(Rub-a-Dub Records)

Peruvian-born Wilfredo Stephenson moved to Sweden in 1968 and after a short lived career as an economist, he decided to pack it all up to play Latin music. Composer, singer, songwriter, bassist, percussionist and arranger, Mr. Stephenson leads a talented group of mostly Swedish musicians called Hot Salsa. Oozing in creative energy, this highly original group serves up a musical treat that doesn't forget the dancer.

Wilfredo Stephenson and Hot Salsa's release, With Friends For Friends, is a clear example of the direction salsa music is evolving. It swings and effortlessly takes you for a ride. An aesthetically pristine showcase for the genre, With Friends For Friends exemplifies how salsa can be both musically enthralling and commercially appealing without recurring to "hit producing formulas." Integrating the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms with newer sounds, this album showcases a variety of tempos and rhythmic combinations, lead singers and arrangements, great music and splendid musicianship.

Stephenson's musical journey sets sail with an invitiation to party in Mi Rumba Está Buena. Maintaining an upbeat rhythmic tightness, this original composition effectively juxtaposes two strangely similar voices: Stephenson's sharp and clear yet easy on the ears tenor with Maria Llerena's deep, gravely contra alto. The high notes of trumpeter Tomas Florhed and Torbjorn Karlsson's piano solo heat up this fiery rumba/mambo that achieves a very contemporary sound. In Espíritu Libre, a story about three Cubans aboard a small raft bound for Miami serves as a springboard to a swinging tropical tune that blends the different rhythms of the Caribbean basin and segues into traditional lucumí chant.

Hot Salsa, With Friends For Friends includes seven compositions authored or co-authored by Stephenson. The very danceable, potentially classic Cachao, penned by Cuban-Swedish emigré Bebo Valdés and Stephenson, pays homage to Israel "Cachao" López. Stephenson's reverent bass solo, dedicated to maestro Cachao, adds intimacy to the listening experience. Sal Salazar, in honor of music historian Max Salazar, features a jazzy flute solo by Johan Alenius and a facile vibraphone solo by Alfredo Chacón. Mi Amigo Vernon brings back memories of deceased Dr. Vernon Boggs, Stephenson's guardian angel who carted Stephenson's recordings from Sweden to U.S. journalists. Other highlights from the album include the evocative Longina, written by Sindo Garay, and lyrically interpreted by arrangers Alfredo Chacón and Gunilla Tulehag and Palo de Yaya, which makes reference to el indio Siboney. Raza Latina was co-authored in '68/'69 by radio host Chico Alvarez and Mike Garcia, ex-Orquesta Novel flute player, then recorded by the Havana Brass. This incarnation sizzles with the rhythms of Hot Salsa and Stephenson's compelling voice. Sverre Joner's arrangement of Aragon's El Más Cumbanchero coupled with Stephenson's unique phrasing breathes new life into this popular Cuban tune.

Torbjorn Karisson, the band's able pianist and musical arranger, deserves recognition for his sophisticated arrangements and sabor. Beautiful, evocative, exquisite, this album holds a special slot in my musical collection. A must for people that want to hear innovative, creative, contemporary salsa. This album is dedicated to Dr. Vernon Boggs.

Article © 1996 Mary Kent, All Rights Reserved.