the different variations on this structure are clarified for those who familiarize themselves with Latin dance moves. "We try to give dance lessons before all of our shows," Gomez says. "People who take them usually pick up on the different styles. If you can dance it, then you can hear it. And if you hear it, you can dance it."
Winner for: Industrial/Dance
Who would have thought Dallas still wanted to dance? Apparently a bunch of people who are too old, too tired, or just too lazy to realize that a pale ale at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Addison on a Thursday evening is a pale comparison to a head full of X at an all-night downtown rave, that's who. If electronica is passe, Triprocket proves Dallas hasn't been passed by; hey, nobody ever accused this town of being too forward-looking. In a category in which the other nominees--Stink!#bug, Terror Couple, Jump Rope Girls, and the gone but not forgotten Course of Empire--range from heavy to hop and trippy to rock but don't exactly make you want to cut a rug, Triprocket's catchy-as-flu, mall-safe, and franchise-ready beats may actually be the right choice, at least if your tastes lean more toward suburban (e.g., Starck Club) than industrial.
The quartet is an outgrowth of !DANCeReGINA!, a band so old-school '80s, so much tight and shiny pants, it may get its own Gap ad: Khakis suck! But Triprocket is an honest-to-goodness artistic leap forward for all involved, if only because the sound is a decade newer. It's as though !DANCeReGINA! founders Bobby R. (keyboards) and Kaila Brasell (vocals) tripped over something mechanical, maybe percussionist Matt Tinonga's drum machine; found a guitar player in Cotton Weatherston who's not afraid of distortion; then accidentally remixed themselves smack into the decade the rest of us have been enjoying for damned near 10 years. At this rate, if the Y2K bug doesn't get them, they may actually go through the millennium with the rest of us. Maybe.