Fifth Annual Voices of Latin Rock
Awareness for Autism Benefit
The Warfield, San Francisco
January 24, 2009

Now in its fifth year, this singular evening showcased a textbook example of top tier members of Latin Rock. On stage were Malo, El Chicano, Azteca, WAR and a long overdue honoring of The Women of Latin Rock with public recognition and flowers by the evening’s chosen presenter: Carlos Santana.

In previous years Bimbo’s Nightclub provided an intimate setting to host spellbinding performances and heartfelt reunions with an array of performers and audience members alike; the aim of which was to celebrate the music while raising awareness and funds as a means of aiding those affected by autism. Adapting to increased attendance, this year the event was moved to the Warfield Theater on Market Street and once again emceed by noted Bay Area DJ, journalist, and musicologist Chuy Varela. Also present were event producers Dr. Bernardo Gonzalez, Ron Sansoe, Jeff Trager and Jim McCarthy, author of the book Voices of Latin Rock.

After opening comments by Dr. Bernardo Gonzalez, harpist Carlos Reyes was the first artist to commence the evening’s musical performances. This was followed by a loving gesture from VOLR towards some of the deep roots of Latin Rock featuring Los Cenzontles, a musical group whose performance reintroduced the rich culture of Mexico on behalf of the Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center.

Mr. Varela offered a special tribute honoring the passing of former VOLR alumni Jose Simon by acknowledging his life’s work and contributions as a comedian and former bassist for SAPO. Comedian Dan St. Paul performed a brief set to conclude the tribute.

Next came El Chicano featuring original members bassist Freddie Sanchez (sporting a dark suit and matching fedora exemplifying hepness incarnate), organist Bobby Espinoza on Hammond B3, timbalero Rudy Regalado and the ever-smiling Jerry Salas on guitar and vocals, augmented by two members of WAR, conguero Marcos Reyes and Sal Rodriguez on drums. Bay Area guitarist Vernon Black was second guitarist. With an energetic, short but sweet delivery El Chicano gracefully showed why they deserve their place in the pantheon of Latin Rock artists performing their hits Viva Tirado, Brown Eyed Girl and Tell Her She’s Lovely.

Led by Santana timbalero Karl Perazzo, The Voices of Latin Rock Review kicked out a sharp, tight rendition of Para Los Rumberos. This ensemble may well have executed the best live version I’ve heard in over 30 years. With the able assist of vocalists from Perazzo’s group Avance, they provided a strong new definition to the classic composed by Tito Puente. The second piece offered later in the evening was Santana’s Everybody’s Everything.

Introduced by Chuy “Horale” Varela and certainly representing the East Bay Grease contingent, soulful powerhouse Lydia Pense roared through I’m A Good Woman and Sam & Dave’s You Got Me Hummin’. Her two-song set instilled the understanding that she deserved to be honored as one of the “Women of Latin Rock” as she easily commanded the stage and crowd alike.

No Voices of Latin Rock evening would be complete without an appearance by Malo. Arcelio Garcia and son Octaviano displayed their signature choreographed stage moves while gifted guitarist Gabriel Manzo displayed precise yet fiery guitar prowess. Supported by the VOLR Review as Malo they reprised Nena and Suavecito. These chestnuts never fail to ignite all in attendance.

Carlos Santana made a special appearance to honor the Women of Latin Rock. Opening with an affectionate “Buenas Noches” after a standing ovation, he made comments in regards to post-election events and the important global role women play. He acknowledged the significance in the work of his personal assistant Rita Gentry; original Azteca member vocalist Wendy Haas; vocalist, composer and educator Linda Tillery; Cold Blood founder and vocalist Lydia Pense; and multi-faceted recording artist Sheila E.
By mentioning an historic Winterland date along with Tito Puente and Malo, Sr. Varela heralded the return of Azteca and referred to co-founders Pete Escovedo and his late brother Coke.

On the front line commencing from the left stood Wendy Haas possessing sparkling tone and remarkable vocal abilities, alongside the very soulful dignified vocalist and composer Errol Knowles, original guitarist Bill Courtial, bandleader Pete Escovedo and a true original: conguero Victor Pantoja. Complete with full horn section and keyboardist, the evening’s edition of Azteca also featured Sheila E. resuming her role as drummer working in tandem with the excellent Curtis Ohlson on bass. Special guest renowned vocalist Linda Tillery was added to the lineup on two numbers.

Performing a set comprised of: La Piedra Del Sol, Mamita Linda, Someday We’ll Get By, Non Pacem, Ain’t Got No Special Woman and others, Azteca’s performance was revelatory in the sense that it reacquainted all in attendance the level of sophistication and polish contained within their repetoire.

Thanks to the earlier efforts of filmmaker Daniel Meza, Azteca was given cause to resurface after laying dormant for more than thirty years. First reuniting two years ago on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles as the subject of his film documentary, (released January 20, 2009 under the title La Piedra Del Sol) this was only their second public appearance since they parted ways. At that engagement original drummer Lenny White performed with the group. It was there while backstage Mr. White announced plans for a then-forthcoming highly-anticipated reunion tour of fusion greats Return to Forever.

Until recently Azteca was a missing pillar upon which Latin Rock stands and it couldn’t have been more fitting to see them perform once again in their original Bay Area home and be re-embraced within the Voices of Latin Rock community. The only notable hitch in their set was the low mic volume assigned to leader Pete Escovedo which he had to contend with. Most noticeable between tunes, it was a shame not to be able to clearly discern what appeared to be Mr. Escovedo’s truly heartfelt remembrances while not only introducing the band and discussing its legacy, but also his acknowledgment of the purpose of the benefit.

Rounding out the evening of Latin Rock legends was the equally funky yet comical WAR. Of the original group only vocalist/keyboardist Lonnie Jordan remains. As composer and bandleader he continues to man the helm of a collective band of highly-skilled and talented musicians able to spontaneously stop and turn on a dime to deal with the evolving musical arrangements of the moment.
Having no lead vocal mic issues and with his stage antics brought to the fore, Jordan “Delivered the Word” continuously so to speak while performing such classics as: Cisco Kid, Me and Baby Brother, Spill the Wine, All Day Music, Ballero, So, Why Can’t We Be Friends and doing a group introduction/medley within the context of Low Rider, i.e. Shotgun-Iron Man-Gypsy Queen-Doing It To Death-I Want to Take You Higher (the latter featuring original Sly and The Family Stone drummer Greg Errico).

The Fifth Annual Voices of Latin Rock succeeded once again in raising awareness of autism in a manner that honored its seminal members while providing stellar entertainment. With each succeeding year the only competition Voices of Latin Rock has is with itself.

Oscar Moreno,
Latin Rock Inc.

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